Posted 5 months ago on Oct. 15, 2013, 11:33 a.m. EST by sabokitty
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By patrick kingsley for the Guardian
Last year, I reported on the Occupy movement, spending a few nights at the Occupy London camp outside St Paul's. By the time I arrived, there was a fire-safe kitchen with several qualified chefs. There was a recycling centre, a lecture theatre, and a library. During my first night, they built a computer room. In short, within four days, they had created a fully functioning micro-society – and all this without a hierarchy. Still. Participatory democracy? It wouldn't work elsewhere, critics said. The only way is conventional capitalism. But is it? This series will look at the many places that already do things differently. In Brazil's Porto Alegre (population: 1.5 million) they have been doing it since 1990. Then, the city was almost broke. Schools were short of chalk, clinics low on aspirin. Local bureaucrats, by contrast, were due a hefty pay rise. Something had to give – and according to the newly elected Workers' party, it was the way the city was governed. Their big idea was to allow the citizens rather than the politicians to allocate a significant proportion of the city's budget. In other words, they made Porto Alegre into a much bigger version of an Occupy camp. To this day, each neighbourhood gets together every week to analyse the previous year's budget, and discuss what they want to build in to the next. Anyone can speak, and together they elect representatives who – with delegates from other areas – put their proposals to a citywide assembly, which makes a final decision on what gets funded. The effects have been overwhelmingly positive. Within seven years, the percentage of locals with access to sewers doubled from 46 to 95. The rate of roadbuilding, particularly in the favelas, rose five-fold. Tax evasion fell, as people saw what their money was being spent on. Best of all, the process gave a voice to people who had traditionally been ignored by the political process. According to academic Rebecca Abers, who spent years studying the city, citizens from the poorest 12% accounted – in 1995 – for a third of the assembly participants. Today, 15,000 locals take part in the "orçamento participativo" each year – and one in 10 citizens have taken part at some point or other.