"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…



WashingtonOregonCaliforniaAlaskaHawaiiIdahoNevadaArizonaMontanaWyomingUtahColoradoNew MexicoNorth DakotaSouth DakotaNebraskaKansasOklahomaTexasMinnesotaIowaMissouriArkansasLouisianaWisconsinIllinoisIndianaMichiganOhioMississippiAlabamaGeorgiaSouth CarolinaNorth CarolinaFloridaTennesseeKentuckyVirginia West VirginiaPennsylvaniaNew YorkMaineVermontNew HampshireRhode IslandConnecticutNew JerseyDelawareDistrict of ColumbiaMassachusetts

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


“People are dropping out of democracy. That's a very dangerous trend. The voting level is going down. But even more than that, you have people say, "I'm not turned on to politics." Well, history shows that if you're not turned on to politics, politics is going to turn on you. And the political system, under the corporate domination, is closing out the civil society. Citizen groups can't get anything done anymore. It's very hard to get a chance to have a chance in Congress before the regulatory agencies or the courts. It's like a permanent government in Washington.” Ralph Nader http://www.ontheissues.org/Ralph_Nader.htm

“I mean, first of all, if [the Democratic presidential candidates] wanted to [end the influence of special interests] they'd put front and center public funding of public campaigns. They put front and center cracking down on corporate crime fraud and abuse. They would put front and center empowering the American people in direct democracy format so they can move in when they're so-called representatives cave in to the interests of big business.” Ralph Nader http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0802/25/ltm.03.html

While Nader refers to our need for direct democracy in the US, some see it as an advancement of his personal political agenda. For example, the article "Democracy? Count Me Out" by Stephen Gowans argues that Nader and other politicians just want to change the rules when they are losing in order to slant the playing field in their favor. According to Gowans, this explains Nader’s attempt to give the people more power while he is actually hoping to give “enlightened” people more power. Citing Richard Swift’s work as an example, Gowans goes on to argue that people who advocate direct democracy might be surprised by the effects of expanding democracy’s scope, such as a majority that disagrees with their own political initiatives. Taking this perspective, both the ‘non-authoritarian’ Left and the right-wing policy makers in Washington nowadays are equally “happy to exploit the rhetoric of democracy, as a useful way to distinguish themselves favourably from authoritarian regimes”. While equating these two extremes is a bit of an exaggeration, Gowans does have a point about the type of rhetoric being used in politics today.

However, if we step back from the debate about presidential candidates to see what citizens are saying about direct democracy, a different thesis appears. In a recent online debate which included several particpants of the Worldwide Direct Democracy Movement (WDDM), it became apparent that in order to effectively advocate true direct democracy, we cannot be satisfied with mere stopgap participatory responses to problems that can only be addressed through a new system of comprehensive and total participation. Instead of altering the playing field slightly to make it more favorable for one team or the other, or even in favor of the referee, we should be pushing for a new field all together on which we are all players and referees. - Editor

No comments: