Friday, February 05, 2010

The politics of participation: why get involved?

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Politicians have messed up the political system and are struggling to put things right. They have mismanaged the economic system and have not taken action to build stability. Just look at the news on MPs charged with expenses fraud today. But we do need politics and politicians - and we put politicians into power. It may not seem like it a lot of the time but politics can and does work. It has many genuine people involved in it, paid and unpaid, at all levels and across parties. They are making politics work in Northern Ireland, as todays news shows, despite a very troubled history. Political systems suffer when people dont participate much however.

Everyone knows being Green has environmental protection as a core value. What is a little less well known is the high emphasis Greens put on grassroots democracy and participation. Participation at its best is all about: open exchange of ideas; mutual understanding; effective, timely information; promoting trust; highlighting decision-making processes; dealing with complex, possibly controversial issues; unique insights; serving each other. It ideally develops a common view, a sense of purpose – and allows communities to take control and set agendas. This is the way to learn to live better lives.

Inputs and involvement from people in their neighbourhood, community and society is really important for policymaking that is effective and responsive. Participation provides vital feedback on the performance of institutions, decision-making, and decision makers, including MPs and Councillors – less of it means they may well perform poorly. People have first-hand knowledge that contributes to understanding of what works and what needs improvement. If we want to help people out locally, change our workplaces, change our country, shape local national or global policy, leave our mark, we have to be active, engaged and take opportunities to be involved.

Getting involved has a positive influence on young lives, helps older individuals remain independent in their own homes, cleans up the environment, offers professional skills to local non-profit groups, and lends talents and experience to strengthening our communities. You could: join a political party or a pressure group; get involved in health and care services; become a parish town, district, borough, or city councillor – or seek election at national or EU level; become magistrate; take part in or start up a Neighbourhood Watch; participate in or start up a Residents' Association; get elected as a school governor; take on the role of a special constable…

There are many opportunities – just take a look on the web, through your local paper or in your local library. Talk to your neighbours or local shopkeeper. Community roles are dependent on the ongoing involvement and enthusiasm of committed people of all sorts. They are crucial to achieving and maintaining safe, prosperous and sustainable communities that can be enjoyed by all. Think about some key questions. What are your interests? What are your skills? Do you have particular needs? Do you have a method of transportation? How many hours a week do you have ? Why exactly do you want to be involved? Your answers will help you focus on the most appropriate avenues.

Being involved: feels good; strengthens your community; can strengthen your family when you do things together; it builds a sense of responsibility. It boosts the case for authorities to improve all methods of participation – then the extent to which one person can make a difference is improved. People of different backgrounds, abilities, ethnicities, ages, and education and income levels are brought together. Diverse individuals can be united by common values. Job skills can be gained - learning to work as a team member, taking on leadership roles, setting project goals - and future careers built.