In the age of political uncertainty and increasing mistrust of government, we need local, community-led projects to help redefine our ideas of effective citizen engagement now more than ever.
It seems like everywhere we look right now we see democracy in crisis.
Since voters opted in a referendum to leave the European Union almost a year ago, Britain has been plunged into an all-consuming public debate on the rights and wrongs that has squeezed out nearly all other issues. In the United States, Donald Trump’s presidency has become mired in suspicions around alleged collusion with Russia and resistance in Congress to his more controversial policy aims. The recent election in France saw people voting for prospectuses based on raw emotions of hope or anger; however, neither Marine Le Pen nor eventual winner Emmanuel Macron have given much indication of where this will lead them or what policies will result.
All of this can be deeply dispiriting. Democracy gets reduced to a passive exercise in which we are presented with often radically contrasting worldviews and where we must grant a single individual or party the power to govern in our name – not necessarily in our interests.
Yet all around the world, there are growing grassroots movements challenging this status quo. Recognizing the shortcomings of the political and economic systems around them, people are seizing the opportunity to effect change for themselves and their communities. They’re doing this because they understand that, ultimately, prosperity is not something that will be bestowed on them from above. It does, and must, start from the ground up.
There’s an important context here. The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed to in 2015, created an ambitious framework designed to tackle the world’s most pressing problems by 2030. SDG 16 – widely seen as one of the most crucial precursors for bringing about real change – calls on all nations to “ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.”
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