Case #552
Title: Municipal Level Participatory Budget Empowers Local Communities
Summary: Porto Alegre, the host city for the World Social Forum 2002, is part of a growing political movement in Brazil that is systematically delegating power back down to people at the municipal level rather than hoarding it at the national and international levels. The party that has been the architect of this decentralization in Brazil is the Workers Party (the PT), which is now in power in 200 municipalities with its leader ahead in the polls federally.

Many PT cities have adopted the "participatory budget", a system that allows direct citizen participation in the allocation of scarce city resources. Through a network of neighborhood and issue councils, residents vote directly on which roads will be paved and which health centers will be built. In Porto Alegre, this devolution of power has brought results that are the mirror opposite of global economic trends. For instance, rather than scaling back on public services for the poor, the city has increased them substantially. And rather than spiraling cynicism and voter drop-out, democratic participation increases every year.
Comments: Devolving power to the local level is part of a trend utilized by NGOs and, in theory at least, by large aid and donor organizations. This trend, and the empowerment which results from it, was evident at the WSF in Porto Alegre. The principles can be applied in any locale and can be adjusted to what specific community needs, resources, and situations call for. As only one "living alternative" presented at the WSF 2002, the "participatory budget" is part of a pattern of a rejection of what Portuguese political scientist Boaventura dos Santos calls "low-intensity democracy" in favor of "higher-impact democracies." Other examples of this type of democracy include independent media activists creating new models of participatory media and landless farmers occupying and planting unused land all over Brazil.

A wonderful thought, taken from a quote by World Social Forum 2002 participant Luca Casarini: "Maybe change isn't really about what is said and done in the centers, it's about the seams, the in-between spaces with their hidden strength." This is community empowerment and action at its best.
Location: Brazil
Action: Human Rights
Setting: Third World
Extent of Action: Local
Categories: Human Rights
Year(s): 2002
Outcome in progress
Source: The Guardian of London, Friday, February 15, 2002
Contacts: World Social Forum (WSF) Website and conference materials
Prepared By: sl, 3/02
Rating: 1