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  • US CITIZENS LEVELS OF MISTRUST
    president and growing disapproval of the Democratic led Congress Seventy four percent of Americans in the latest ABC News Washington Post poll say the country is headed in the wrong direction the most sincethe government shut down in a contentious budget battle in early 1996 And while George W Bush remains at his career low in job approval henow has company A year after they won control of the House and Senate approval of the Democrats in Congress has fallen to its lowest since 1995 At play are two of the most powerful forces in politics an unpopular war and economic anxiety On Iraq 63 percent of Americans continue to say the war was not worth fighting And at home nearly two thirds rate the economy negatively with nearly seven in 10 seeing some likelihood of a recession in the year ahead Change A clear demand is for change 75 percent want to see the next president lead the nation in a direction different from Bush s That compares to just 47 percent who held that view at this point in Bill Clinton s presidency 55 percent in Ronald Reagan s Even among Republicans a bare majority wants a change

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  • VENEZUELA'S BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION
    would contain the capital of the republic the states the maritime regions the federal territories the federal municipalities the insular districts and the communes Chavez also proposes introducing into the Constitution a law forbidding the exploitation of workers creating a Social Stability Fund that will guarantee the workers such basic rights as retirement pensions vacations rest and economic guarantees to pregnant women both pre and post partum The law would reduce the workday to six hours and would forbid employers to force their employees to work overtime The reform contemplates a ban on unproductive land as well as a ban on the private exploitation of hydrocarbons in all their forms It would forbid the exploitation of goods and services used for the public interest or of a strategic nature It should be noted that none of these reforms except those that defend the interests of the workers are new in the capitalist system In some developed countries that established the fading welfare society the measures were even more drastic What s most important for those who want to know what 21 st Century socialism will be is that Chavez proposes that the Constitution should accept five forms of property public social collective mixed and private Public property belongs to the state organizations Social to the people as a whole Collective property is owned by social groups or groups of persons Mixed property is composed of public and private capital The bill also guarantees private property which belongs to natural or legal persons In other words the reform proposal respects the private ownership of the means of production What it prevents is the systematic exploitation of the workers When submitting the reforms to Parliament Chavez addressed the businessmen Entrepreneurs private sector you are not excluded We need you as allies Together we shall build the great country that Venezuela is becoming This is a concept that allows all of us to join together in cooperation This is not the first time that Chavez makes such a call to the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and the transnational corporations It seems that the bourgeois mentality and the class interests selfish as they are prevent them from understanding the message which far from harming them would benefit them in the long run What happens is that they have to renounce to something that has been their raison d etre the control of the state which now passes to the hands of the people In his radio program Alo Presidente of August 19 Chavez denounced plans by the opposition and the CIA to impede the approval and application of the reforms There are other reform proposals but these seem to me to be the most important and significant I think you realize that if they are approved they will transform the nation s structure of government and will grant the Venezuelan people a participation and leading role never before seen in any other country The problem lies in applying these attributes and making them work It is

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  • LATIN AMERICAN LEFTISTS
    of the oil revenue actually benefits the Venezuelan people Other key industries such as water electric power telecommunications cement and steel have been nationalised in several cases reversing privatisations implemented in the nineties The state either alone or in association with foreign investors has been very active as entrepreneur building new metro lines in Caracas and new metro systems in three other cities new inter city rail services modernised port facilities a major new bridge across the River Orinoco car and tractor plants with Iranian participation development of satellite and computer technology with Chinese assistance and so on Three new state banks provide micro credit to the poor most notably the Women s Development Bank and tens of thousands of cooperatives have sprung up in agriculture industry and services The social achievements in education health welfare and food distribution through the new Missions are also very impressive The ALBA a real alternative But most relevant for this analysis is the active foreign policy of the Bolivarian Republic promoting Latin American unity and new global alliances It was Venezuela under Chávez which single handedly revived OPEC in 1999 before the Bush administration s aggressive policies provoked inflationary tensions in the Middle Eastern oil producing region From the beginning Chávez made Latin American unity a top priority proposing the ALBA Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas as a regional integration project challenging the ALCA the Spanish acronym for the US sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas or FTAA At first no one took the ALBA seriously but today it is a reality an economic and political bloc with five full members Venezuela Cuba Bolivia Nicaragua and the Caribbean island of Dominica and several other countries which are about to join Ecuador or have multiple ALBA type bilateral agreements with Venezuela Brazil Argentina Uruguay and several small Caribbean nations The ALBA principles of endogenous development using national and local resources equitable exchange social justice and ecological sustainability go directly against the neoliberal values promoted by Washington the EU and international financial agencies but the FTAA is now dead in the water and the recent EU Latin American summit in Lima was also marked by the refusal of the ALBA countries to accept European neoliberal priorities Chávez began talking about ALBA during his first year in office but he first formally presented it as a proposal at the III Summit of Caribbean leaders in December 2001 It made little progress during the following three years because of the political turmoil in Venezuela but in December 2004 Cuba and Venezuela signed the protocols which made them founding members of the organisation Bolivia joined soon after the election of Evo Morales Nicaragua after the victory of Daniel Ortega and Dominica in January 2008 But ALBA is not limited in scope to its formal member states Several other countries have attended ALBA summits as observers and signed specific agreements without yet becoming members Thus the Fifth ALBA summit on 28 29 April 2007 in Barquisimeto Venezuela was attended not only by the then four full members but by Haiti Ecuador Dominica St Kitts Nevis St Vincent the Grenadines and Uruguay They agreed on the establishment of joint enterprises and programmes in education health energy communications transport housing food and mining ALBA has inspired numerous bilateral agreements between Venezuela and neighbouring countries Thus early in 2005 Caracas signed an agreement with Buenos Aires under which ships for the Venezuelan merchant marine would be built in previously idle Argentine shipyards rather than purchased from European or Asiatic multinationals and in exchange Argentina would provide seed cattle to improve the quality of Venezuelan herds Around the same time Uruguay arranged to supply cement one of the few manufacturing industries in which this small agrarian country has significant capacity in return for Venezuelan oil at favourable prices Also in 2005 Brazil signed an agreement for a joint venture between the two state oil companies Petrobras and PDVSA to build a major petrochemical plant in Pernambuco northeast Brazil with numerous spin offs designed to favour local welfare and peasant agriculture this project recently came to fruition April 2008 and was jointly inaugurated by Presidents Chávez and Lula Yet such an important event was studiously ignored by the international media which prefer to speculate about supposed tensions between the radical Chávez and the statesmanlike Lula The ALBA ideal is also present in other crucial projects launched by Venezuela such as Petrocaribe and Petrosur Petrocaribe is a cooperation agreement under which Venezuela provides cheap oil to small Caribbean countries and Petrosur is an association of the state oil countries of several South American countries to promote regional energy integration Under Petrocaribe Venezuela finances 40 of the oil provided to 14 Caribbean countries charging only 2 annual interest over 20 to 25 years Another iconic initiative is Telesur a joint TV news channel backed by Venezuela Cuba Argentina and Uruguay sometimes described as a Latin Al Jazeera More recently several countries including Brazil have signed up to the Bank of the South a regional development bank independent of the IMF and World Bank Despite the constant efforts of the North Atlantic powers to isolate Venezuela its example proved contagious While the rise of progressive governments in other Latin American nations is due primarily to their own domestic social and political dynamics the Venezuelan transformation was crucial in demonstrating for the first time since 1989 that it was possible to defy the Washington Consensus and to use state power to promote an alternative development model The election of Lula in Brazil in 2002 swiftly followed by those of Kirchner in Argentina and the Frente Amplio in Uruguay showed that Chávez was no mere flash in the pan and that a broader regional trend was developing Even more significant was the victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia in December 2005 because it was based more directly on the mobilisation of indigenous social movements and strove as in Venezuela to promote a revolutionary agenda In November December 2006 this potentially revolutionary trend was reinforced by the victories of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua unexpectedly reviving the hopes raised by the Sandinista revolution nearly three decades earlier and Rafael Correa in Ecuador plus Chávez re election with a large majority and a mandate for 21 st century socialism The Pink Tide was also reinforced by the election of Michelle Bachelet in Chile although constrained by powerful domestic conservative forces which rule out any radical agenda and most recently Fernando Lugo in Paraguay Populism democracy and social movements Critics such as Michael Reid 3 make a distinction between the populist autocracy of Chávez Morales and Correa and the democratic reformism of Lula and Bachelet The former are disqualified as atavistic reactions against progressive market reforms which the latter more moderate governments have embraced and which are supposedly more viable Certainly the first group of countries Venezuela Bolivia and Ecuador have seen more radical changes and have followed a pattern which consists of fundamental institutional change through convening a Constituent Assembly empowerment of popular social movements through participatory democracy nationalisation of key resource industries and agrarian reform Entrenched conservative interests have prevented such extensive changes in Brazil Chile and Uruguay But as we have seen both groups of countries participate in ALBA style initiatives and it can be argued that the difference between them is one of degree rather than kind Significantly at key moments Brazil has consistently taken a stand in favour of Venezuela when Chávez has been under pressure during the opposition strike lockout in December 2002 January 2003 an attempted economic coup which paralysed the Venezuelan oil industry Lula sent shipments of petrol which were crucial to Chávez survival and in the recent Andean crisis produced by the Colombian military incursion into Ecuador see below it was Bachelet and Lula who led the way in providing diplomatic support to Ecuador and Venezuela What Reid and other mainstream critics fail to recognise is first the dramatic failure of neoliberalism in Latin America and secondly the genuine democratic renewal represented by these populist governments Reid resorts to ad hoc explanations and special pleading to explain the disastrous impact of neoliberalism in the region Argentina s successive crises are attributed to the error of currency convertibility the Mexican debacle of the mid 1990s was due to corruption and governmental weakness Ecuador s repeated catastrophes resulted from poor management and inadequate reforms Bolivia s slide into crisis after an initially successful stabilisation was caused by external factors and so on anything other than the imbalances and inequalities produced by neoliberalism as such the one thing that all these countries had in common from the 1980s to the early years of the new millenium It was this critical situation which led to popular disillusionment and then rejection of the neoliberal model Secondly the populism of the new leftist leaders does not represent as Reid and mainstream opinion would have it a rejection of democracy On the contrary it was the imposition of the Washington Consensus which gave democracy a bad name and what Chávez and others like him are doing is to reclaim democracy from the transnational liberal elites and return it to the people Looking to Rousseau to Tony Negri and the theory of the Constituent Power 4 they insist that democracy means nothing if it excludes the poor and exploited and that popular empowerment is more important than formal liberal rules or at least that formal rules cannot be used as an excuse to prevent popular empowerment In this they have also reconnected with Latin American traditions of popular collective struggle as the real source of political legitimacy and with the powerful indigenous traditions of communal self government and autonomy These traditions are indeed very different from Anglo American liberalism but they are much more relevant to Latin American reality and to the lived experience of two thirds of the population In this respect it is essential to recognise that the region s leftward trend is not just the result of conventional party politics Although the new governments have come to power through elections and not armed struggle or military coups they represent much more than a conventional swing of the pendulum electoral trend They are the product of a sea change in which new social movements neighbourhood groups in the shanty towns landless peasants organisations indigenous black and women s movements have mobilised outside party politics and on a scale rarely seen before to demand recognition and meaningful participation These are the movements that made possible the election of Chávez Lula Morales and the rest and they will not accept a return to business as usual they are waging an epic battle for social economic and cultural emancipation which gives concrete meaning to the slogan of the World Social Forums that Another World is Possible Other critics doctrinaire Marxists and the more radical of the anti globalisation activists argue that the new leftist governments have so far been unable or unwilling to take very radical social measures or to challenge the power of domestic and international capital in any significant way This is certainly the case in Brazil Chile and Uruguay in part at least because of the powerful interests arrayed against them in Venezuela Bolivia and Ecuador it is disingenuous to deny the importance of the measures taken against international financial powers and domestic oligarchies especially when the neoliberal and unipolar international context is taken into account Nationalisation after all had been completely taboo for twenty years before Chávez and Morales came along Agrarian reform was taken to mean sale to private investors until the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela revived its original meaning of distributing land from latifundia to peasant cooperatives The very notion of socialism was dismissed as an atavistic throwback which even so called socialist parties had ditched in favour of privatisation efficiency and competition Any talk of an anti capitalist alternative was confined to marginalised groups who had no access whatsoever to political power That this has now changed is nothing short of revolutionary and it is due to the political vision and strategic capacity of Chávez Morales Correa and others like them This new political assertiveness has also begun to win important battles played out in first world establishment forums In 2007 Venezuela decided to nationalise the major new oilfields in the Orinoco basin the one area of the industry in which foreign capital was still predominant Most companies accepted the terms offered by PDVSA but the US giant Exxon took PDVSA to court in Britain and won an embargo worth 12 000 million The Venezuelans appealed and in March they won a landmark decision against Exxon 5 Similarly in June 2008 Brazil won a long drawn out battle with the US when the World Trade Organisation ruled against Washington s subsidies for cotton production a ruling potentially worth 1 000 million a year Obstacles domestic and global It remains true that these new regimes face powerful obstacles and that the long term outcome is far from clear Evo Morales in Bolivia has seen his agenda blocked by militant oligarchic opposition in the Constitutional Assembly and in the streets culminating recently in illegal autonomist referenda in five of the country s nine departments and violent disturbances directly promoted by these regional authorities In Ecuador conservative interests centred in the country s main port and largest city Guayaquil have also begun to talk about separatism and in Venezuela the State of Zulia with its capital in Maracaibo the country s second city and centre of the oil industry is one of only two state governments still in opposition hands and might also play the separatist card Separatism appears to be one of Washington s main tactics for undermining unfriendly governments reflected in a new organisation founded in 2006 with the Spanish acronym CONFILAR International Confederation for Regional Liberty and Autonomy In addition to powerful conservative opposition groups in all of these countries the US can still count on the allegiance of three key right wing governments in Mexico Colombia and Peru and retains strong influence in Chile as well as several of the smaller Central American and Caribbean nations Colombia under President Alvaro Uribe is the lynchpin of US hegemony its internal armed conflict dating back over 50 years has provided the pretext for intervention on the basis of the War on Drugs and now the War on Terror Uribe s democratic security policy supposedly justified by the need to fight the FARC and ELN guerrilla insurgencies entails the arbitrary arrest persecution and often assassination of thousands of trade unionists peasant and indigenous leaders teachers journalists and human rights workers both directly by the security forces and by sinister right wing paramilitaries Opposition politicians and social movement activists are routinely accused of guerrilla sympathies a charge also levelled by Uribe and the Colombian establishment at the Venezuelan and Ecuadorean governments This regional cold war recently threatened to break out into open hostilities when on 1 March 2008 without consultation or warning Colombia launched a military assault on a FARC camp some two kilometres across the border in Ecuador killing the guerrilla organisation s second in command Raúl Reyes and 24 others including an Ecuadorean citizen and two Mexicans The Colombians claimed to have evidence of both Ecuadorean and Venezuelan support for the FARC and clearly expected most of its regional neighbours to support it further discrediting both Correa and Chávez But in a surprising twist the outcome was quite the opposite at meetings of the Rio Group of Latin American countries and the Organisation of American States OAS the overwhelming majority of countries backed Ecuador and Venezuela leaving Colombia and its US sponsor isolated and reaffirming the inviolability of national borders This in itself was a remarkable development given the history of the OAS traditionally regarded by its critics as the US Ministry of Colonies But more was to come The Colombian government also distributed a photograph which it claimed showed Ecuadorean Defence Minister Gustavo Larrea in the jungle with Raúl Reyes It was subsequently demonstrated that the person with Reyes was actually an Argentine Communist Party leader and that the photo was in any case six years old Not content with this Bogotá claims to have captured three laptops which somehow survived the bombing raid on the FARC camp and alleges that they contain numerous files incriminating Chávez Correa and their governments in funding and assisting the guerrillas These allegations have been widely reported in the Colombian and international media with claims that Chávez especially has now been caught red handed However although the computers have been examined by Interpol it has been pointed out that this examination only verified the integrity of the computers and their files while in the hands of the Colombian police it did not confirm whether or not they really came from the FARC camp or the reliability of the information contained in the files 6 What this ongoing propaganda war demonstrates is just how important it is for Colombia and through Colombia the US to discredit Chávez Correa and Evo Morales and to isolate them internationally The Bush administration has recently publicly revealed its desire to have Venezuela designated a terrorist state But while such allegations have gained wide currency in the media and have won substantial backing from largely supine European governments in Latin America they have found little support even among supposed US allies such as Peru and Chile Time magazine pointed out that Even the Republican staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a report issued last month headed up by the office of Indiana Senator Richard Lugar advised the Bush administration not to give Chávez the kind of anti U S tool he uses so well to his favor and that the U S would be wise to allow for the regional dynamic to take its course 7 Indeed signs of the region s growing spirit of independence are multiplying In April the Brazilian Foreign

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  • Congressman Dennis Kucinich rouses 2008 Democratic Convention
    unproductive spending to the national debt We now pay four times more for defense three times more for gasoline and home heating oil and twice what we paid for health care Millions of Americans have lost their jobs their homes their health care their pensions Trillions of dollars for an unnecessary war paid with borrowed money Tens of billions of dollars in cash and weapons disappeared into thin air at the cost of the lives of our troops and innocent Iraqis while all the president s oilmen are maneuvering to grab Iraq s oil If there was an Olympics for misleading mismanaging and misappropriating this administration would take the gold World records for violations of national and international laws They want another four year term to continue to alienate our allies spend our children s inheritance and hollow out our economy We can t afford another Republican administration Wake up America The insurance companies took over health care Wake up America The pharmaceutical companies took over drug pricing Wake up America This is not a call for you to take a new direction from right to left This is call for you to go from down to up Up with

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  • Liberal Democracies
    no man can practice excellence and virtue who is living the life of a craftsman or labourer On that basis every stage and phase of the policy making and implementation process had to be dominated by what James Madison called the opulent Because the opulent were wealthy and or leisured and or well born they are possessed of a moral superiority that flows from a natural excellence independence of mind careful rearing and an expensive education at exclusive schools and universities At the same time with a little constitutional sleight of hand so called Representative Government could be easily manpulated so as to offer a minimal measure of accountability to the unopulent majority while being logistically feasible and politically stable regardless of population territorial size and inadequate communications Provided the right to vote was also limited to say male Protestant property owners over 25 years of age representative government would be able to prevent radical attacks on the prevailing systems of class wealth and privilege By the close of the 19 th Century however many radical democrats wanted much more They argued that democracy should be a continuing process in which the power to directly influence decisions would be extended ever more widely to more and more groups of people who had formerly been excluded not only by their lack of wealth and social standing but also by their gender religion or colour of skin As Tom Bottomore said in ELITES AND SOCIETY Penguin 1966 It would not have occurred to most of the democratic political thinkers of the nineteenth century to regard universal suffrage ie the right to vote competition between several political parties and representative government however valuable by contrast with the institutions of other political regimes as the ultimate point of democratic progress beyond which it was

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  • GAIAN SYSTEMS AS A COMPONENT OF GAIAN DEMOCRACIES
    must be re configured to work with natural systems instead of treating them as an inexhaustible resource Our human societies must somehow reconnect with nature The characteristics of Gaia as a system and of human beings and human societies as sub systems of Gaia are deeply significant in relation to democracy The capacity of Gaian systems to self organise is the key to their capacity for survival and adaptation Our democratic systems need to be configured so as to aim towards achieving ordered relationships between the self organised actions of the members of a particular democratic system the democracy of which they are a part and the Gaian system to which we all belong Many will optimistically agree with James Lovelock s view that Potentially at least we have the intelligence to learn how to work with Gaia rather than undermining her i The intelligence Yes But systems for co learning how to use it No Under the Global Monetocracy there is no possibility whatsoever of that potential being realised The only chance we believe of averting the disaster that a Gaian system shift will spell for the human family is a system shift in our democracies In that sense we are in a race to reconfigure our democratic systems before Gaia launches on her own systems shift All we can hope is that Gaia does not get there first In our current state of knowledge it is impossible to say whether the Gaian shift will result in a new ice age or the melting of the polar ice caps and the drowning of millions of low lying islands and coastal cities towns and villages It is important to note that the shift is an example of Gaia s balancing feedback mechanisms in operation and that because of the phenomena

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  • LIBERATING LEADERSHIP AS A COMPONENT OF GAIAN DEMOCRACIES
    democracies will need to develop over the coming years One of the most interesting examples is Herb Kelleher founder and Chief Executive of Southwest Airlines based in Houston Texas Since 1970 Southwest Airlines has become the fifth largest US airline in terms of passengers boarded It has never had a crash It has never laid off employees By 1998 the number of employees had multiplied from the original 195 to 23 000 According to research by Dr Reginald Bruce Management ii The employees of Southwest enjoy a casual fun natured work environment that is celebrated publicly and hard to duplicate The development of Southwest s company culture emerged when they adopted a philosophy that they wouldn t hide anything not even any of their problems from their employees Herb Kelleher s leadership style is the opposite of the many autocratic leaders that have thrived in business for centuries He does not rule over his employees but rather rules with his employees Kelleher believes that leadership is the job of every employee not just upper level management Kelleher believes that every employee should have the ability to ascertain situations and be able to act on their own decisions Employees should be able to lead other employees to make decisions Kelleher s describes Southwest Airlines as an upside down pyramid At the bottom are the upper management personnel and at the top are the front line employees These front line employees are the ones that make things happen He considers his front line employees the experts in the organization and top management the support help The heroes are the front line employees Kelleher s ability to lead is supported by the leadership offered by all of the employees in the organization listening to all employee ideas facilitates leadership Once employees feel that they have been heard by co workers they will be more willing to listen to ideas from others Why do the Herb Kellehers of this world resist the pressure to conform to the dominant command and control school of leadership The answer is that their own values and core beliefs are sufficiently powerful to make them search for different ways of running the organisations they lead more powerful than those of their peers Such leaders are in a minority among the vast mass of politicians bureaucrats and executives whose values and beliefs faithfully reflect those of the elite consensus But although driven by what Peter Drucker called an ethical imperative liberating leaders have a high need for both power and achievement they are by no means a pushover iii The difference lies in their commitment to exercising their power for the benefit of the organisation and fellow employees rather than for personal aggrandisement Most of all they do not just talk about their values they constantly and consistently demonstrate them in their behaviours and in the decisions they make In place of the participation exercises favoured by command and control leaders liberating leaders develop a culture of dialogue in which

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  • PARTICIPATORY CHANGE PROCESSES AS A COMPONENT OF GAIAN DEMOCRACIES
    is that they should use Paulo Freire s concepts of liberating dialogues as the vehicles through which participants can use their own ways of speaking to articulate their shared understanding of how their world came to be like it is and how to act to change their future By integrating participative change processes with soft systems methodologies the quality of the resultant shared understanding between the participants will be immensely enriched In practical terms participative change processes may take just a few hours a few days or a day a week spread over several months It could be an open ended series of processes that go on for years The number of participants can vary from a small team to a few dozen to a few hundred to a few thousand to a few tens of thousands to with the help of network and cable TV hundreds of thousands i Scale is an issue only in terms of the demands it makes on the skills and resources available to the liberating leaders who are responsible for initiating supporting and sustaining the process In all effective participatory processes the participants do a lot of work in small groups very like Freire s Culture Circles The group work is facilitated to ensure that everybody s contribution is encouraged heard and respected A typical process might start with What are the five most important things we want this process to achieve for us for our community for our children The facilitation role is one that requires considerable skill It may be rotated between the members of the group if they have sufficient confidence trust and cohesion Alternatively it may be best for the facilitator to be a skilled outsider whose job it is to serve the group as a whole and not be concerned with making his or her own contribution or getting across a particular point of view A typical small group session lasts about an hour The general pattern of the process is for the outcomes of all the groups to be openly reviewed at a plenary session in which there are opportunities for further reflection and clarification The plenary may then break up into another group session and the participants may go back to their original group or they might randomly re arrange themselves to form new groups Different groups might call for specialist advice on some aspect of the system they are re configuring They might call for the production of additional data to clarify a particular issue If the process is integrated with a soft systems methodology the groups might talk about and draw pictures of the systems or sub systems that need to be changed In this way as the participants think act and learn together their shared understanding of the existing situation and of how to change it for the better will become ever more precise Whether there are fifty or five hundred or five thousand or five hundred thousand participants liberating leaders will devote the

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