Guide Participatory Democracy versus Elitist Democracy: Lessons from Brazil

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In this vision we reaffirm our commitment to the deeply humanist character of the public school, in opposition to the vision, which is today hegemonic, of submission to the values of the market, whose sole concern is to create consumers and customers and to turn education into a commodity subordinated to the logic of entrepreneurialism, naturalising individualism, conformism, competition, resignation and, in consequence, exclusion.

Underpinning this conception is a theory of the dialectical relationship between knowledge and social practice in the tradition of the most influential Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire. This conception is translated into policy and practice through a process of popular participation specifically in policy-making in education, complementing the PB process.

The School Constituency process is designed to enable popular participation in education policy-making at two levels: the local school, and the state education system as a whole. It is not an annual process like the PB. It was initiated in and is still continuing. It is based on five principles:. Education as a right of all citizens, with particular emphasis on the situation of those who throughout history have been denied this right, not having access to school or being excluded from it. Popular participation as a method of management of public policy in the field of education, stimulating and guaranteeing the conditions for the collective construction of the education we want.

Dialogue as an ethical-existential principle of a humanist and solidaristic project, which respects differences and the plurality of visions of the world, while also being critical and proactive in the face of social inequalities and injustices. Radicalisation of Democracy as the strategic objective of a government of the left, committed to the interests of the majority, the popular classes, stimulating co-management of the public sphere as a step towards popular sovereignty and control over the state.

Utopia as a motivating vision of the education and the school we want and also of the project of socio-economic development which is both possible and necessary for the great majority of the excluded and the exploited in the capitalist system. Utopia as the motor force, driving forward the society we want to build.

William R. Nylen (Author of Participatory Democracy Versus Elitist Democracy)

The School Constituency process has been organised in five stages. The first stage was the launch by the State Department of Education, with representatives of school communities, organisations of civil society, public organisations, and higher education institutions, followed by regional launch meetings and the election of coordinating committees in each school and at regional level. In the second stage an analysis was carried out of local situations and educational practices in schools and popular organisations — teaching methods, ways of evaluating learning, how class councils worked, ways of community participation in school management, alternative projects in various knowledge areas.

The analysis of practice revealed the main conflicts and difficulties encountered. On that basis 25 issues were identified. Among them were: school non-attendance and retention; democratic management; teaching children and adolescents; violence; education in rural areas; development projects and education; the professional development of education workers; scientific knowledge and popular knowledge.

The third stage comprised an in-depth exploration of these issues, combined with the study of education theorists, resulting in the production of theoretical briefings for each of the 25 issues. This draft document was discussed and amended in municipal or micro-regional conferences held in June , involving 60, people. The conferences resulted in a revised Base Text which was the basis of 31 Regional Pre-Conferences held in August with about delegates elected from the municipal or micro-regional pre-conferences.

Finally, a further revised version of the Base Text was discussed at the State Conference by 3, delegates elected from the Regional conferences, organised into working groups. At the end, all the proposals were voted on in the final plenary session. The current phase of the School Constituency is the translation of the agreed policies into policies and practices at school level, and within the State education department.

The central concept of the School Constituency, democratisation, has three dimensions: the democratisation of access, the democratisation of knowledge, and the democratisation of management. The first of these can be summarised very briefly by listing the main policies: Inclusion projects; Expansion of high school; Develop pre-school; Special needs; Adult literacy; Education projects for youth and adult workers. The democratisation of knowledge entails a profound transformation of the school as an institution to root it in the social reality of the community and adapt it to their needs.

The democratisation of management applies both at school level and at the level of the state education system as a whole. The democratisation of the management of the school takes the form of the direct election of the school principal and vice-principal, and the election of the School Council as the leading body, composed of representatives of all the sectors of the school community — parents, students, teachers and other school workers — with deliberative powers. The democratisation of the state educational administration entails replacing the existing bureaucratic, fragmented, top-down and centralised mode of functioning with one responsive to local demands.

The most elementary indicator of the success of the PT strategy is the number of people from the popular classes taking part. This is a process that starts with the people that have more of a tradition of participation, but it is a process that as the demands and needs are responded to, more people start participating, people that have never been involved in anything participatory before.

To prove this, participation in the first year was , people, the second year , people, the third year , people, and it is growing each day in quantity and in the quality of the debate because people start interacting and meeting each other and communicating with each other about this process and consequently calling more people to participate.

Participatory Democracy & Porto Alegre

That is why it is a process, it is not just a ready-made formula. In the School Constituency process 60, people took part in local meetings to discuss the draft policy text.


Though this is a tiny percentage of the population of the state, it was the first such experience, and it still represents a significant number of people taking a direct part in education policy-making. A number of researchers have studied the social composition of participatory meetings in Porto Alegre.

According to a survey by Baiocchi of participation in regional meetings, the average participant was of lower economic and educational status than the average citizen of Porto Alegre. Marquetti concludes a similar study by saying that. Marquetti Gret and Sintomer agree that the poorest areas participate most. They note the strong presence of women and young people. Is there inequality in terms of who speaks in meetings, reflecting power relations, especially of class, gender, and cultural capital in the forms of level of education and possession of technical knowledge?

Women speak less than men, but experience of participation largely offsets this: women who have been involved for a number of years speak as often as men. Do patterns of inequality emerge further up the pyramid of participation, in the election of delegates to regional forums or councillors to the COP?

The significant factor appeared to be cultural capital, in terms of the level of education. But this was largely offset by experience in participation: among those elected who had five or more years of experience of participation, class and gender disparities had largely disappeared.

Overall, the balance sheet is very positive. The process of constructing a popular movement through participatory democracy is not without conflict. It is a continual process of trying to identify and constructcommon interests and reconcile conflicting interests. For example, the School Constituency project has encountered resistance from those teachers who are not in sympathy with the PT educational project, as Lucia Camini, RS secretary of state for education and previously the president of the teachers union explained:. We get quite a lot of resistance from the teachers that want to keep to the traditional methods where content is primary to their work.

We found a way out including parents and working with the universities trying to bring the schools into these new political and pedagogical proposals. But there are many teachers that do refuse any sort of change and are constantly unhappy and resistant to following a different path. The PT sees the present stage of the relationship between the popular movement and the executive of the local state at municipal or state level as one of co-management based on what Santos , p24 calls the mutual relative autonomy of the executive and the popular movement.

The strongest bases of popular power were the Forums, because they were directly based on local mobilisation and because of their status in the PB process. According to Santos, the COP has become increasingly assertiveness against the executive Santos , pp14, Marquetti draws the following conclusion:. The PB-PoA is an institutional innovation that is capable of empowering large segments of the population, particularly, poor sectors of society that traditionally never had an active role in the definition of state policies.

The empowerment of the poor is possible because the PB is an institutional mechanism that goes well beyond liberal democracy. This form of state organisation is in clear contradiction to the liberal state proposed by the advocates of the market-friendly approach. Relations with the national state are very different. The growing popular movement based on a radical democratic programme comes into conflict with the federal government and the class interests it reopresents. Education is a case in point, according to Lucia Camini, the RS secretary of state for education.

This is a permanent conflict in our administration. We confront the conservative elite because they say we are a government for the poor and that we only have programmes focused on social inclusion. And because we worry about building good schools in villages and rural areas, we are strongly criticised.

We face a very strong opposition from the conservative parties, from the big press, because we are accused of developing an education that motivates transformations, a different ideology and because we work with the facts of our reality, teaching the students how to think for themselves.

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This is a constant fight we have. We are frequently called on by the [federal] government to explain the texts we are working with, to justify why we are working this way, because the public ministry asks for a refund of the money we spent printing and preparing these educational resources. It is a constant battle exactly because we are working for the excluded classes.

Participatory democracy in Porto Alegre and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Clearly, participatory democracy has developed in a context in Brazil which is very different from that in the UK. There is no suggestion that it can simply be translated in to a programmatic alternative here. Participatory democracy needs to be understood not as a set of procedures and structures which can be abstracted from the political vision which animates it, but as a political strategy. In that light it does have, I would argue, important lessons for us.

First, it demonstrates that mass deliberative participatory democracy can work. That is tremendously important, because it shows that there is a viable, realistic, alternative to rule by technocratic managerialism, the market, and the alienating forms of liberal democracy, contrary to what not only the ideologues of neo-liberalism but also some of its more pessimistic critics would have us believe.

He argues that this is so because contemporary democracies have increasingly trickled up and away from so-called 'average citizens'. We now live in a world of 'Elitist Democracies' essentially constructed of, by and for moneyed, well-connected and ethically-challenged elites. Fortunately, there are alternatives, and that's where Brazil offers valuable lessons. Experiments in local-level participatory democracy, put into practice in Brazil by the Workers Party show both the promise and the practical limitations of efforts to promote 'popular participation' and citizen empowerment.

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Passar bra ihop. Coalitions in Parliamentary Government L Dodd For eighty years, students of parliamentary democracy have argued that durable cabinets require majority party government. The linchpin of its programme, drawing on the experience of Porto Alegre, was the establishment of radical democratic reform on a state-wide basis. Meetings are organised at the micro-level of the street, the apartment block, the neighbourhood.

These meetings are self-organised, not organised by the municipality. Each region has three types of PB structure — a regional popular assembly, open to all, sub-regional assemblies, covering a number of neighbourhoods, and a Regional Forum, meeting monthly, to which each popular assembly elects delegates. It meets once or twice a week during the PB process. It defines criteria for prioritisation and resource allocation, defends the priorities of regions and themes, discusses revenue and expenditure, drafts the detailed Investment Plan, and votes on the budget proposal presented by the executive.

The budget plan is developed over a period of months through a series of cycles of meetings at the micro-local, regional and city-wide levels. Three criteria determine the budget allocation for each of the 16 regions of the city — the priorities voted on, the existing levels of provision in terms of infrastructure and services, and the population. To them are applied three logics: a majority-democratic logic, a technical logic, and a redistributive logic Gret and Sintomer In brief, each regional popular assembly selects its service priorities.

The executive assesses the technical viability of projects.

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The municipality produces an index of the existing levels of provisions of services and infrastructures in each region. Variations between the population of the regions are taken into account. The COP then decides on the relative weight of the various criteria to ensure that service needs in less provided areas of the city receive proportionately more funding.