Governments around the world are largely disconnected from the population they purportedly represent with their policies. While the fortunate among us vote for our leaders once every four or five years we are generally voting for figureheads and not policies. What actually gets enacted by our elected leaders once they assume their position is often of great controversy among the population at large, but is rarely challenged head-on.

Party politics

In many parts of the world there is little in the way of real choice when it comes to electing our leaders. Many countries have only two or three mainstream parties to choose from with little likelihood of any smaller parties or independent candidates being elected to office. In Australia’s preferential voting system the options, instead of being more varied and truly representative, appear to be just as limited overall.

The reality with many political parties is that their proposed policies vary only within a narrow set of parameters, mainly regarding a style of governance, but doing nothing to challenge the economic or finance systems.

Much of party politics involves election campaigns revolving around rhetoric and the encouragement to vote for one party due to the shortcomings of another, rather than any real merit. Once politicians are elected to office their policies seem to be short-term in scope, seeking only to survive a term or two and then disappear with a golden handshake that will ensure them a comfortable retirement. Very few long-term goals are evident in much of their activity.

Vested interests

To say that politicians and their parties act in accordance with financial vested interests is to state the obvious. It is widely understood that our politicians serve the interests of business rather than that of the people.

Protest

Throughout the world widespread dissatisfaction with leadership results in mass-protests, and even protest movements such as Occupy. However, such protest relies upon a premise that is often taken for granted, namely that the world’s leaders and the governments that they represent a) are in a position to make the changes that are being called for, and b) have the people’s best interests in mind. It is of no minor importance to recognize the fact that governments worldwide have been increasingly concerned with the rights of corporations over the rights of the people, and are, therefore, often in no position to satisfy either condition a or b.

Participatory Governance

Many people are coming to understand that a top-down approach to change of any sort is insufficient, and that the need for action must be translated to those who are able to take such actions to make a difference, and not just communicated at a political level. Local communities also need to be aware that they are acting not only for the benefit of themselves, but holistically, for or everyone/thing. A shifting of perspective is occurring in that when communities use the word “us” they are referring, more and more often, to all components of the ecosystem, and not just themselves as human elements of society.

Empowering communities is a necessary step in the struggle for sustainability. Communities must be able to represent themselves and not just be represented by politicians, corporations or NGOs as intermediaries. Now people are learning to represent themselves and their communities, and are taking responsibility for choosing who will represent them effectively.  It’s a journey, not a destination, and much more needs to be done.