American democracy today is in a state of crisis. Many of our core democratic institutions suffer from declining trust and legitimacy, undermined by pervasive concerns that government institutions are ineffective or unresponsive. Yet we also live in a moment of diverse, creative—and above all, urgent—efforts to revitalize and reinvent democratic institutions, from cities to rural communities, among grassroots organizers, minority communities, workers, technologists, and many other constituencies.
“Democracy” conjures images of quadrennial elections, but it is much more than voting or preference-aggregation. As a value, democracy means nothing less than the redistribution of political power that enables grassroots communities to have a meaningful say in the decisions that shape their social, economic, and political realities.
Despite the very real challenges facing democracy in the form of voter suppression, money in politics, and unresponsive institutions, we see possibilities for this deeper form of democratic empowerment in new developments on the ground: The rise of new digital tools create new opportunities for civic networks and collective action; the growing cohort of bureaucrats who, whether in cities or agencies, are struggling to reinvent governance to include citizens in everything from city planning to budgeting; and the burst of innovation and experimentation among community organizers to form more robust and agile civil institutions and organizational structures.
The Participatory Democracy Project at New America is keeping track of these possibilities and identifying the best innovations in democratic revitalization by:
- Engaging participatory democracy reformers, activists, and innovators to see what kinds of institutions, organizations, and policies promote the genuine empowerment of bottom-up communities;
- Working directly with reformers and activists from city officials to community organizers to learn from, support, and contribute to their efforts;
- Linking these on-the-ground findings with broader academic research on democracy and democratization;
- And highlighting new and innovative approaches to participatory democracy from some of the best organizations on the ground in the Civic Engagement blog series.
For more information about our work see: