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Transborder Participatory Democracy



Transborder participatory democracy is (a) worldwide democracy practiced by the people of the world and (b) the right of the people to participate in any decisions that affect them, regardless of where those decisions are made. In its current stage of development, it manifests as the self-organized integration of grassroots civil society and activist networks around the world. The term was coined by Muto Ichiyo.

We propose a new concept of political right and political action, which we provisionally term "transborder participatory democracy." We present this as the specific people's alternative, the counter-system to stand against the particular formation that oppressive power has taken in our time: the state-supported globalization of capital.

Transborder participatory democracy is the name both of a goal and of a process. As a goal it means worldwide democracy practiced by the people of the world. It is a picture of a world order clearly distinct from the conventional idea of world government or world federation, which presupposes states as the constituent units. Yet, as our goal, it still remains a remote vision of the future.

As a political process, transborder participatory democracy has two aspects. First, it is a practical method for criticizing, confronting, intervening in, and changing the power formation of globalized capital. In this sense, it is a form of action that corresponds both to present socioeconomic reality and to the logic and necessity of the people's movements. Second, in the process of transborder political action, the people's groups and organizations gradually form themselves into transborder coalitions, eventually leading to the formation of a transborder "people," by which the division of the world in to North and South can be overcome.

The dominant tendency regional integration by state-backed globalization of capital. In this system, most of the major decisions which affect the lives of millions of people are made outside their countries, without their knowledge, much less their consent. Even those decisions made inside the country are made outside the communities of those affected.... For a time there were high hopes that it was the state which could rectify the growing international inequalities...[but]...Illusions about the state as the tribune of the people have failed as almost all the Third World states -- including China -- have made a definite shift to the position of promoter of the logic of multinational capital and mediator of capital globalization within their own territories.

The situation calls for the declaration of a new right: the right of the people to intervene in, to modify, to regulate, and ultimately to control any decisions that affect them. This should be established as a universal right which recognizes no borders. It means that the people's action is no longer confined within the bounds of a state, nor to acting only through the state political structure. Transborder participatory democracy is a new principle, by which not the state but the people themselves can emerge as the chief actors in determining the course of world politics and economics. "The people" here means, first of all, the people directly affected by external decisions. But transborder participatory democracy goes beyond this. It operates to form a transnationally coalesced people who emerge as the principle actors.

Take, for instance, a decision by a giant publishing company in Tokyo to inaugurate a new, glossy, useless magazine printed in millions of copies to gain advantage in the competition among publishing houses. This will further increase Japan's pulp demand. It will lead to accelerated plunder of tropical forests in Sarawak and mangrove trees in Papua New Guinea, in turn further destroying the basis of the lives of the people there. We say that the people who live there have just the same right to intervene in this decision as they would if it were being made in their own village. It does not matter where, or by what agency, the decision is being made. What matters is that the people's lives are being affected by that decision. We declare that there exists no artificial right -- neither the right of private property nor the right of state sovereignty, nor for that matter the treaty-based rights of international agencies -- that can take precedence over the natural democratic right of people to speak and act directly against decisions that are destroying them, no matter where or by whom those decisions are being made.

Direct intervention by people from the rain forest countries is not only a means of self-protection. It would also have an important effect on Japan. There are people here already who have their own reasons for questioning the outlandish waste of paper for junk magazines with their people-fooling messages. There are people who work for those magazines, who feel the dull despair of knowing they are devoting their lives to producing a bad product over which they have no control. If these people can learn directly what disastrous consequences the publishing industry has on far-off people, they have an opportunity to see what this "publishing industry" is in a new perspective, and to join with the affected people in protesting and intervening.

Transborder participatory democracy leads toward transborder coalitions of people, and aims ultimately for the formation of a transborder "people." In particular we can expect to see this process having an effect on the people of the northern or core countries.... The experience of acting together situates people in a new universal context, in which each individual action acquires new meaning and direction.

Muto Ichiyo, "For an Alliance of Home", keynote speech at the first People's Plan 21 gathering in Minamata, Japan in 1989 -- in Global Visions, edited by Jeremy Brecher et al (South End Press, 1993), pp 155-159


In the regional level [transborder participatory democracy] means the weaving of autonomous community development initiatives from different parts of [the region] through the process of continous dialogue and discourses, sharing of skills and knowledge learned from empowerment experiences and the use of the potentials of advanced, information based technologies.

-- Dorothy Grace M. Guerrero, "From the Shadows of the Tigers: Asia's Empowering Experiences in the Communication Age", in Transnational Associations, 49, 2, 1997. the Minamata Declaration in 1989 we called for democratization of the global power structure through transborder participatory democracy exercised by interlinked alliances of people the world over. This call of course does not absolve the state of its accountability and responsibility to the people within its territory. When we gathered in the 1993 PP21 program in Thailand, we expressed the inter-related levels of our struggle for democratization as "participatory democracy at the local, national, and global levels."

This calls for a critical look at the traditional strategies of social change. Most state-centered solutions entail the notion that real changes can occur only after the state becomes "ours" or through the institution of state policies where any people's project (either in the form of social movements or alternative development efforts) is instrumentally viewed in the macro thrust towards the ultimate seizure of the state defined by popular forces represented by their political parties. Under this state-centered formula, a real change in socio-economic and cultural relations is postponed until the day of decisive victory, the political revolution. This type of strategy, either revolutionary or social democratic, we argue, is no longer valid for two reasons. First, experience shows that what comes into being out of this approach is inevitably some form of monolithic regime. Inevitably then, this centralised control, most of ten, runs counter to people keeping themselves empowered to run society autonomously and equitably. Second, the globalization process undermined the basis of sovereign state with full ability and capacity to carry out policies of their free choice. We can no longer pin our hope fully in the exercise of the state.

The important thing to realise in most of our societies is that the state is still an important actor and that in the lives of millions (mostly the discriminated and the powerless), the state still matters. Undoubtedly, a democratic state is more respondent and accountable than a feudal, dictatorial or militaristic state. What then should be the way we need to think and act in the context of the present character of our nation states as well as of the regional and global alliances that they are increasingly becoming part of?

We argue that we must fight, without believing in state's almightiness even for a moment, for a democratized state prepared to guarantee space for people's alliances and the emergence and development of relatively self-sufficient and autonomous societies; a state ready and willing to deliver one function after another to societies as the latter grow and become mature. Guaranteeing a space for people's alliances also means removal of impediments to the emergence and development of autonomous societies. Some of such impediments are exploitative land ownership systems, political repression on people's movements, official human rights abuses, sexism that justifies violence against women, instigation of racial, communal, and other violence, unbridled powers of capitalists spreading sweatshop conditions even for children, and the like. In fact, in many centres of people's mobilisation, groups and communities are realising that changes in the existing system should not be relegated to the functions of a future state, but must begin in the process of building and strengthening alternative socio-economic and cultural relationships rooted locally but necessarily in active interaction with the dominant systems. With this change of perspective, social movements, people's resistances and other forms of collective action, as well as "alternative development" endeavors are seen as real and existing efforts towards building a new kind of society here and now (even if imperfectly and partially), instead of a mere resource for a major drama to be staged some day in the future.

-- Muto Ichiyo and Smitu Kothari "TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE SYSTEMS", a paper prepared for People's Plan for the 21 Century (PP 21) General Meeting, Kathmandu, Nepal, March 1996

Our vision projects global democracy -- transborder participatory democracy highlighted in the PP21 Minamata Declaration -- to counter and to finally dismantle global power centres and also overcome the overarching problem of human society today -- the division of the people of the world into the North and the South.

We shall work to build new relationships with each other -- between men and women, between producers and consumers, between urban and rural, between North and South, between human beings and nature. These processes of democratisation, at all levels, will be exercised by alliances of people throughout the world -- Alliances of Hope -- which will be formed in dynamic interaction in the spirit of peace, tolerance, ecological sanity and peaceful coexistence. People's governance will be rooted in these alliances.

"PEOPLE'S CONVERGENCE: SHAPING OUR FUTURE" - Sagarmatha Declaration -- Kathmandu, Nepal, March 1996

See also The Post Corporate World by David Korten and International Simultaneous Policy.