Civic participation on the local level is fundamental to democracy

We must transform an illusory democracy based only on the vote to genuine democracy based on an active and informed citizenry.


Think globally, act locally; the local is the real environment. – Christie

By Lila Icks

Increased political participation and the fight for civil rights created the social and political changes that have shaped the world as we know it. These two phenomena help democracy transition. Some believe “democracy” to mean no more than occasional elections, but this is a mere illusion of democracy.

Political participation and the fight for civil rights can transform this illusion into a genuine democracy built by an active and responsible citizenry that knows its rights, that gets involved, and that participates in the political, social, economic, and cultural spheres that form society.

This kind of transformation leads to more citizen influence in decision-making. Important decisions would no longer be made exclusively by political and economic elites as they are today.

In order for such a transformation to occur, it is important that society become aware of and make use of public spaces. As Chantel Mouffé says, “An active citizenry comes from the recovery of political space by citizens, and implies a redefinition of what constitutes the public sphere as well as alternative ideas of participation that go further than just representation.”

Though economic and political centralization has always been a predominant factor in Guatemala’s social structure, it is extremely important to recognize the vitality of civil participation in Guatemala’s sociopolitical and economic spheres. If one truly wants to influence the necessary process of change in government, especially on the local level, one must understand that local government is the arena where citizens can most readily effect change.

Those seeking change must therefore be advocates for more interdependence and interconnection between government and civil society on a local/municipal level. Government and civil society must unite at the local level so that the same can happen at the national level.

Guatemalan activists must also remember the Constitution’s Article 119 (paragraph b) and Article 224, which call for economic and administrative decentralization to encourage holistic national development. Civic participation is constitutionally endorsed as fundamental to the democratic process. It is a political mechanism for greater social progress and local development.

Citizens conscious of the importance of civic participation accept the role of advocates for the transformation of local space into public space, as this directly contributes to the consolidation of democracy. Robust democracy specifically requires that the community participate in public activities, that it represent specific (not individual) interests, and that it operate, as Alicia Ziccardi writes, “in the arena of everyday life and in local space where authorities and citizens come closest together.”

I encourage my fellow citizens to be full of love for Guatemala, “the land of eternal spring,” and to be active agents of conscious, responsible transformation. Critique less and act more. Take part in the development of our society. I continue to believe fervently that Guatemala will prosper, because I believe in you, its citizens.


Lila Icks is the EntreMundos Volunteering Program Coordinator. She studies politics and international relations.

Cover photo: The September 20 demonstration against President Morales’ attempt to remove CICIG corruption investigator Iván Velásquez, at the Cuesta Blanca in Xela, 2017.