In this introductory chapter, I describe the questions driving the research for this book. What room do people have to claim their power as citizens in a world that is becoming ever more dominated by capitalism? Can the spaces created for democratic participation be used in any meaningful sense to challenge structures of political power and advance the interests of people who are currently marginalized and unrecognized? In this book, I want to re-examine what difference local participation can make in a world of global capitalism – with increasing inequality, with segregation pulling communities apart, and where policymakers diminish the needs and interests of the people whose lives their decisions affect most significantly.