Within the framework of this year's "Fearless Cities" summit, Fundación Avina and DemocraciaAbierta established a special collaboration to explore some of the most exciting poltical experiences arising from Latin America.
Bringing together relevant actors in the field that are directly involved in political innovation at the local level, in Latin America, we have sought answers to four major issues shared by all the projects: a) Vision of innovation; b) National political context and limitations of local power; c) Influence of the international political context, and d) The question of leadership.
In this page, Jorge Sharp addresses these topics. He is a Chilean lawyer and member of the Autonomist Movement. He is currently mayor of Valparaíso, Chile.
TOPIC 1: VISION OF INNOVATION
The political process we have started in Valparaiso is, in a way, disruptive and, in this sense, it is also innovative. What exactly does a rupture mean? Is it simply the evolution of something which was already under way that we have simply catalysed? I think the process has something of both continuity and change.
What happened in Valparaíso with the triumph of the Valparaíso Citizen Movement is, on the one hand, the culmination of a long string of city struggles - for education, for gender equality, social struggles centered on questioning the Chilean economic model which manifests itself in all its harshness in the city of Valparaíso.
We are talking here about at least a decade of sustained maturation. But there was change also, for we were able to break into the political scene through a new, different political practice: the "citizens' primaries" – that is, the tool with which citizens were able to decide which candidate from a wide range of organizations they wanted to see running against the traditional parties.
There were five candidates, and each candidate had a specific project. People voted, and that was extremely disruptive because this was not just an almost symbolic exercise: it was a new, self-organised, transparent political practice, with no intervention by the State. So, I believe that, in this case, innovation was the combination of both the continuity of a long-time process, and a dynamic of change, which ended up bringing it about.
TOPIC 2: NATIONAL POLITICAL CONTEXT AND LIMITATIONS OF LOCAL POWER
I think it is a mistake to think that the problem of our cities is just the same as that of other cities, when it is rather a problem which has to do with our national, or even continental, character. We cannot turn our backs on the balance of power between those political levels. Therefore, a way of approaching the problem of the national, or continental, level is precisely the construction of local power in a given territory. A way of challenging national dynamics is by entering, proposing and influencing them.
In Chile, this is expressed as follows: the Valparaíso process, our triumph, has helped to catalyse what is happening today in national politics, and the formation of a new political territory, called the Broad Front. This has been an innovative local political process, with aspects of both continuity and change, which has had an impact at the national level.
TOPIC 4: THE QUESTION OF LEADERSHIP
Every political process, on any level, whether local, national, or continental, has a face: the face of women or men who must fulfill certain roles, such as leading. That is not the problem. The problem is when that leadership is constructed in a way which makes it remote and distant from the collective political process that supports it.
Leadership must always have both feet firmly placed on the ground, well rooted in the collective process from which it arises and of which it is a part, connected to that from which it derives its strength. When it disassociates itself from this, we have a problem - messianism. If we do not keep leaders firmly rooted in the collectivity, our political projects of change weaken and our opponents easily trump them. This, to me, is the central question: leaderships must arise not from an imposition from above, but from what people give rise to, whether through a primary, an assembly, or through a concrete social struggle that catapults a social leader forward. The leadership we want is the leadership that is built from the collective rather than the one that is determined behind walls.
But there is a threat: the fragility of the leaderships that do not have an apparatus behind them. If they knock off the head, they knock the whole thing down. That is why it is critical to strengthen the collective process that drives that leadership. Failing this, leaders can be easily pushed aside.