"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson


We as Americans all remember being taught when we were young about our nation's founders, the patriots who stood up to the tyranny of the crown of England, the drafters of the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights, the documents that became the framework for a system of governance that they believed would maintain a balance of power within a truly representative government, that would preserve the basic rights and liberties of the people, let their voice be heard, and provide to them a government, as Lincoln later put it, "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."

Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?

Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.

How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.

In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…



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Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Is Barack Obama a candidate who will deliver a higher level of participatory democracy if he is elected President? If you are inspired by his moving yet somewhat ambiguous rhetoric on the campaign trail, it may be worth your while to take the time to actually read about his platform and proposed policies in depth on his campaign website. What his stump speeches may lack in detail is laid out in intricate detail on the website, and you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find there. The ethics section in particular spells out many revolutionary policies that have the intention of making government and the activities of lobbyists more transparent, and the flow of money traceable by the general public on freely accessable internet databases. Some of these policies will also have the effect of increasing citizen participation in government, utilizing the internet as the channel for participation in many instances. To give an example, his "Sunlight Before Signing" policy states: "Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days." His "Hold 21st Century Fireside Chats" policy states: "Obama will bring democracy and policy directly to the people by requiring his Cabinet officials to have periodic national broadband townhall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies." These and other policies laid out on his website are designed to both cast light upon the dealings in the halls of power so that representatives will be held more accountable to their constituents will, and to "bring americans back into their government." Obama, if he succeeds, may well usher in a new era of popular participation in governance, and in the process open the door to a more radical and permanent transition to direct democracy in the U.S.A.

Visit the issues section of his website and read the following article to learn more. - Editor

Obama for a Participatory Democracy

By Guest Author Kenny Grand • Jan 28th, 2008 •
Source: theactivist.org Young Democratic Socialists Online Magazine

To be completely honest, I didn’t plan to vote next February. I really didn’t see any point in wasting my time or getting my hopes up. After the incompetent leadership of the Bush Administration, I was waiting for a miracle; waiting for some miraculous leader to step forward and put an end to the sectarian squabbling and bring us into a golden age. Unfortunately, it looked like business as usual. In all of the debates and all of the television interviews, I never really saw anything worth getting excited about. Interviewers seemed to be more concerned with who is the next “threat to democracy” and what the candidates thought about cheating spouses. Everybody gave the same vague slogans and promises:

“I’ll cut taxes.” or “I’ll make the world safe from terrorism.”

Let’s face it, we live in a crippled democracy. There is a reason why when it comes to voter turnout,
we rank 139th out of 172 democratic nations. Not that I don’t love this country - as Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.” Right now, as it has been for a good long while, we live in what is called a plutocracy; that is, a country ruled not by the masses, but by a privileged minority. If the government official doesn’t initially belong to that privileged minority, they quickly join the fold.

Take Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor for example. I sat in a labor organization meeting with some of his staffers and workers who were concerned about Central American Free Trade Agreement legislation. If CAFTA passed, we’d see thousands of American jobs disappear to Central America where they could produce goods without having to worry about fair wages. His representatives told the workers that it was horrible legislation and they shouldn’t worry too much about it…and of course, Pryor ended up voting for CAFTA. Luckily, the working people of Central America rose up by the tens of thousands and sent Bush and the foul trade agreement packin’.

The only way to have a true democracy is to have a transparent and accountable government. It is not a democracy if the people don’t participate. A little over a week ago, I heard of a candidate who surprisingly believes in the same thing. A national organizer for the Obama campaign came to UCA and spoke to the student body for two hours, addressing all questions and outlining most of Barack’s main platforms. Unlike the other candidates, Obama started his career as a community organizer for Chicago’s South Side. He’s also the only one still running that has had zero corporate political action committee campaign contributions. Every penny of the two-hundred million dollars that he has raised came from individuals and grassroots organizations. He has a solid understanding of why people have lost faith in American democracy, and what it will take for the people to reclaim ownership of the system.

One simple idea is to eliminate shady back-office dealings. When a bill comes forward to be approved by the president, he wants to put the American public in the room. Have a table with him in the middle, the lobbyists to one side, his advisors to the other, and a camera poised front-and-center, broadcasting the proceedings on C-Span for everyone to see.

He has plan after plan to promote social consciousness and participatory democracy. Doubling the Peace Corps in size, doubling Americorps, creating a Classroom Corps to supplement public education, a Health Corps to improve public health outreach, a Veteran’s Corps to assist veterans in hospitals, nursing homes, and homeless shelters. Even a Clean Energy Corps to weatherize and work on renewable energy projects. He wants to get college people actively involved in their communities - offering a $4,000 tax credit to student who commit to more than 100 hours of community service per year.

He’s also a candidate with a healthy worldview. There are many countries whose economies are so crippled that they are only able to pay the interest on their loans from the IMF, World Bank, and African Development Bank. The premise of being able to pay these loans off is so alien to them because interest just eats away every hand up they could possibly get. Obama supports complete debt forgiveness to the 18 poorest nations to give them the leverage to be able to enter the world market. However, he shares the same sentiment for Americans of course, and is committed to put an end to predatory lending practices that we suffer at the hands of Credit Card and Mortgage companies. He also plans on instituting a federally funded transitional employment service, which will serve as a training spot and hand up to unemployed Americans.

Also, other than Dennis Kucinich (who recently had to drop out of the race), he was the only candidate who was openly opposed to the War in Iraq from the outset. While the media was selling the war to the public and while all of the other candidates (who had access to a wealth of information that we citizens don’t) either went with the flow or rode the fence. In this way, he was one of the few to stand up as a person of principle.

I could go on and on and on, but instead you should just check things out for yourself. For once, I’m excited to vote, and on February 5th - I’m gonna go cast my lot and pray that in the face of an impending recession, we get off of the couch and choose a capable candidate. I’m not even advocating that you vote for Obama…JUST VOTE!

Kenny Grand is a NOC Facilitator and member of the University of Central Arkansas chapter of YDS

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