"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, April 30, 2008


The following article from a Nevada paper probes the question of whether the use of paid companies to collect signatures for ballot initiatives is having an adverse effect on the process. - Editor

BALLOT INITIATIVES: Paying for Petitions

Critics Say Company has used Underhanded Tactics in Past



A smiling person with a clipboard approaches you as you enter the
DMV. Will you sign a petition to put a question on the November ballot?

Opponents of certain ballot initiatives being circulated say you should think twice. A company that's being paid big money to collect the more than 58,000 required signatures, they say, has a history of shady dealings in other states.

The three initiatives in question are backed by Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Two of the initiatives, the Education Enhancement Act and the Funding Nevada's Priorities Act, would shift money from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority into education and transportation. A third, the Taxpayers Protection Act, would require a two-thirds vote in favor of a ballot initiative that seeks to raise taxes.

Signatures for the three initiatives are being collected by National Voter Outreach, a Carson City based company that has worked in Nevada and all over the country for more than a decade.

The company's president last year was indicted in Oklahoma and charged, along with two others, with conspiracy to defraud voters.

The company defends its reputation, saying it has a long track record in the business of collecting signatures for petitions. The company says the legal proceedings in Oklahoma, which are still pending, are unfair, and that charges of misconduct elsewhere are baseless.

But a watchdog group calls the company one of the top "fraud merchants" in the country and "a leader in cultivating deceptive signature gathering practices."

The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center points to signature gathering campaigns conducted by the company in Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New York and Washington where tactics used to collect signatures have been questioned and sometimes have led to initiatives being thrown off ballots.

The watchdog's executive director, Kristina Wilfore, acknowledges that the center has a liberal agenda of its own and opposes the initiatives in question. But she says the allegations of fraud in the gathering of signatures for conservative ballot measures should give voters in Nevada pause.

"Nevadans should be aware that there's been wrongdoing that has led to them being kicked off the ballot in some cases," she said. "They're known to employ some of the worst circulators. Their primary objective is to make money and to get these on the ballot through whatever means possible."

National Voter Outreach's CEO, Rick Arnold, says the company has no political ax to grind and has ample checks and balances to safeguard against fraud.

"I've been doing this for 30 years," he said. "No one can stay in business for 30 years if they're acting illegally. We do not break the law. We're very careful. We do have people who are circulators for us who attempt to do things they shouldn't do, and part of our quality control is to catch that."

The company has collected signatures on petitions with both a liberal and a conservative bent, he said, including a 2004 Nevada initiative backed by the teachers union. That initiative made it onto the ballot but didn't pass.

Its successful initiatives in Nevada go back to now-Gov. Jim Gibbons' tax restraint initiative, added to the state constitution in 1994, which implemented the requirement that two-thirds of the Legislature approve any tax increase. The company also worked for Gibbons' 2006 Education First initiative, which requires the Legislature to pass the education budget before any other budgets, and 2004's Keep Our Doctors In Nevada, a tort-reform measure.

Arnold said the company is a victim of attempts to politicize its mission, which is simply to make a profit by getting initiatives on the ballot. "We would like to be nonpartisan, and we pretty much are, but this group has blackballed us and is telling progressive groups not to use us," Arnold said.

National Voter Outreach purchases signatures from independent contractors who do the actual circulation of the petitions. Response to job ads has been high lately because of economic conditions, especially in Clark County, Arnold said.

The company pays by the signature and pays only for signatures that include all the required information, are in ink and are notarized correctly. The company then does its own checks of names and addresses against the voter rolls, to make sure each one is from a Nevada registered voter, he said.

Restrictions on the initiative process, such as a law passed by the 2007 Legislature requiring signatures from all 17 Nevada counties, make it difficult for a purely grass-roots effort to get on the ballot and give companies such as Arnold's a growing niche nationwide. Almost all the initiatives to reach the Nevada statewide ballot in recent years have employed paid signature gatherers.

Establishment politicians tend not to like initiatives because they put control back in the hands of the people, but initiatives keep coming because the people support them, Arnold said.

The signature gatherers are trained, he said, to "emphasize, 'Here's an issue we think is important. You're not making a final decision, just saying it's something the people should get to vote on.' Frankly, most people like that empowerment. The people like the process. The people support the process."

Arnold called the Oklahoma indictment frivolous. Before circulation began on a measure that would limit government spending and taxes in the state, the company, he said, sought clarification from Oklahoma elections officials about a requirement that circulators be residents of the state.

After the petitions were submitted, Arnold claims, the courts invented a new standard for state residency after the fact. The initiative was thrown off the ballot because of allegations that the signatures were ill-gotten.

The case is still pending. Wilfore said there is ample evidence of bad intentions on the part of the circulators.

"It's offensive that the people who were indicted are trying to say this is an attack on democracy," she said. "They got 15 fake state driver's licenses for people to prove residency. That's not just not knowing the rules."

In Nevada, signature gatherers are not required to be state residents, and Arnold said many of those working for the current initiatives are from out of state.

It's also legal to pay gatherers for signatures on a per-signature basis, which critics say creates an incentive for fraud. (It is not legal to pay people for their signatures.)

The 58,628 required signatures, which must be checked by county clerks and registrars before being accepted by the secretary of state, are due on May 20. The Sands-backed initiatives and others are being challenged in court.

Matt Griffin, elections deputy in the secretary of state's office, said enforcement of the signature requirements is vital to the integrity of the initiative process.

"There has to be strict oversight to ensure the initiative process is fair," he said.

Nevadans for Nevada, a group backed by the state AFL-CIO, which opposes the Sands Corp. initiatives, is still deciding what actions to take against them, said Danny Thompson, the union's secretary-treasurer.

National Voter Outreach's involvement is one troubling aspect of the campaigns, Thompson said.

"We know their history. We know what they've done in Oklahoma. Everyone they approach should be concerned about what their motives are."

Sands is committed to operating the campaigns in an aboveboard manner, said Robert Uithoven, a political consultant to the company.

"Our signature gathering is being done legally," he said. "We support these initiative campaigns in 100 percent full compliance with Nevada law. We believe the message of finding alternatives to massive tax increases is resonating statewide."

Uithoven said the signature-gathering efforts are ahead of schedule and that if the court battle doesn't derail them, the initiatives will meet the requirements for certification by the secretary of state.

Wilfore said she believes underhanded tactics have been common in signature gathering but have begun to come to light only in recent years.

"We're just starting to expose the underbelly of paid signature gathering. Whether an initiative is conservative or progressive, if you have fraudulent signature gathering going on, people being lied to, all these abuses, this pattern we're seeing -- it's a threat to anyone who cares about direct democracy."

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

Monday, April 28, 2008


The following report is an evaluation of the progress of the Neighborhood Councils established in the city of Los Angeles beginning in 1999 in order to alow more citizen participation in municipal government and planning. Click on the link below to read the full report, and visit the D.O.N.E. (Department of Nieghborhood Empowerment) website for more information. - Editor


Urban Initiative Policy Brief

By Juliet Musso, Christopher Weare, Terry L. Cooper

Reporting on a study supported by the James Irvine Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, and the USC Urban Initiative

In June 1999, Los Angeles voters enacted charter provisions creating a citywide system of Neighborhood Councils (NCs). The charter states that the broad goal of the reform is “to promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.” Three years have passed since the City Council approved a plan for charter implementation, and the 2006 charter-mandated review of the Neighborhood Council system is approaching.

Other cities required many years to implement fully a Neighborhood Council system, suggesting that the Los Angeles system is still in a formative stage. This briefing considers whether midstream corrections are in order, and suggests benchmarks against which to evaluate outcomes over time.2 The criteria applied in this evaluation include democratic legitimacy, the extent to which NCs provide meaningful input on city decisions (relevance), and the extent to which NCs appear to have the potential to influence City policies and develop relationships that bring together diverse groups within and across communities.

We find that:

  • Democratic legitimacy requires policy reforms to ensure that Council elections are fair and inclusive:

  • Policy relevance necessitates development of avenues for systematic participation in City governance;

  • While it is too early to evaluate their long-term input, we suggest several benchmarks, including the quality of NC activities and impacts, the development of social and political relationships, and the impact of the system on political efficacy and attitudes toward City government.

To Read the full report click HERE...

See also the D.O.N.E. website:


Saturday, April 26, 2008


The book review below gives the synopsis of The Rebirth of Urban Democracy, a title that seems imperative for all activists to read. Follow up with the link below to get direct quotes from the book. It may entice you to pick it up and figure out how to get involved in your own neighborhood. Reports like this book are an excellent way to spread the word about participatory democracy in our neighborhoods and replicate the successes around the country. As well as explaining some of the obstacles faced by neighborhoods where local government refused to share power with the people, hopefully some solutions to these obstacles will be provided within this book. Although this editor has yet to get a copy to read it in full, after reading this review it is high on the must read list. -Editor


'BookWatchBy Jeffrey M. Berry, Kent E. Portney, and Ken Thomson, 1993.Washington D.C., The Brookings InstitutionMore than any other body of research, “Rebirth” provided a guide for the design of our citywide neighborhood council system. It is a study of face-to-face democracy in five cities – Birmingham, Dayton, Portland (Oregon), St. Paul, and San Antonio by researchers from Tufts University. The book teaches us that in order to avoid the failures of the past to blend participatory democracy into the governmental system, there needs to be a fundamental reform of the political system.The keys to success in the “model” cities were: strong political motivation for success; small neighborhoods (2,000 to 16,000 people) with natural boundaries; a citywide system in which everyone has a stake; political innovations with respect to outreach and communication; avoiding partisan politics; the ability of the public to affect city budget priorities; the power to allocate some local resources; the ability to define the city’s decision-making process; having paid staff; and a flexible system that embraces the belief that one size does not fit all.

Perhaps the most important key to long-term success, the researchers believe, was the willingness of city officials to share power. The research found that there were more community activities in the subject cities than in cities without such systems. However, it found that the least participation was in areas with the lowest-income residents.In noting that participatory democracy “remains an unattractive way to spend an evening for the vast majority of the people,” the authors found that in the most successful examples only about 10% of population participated regularly in some kind of a neighborhood organization (i.e., civic club, homeowners’ association, business group, etc.) To learn more, click here to view three pages of excerpts from this remarkable book. It should be required reading for anyone who is trying to understand what this grand experiment is all about.

Reviewed for CityWatch by Greg Nelson___CityWatchVol 6 Issue 28Published: April 4, 2008

Follow-up link with direct quotes from The Rebirth of Urban Democracy:

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Michel Bauwens - P2P Politics, the State, and the Renewal of the Emancipatory Traditions


Michel Bauwens explores the possibilities opened up by P2P projects for progressive politics, arguing that they could present an alternative to neoliberal privatization, and to the Blairite introduction of private logics in the public sphere.

Peer governance and democracy

As peer to peer technical and social infrastructures such as sociable media and self-directed teams are emerging to become an important if not dominant format for the changes induced by
cognitive capitalism, the peer to peer relational dynamic will increasingly have political effects.

As a reminder, the p2p relational dynamic arises wherever there are distributed networks, i.e. networks where agents are free to undertake actions and relationships, and where there is an absence of overt coercion so that governance modes are emerging from the bottom-up. It creates processes such as peer production, the common production of value; peer governance, i.e. the self-governance of such projects; and peer property, the auto-immune system which prevents the private appropriation of the common.

It is important to distinguish the peer governance of a multitude of small but coordinated global groups, which choose non-representational processes in which participants co-decide on the projects, from representative democracy. The latter is a decentralized form of power-sharing based on elections and representatives. Since society is not a peer group with an a priori consensus, but rather a decentralized structure of competing groups, representative democracy cannot be replaced by peer governance.

However, both modes will influence and accommodate to each other. Peer projects which evolve beyond a certain scale and start facing issues of decisions about scarce resources, will probably adapt some representational mechanisms. Representative and bureaucratic decision-making can and will in some places be replaced by global governance networks which may be self-governed to a large extent, but in any case, it will and should incorporate more and more multistakeholder models, which strives to include as participants in decision-making, all groups that could be affected by such actions. This group-based partnership model is different, but related in spirit, to the individual-based peer governance, because they share an ethos of participation.

But the fundamental change is the following. In the modern view, individuals were seen as atomized. They were believed to be in need of a social contract that delegated authority to a sovereign in order to create society, and in need of socialization by institutions that addressed them as an indifferentiated mass. In the new view however, individuals are always-already connected with their peers, and looking at institutions in such a peer-informed way. Institutions therefore, will have to evolve to become support ecologies, devising ways to create infrastructures of support.

The politicians become interpreters and experts, which can guide the issues emerging out of civil society based networks into the institutional realm.

The state becomes a at least neutral (or better yet: commons-favorable) arbiter, i.e. the meta-regulator of the 3 realms, and retreats from the binary state/privatisation dilemma to the triarchical choice for an optimal mix between government regulation, private market freedom, and autonomous civil society projects. In particular, it can evolve to do the following activities. Recognizing the direct value creation of the social field, it can find ways to support such activities.
An example I recently encountered was the work of the municipality of Brest, in French Brittany. There, the “Local Democracy” section of the city makes available online infrastructures, training modules, and physical infrastructure for sharing (cameras, sound equipment, etc…), so that local individuals and groups, can create cultural and social projects on their own. For example,
the Territoires Sonores project allows for the creation by the public of audio and video files to enrich custom trails, which is therefore neither produced by a private company, nor by the city itself.

The peer to peer dynamic, and the thinking and experimentation it inspires, does not just present a third form for the production of social value, it also produces also new forms of institutionalization and regulation, which could be fruitfully explored and/or applied.

Indeed, from civil society emerges a new institutionalization, the commons, which is a distinct new form of regulation and property. Unlike private property, which is exclusionary, and unlike state property, in which the collective ‘expropriates’ the individual; by contrast in the form of the commons, the individual retains his sovereignity, but has voluntarily shared it. The difference between the ethos of the
Creative Commons and the General Public Licence is, that in the former, the individual is primary and the commons a derivative of individual interests, while in the GPL, the construction of the common is primordial (even though it may be out of individual interest that one collaborates, the resulting work is clearly a full part of the commons, something that is unclear in many versions of the CC-licence), but both share the voluntary aspect of the sharing of one’s work.

In terms of the institutionalization of these new forms of common property, Peter Barnes, in his important book
Capitalism 3.0, explains how national parks and environmental commons (such as a proposed Skytrust), could be run by trusts, who have the obligation to retain all (natural) capital intact, and through a one man/one vote/one they would be in charge of preserving common natural resources. This could become an accepted alternative to both nationalization and deregulation/privatization.

Towards a commons orientation for a renewed progressive policy

What does it mean for the emancipatory traditions that emerged from the industrial era? I believe it could have 2 positive effects:

1) a dissociation of the automatic link with bureaucratic government modalities (which does not mean that it is not appropriate in certain circumstances); proposals can be formulated which directly support the development of the Commons

2) a dissocation from its alternative: deregulation/privatization; support for the Commons and peer production means that there is an alternative from both neoliberal privatization, and the Blairite introduction of private logics in the public sphere.

The progressive movements can thereby become informational rather than a modality of industrial society. Instead of defending the industrial status quo, it becomes again an offensive force (say: striving for an equity-based information society), more closely allied with the open/free, participatory, commons-oriented forces and movements. These three social movements have arisen because of the need for an efficient social reproduction of peer production and the common.
Open and free movements want to insure that there is raw material for free cultural production and appropriation, and fight against the monopoly rents accorded to capital, as it now restricts innovation. They work on the input side of the equation. Participatory movements want to ensure that anybody can use his specific combination of skills to contribute to common projects, and work on lowering the technical, social and political thresholds; finally, the Commons movement works on preserving the common from private appropriation, so that its social reproduction is insured, and the circulation of the common can go on unimpeded, as it is the Commons which in turn creates new layers of open and free raw material.

There is also a connection with the environmental movement. While the culturally-oriented movements fight against the artificial scarcities induced by the restrictive regimes of copyright law and patent law, the environmental movement fights against the artificial abundance created by unrestricted market logics. The removal of pseudo-abundance and pseudo-scarcity are exactly what needs to happen to make our human civilization sustainable at this stage. As has been stressed by
Richard Stallman [1] and others, the copyright and patent regimes are explicitely intended to inhibit the free cooperation and cultural flow between creative humans, and are just as pernicious to the further development of humanity as the biospheric destruction.

There is therefore a huge potential for such a renewed movement for human emancipation to become aligned with the values of a new generation of youth, and achieve the long-term advantage that the Republicans had achieved since the 80s.

What needs to be done?

A priority is the creation of legal and regulatory frameworks that

1) diminish artificial scarcities in the informational field so that immense social value can be created, and immaterial conviviality can replace the deadly logic of material accumulation\

2) introduce true costing in the material field so that the market no longer creates negative exernalities in the natural environment.

3) create more distributed access to the means of production (peer-based financing, distributed energy production, etc…) so that the peer to peer dynamic can be introduced in the sphere of material production as well.


[1] Richard Stallman opposes the use of the concept of intellectual property on the following grounds: ‘It is an error to say “intellectual property regime’ here, because only some, not all, of the various ‘intellectual property’ laws cause scarcity of something of inherent value. For instance, trademark law does not cause scarcity of anything of real value. Using a term which includes trademark law is an unnecessary error’.
(personal email, February 25, 2007)

Further links:

Foundation for P2P alternatives
P2P political concepts

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


It is great that the people of Berkley are so active in their City Council and it seems that participation has helped them work through the "hot button" issues that have been up for debate. This article also points out some of the challenges facing those who want to participate, such as finding and using an adequate meeting space. It must be one that is accessible to all people and able to fit all the people that wish to take part.

Language is another question of participation that is not addressed in the following article. When people who speak and understand languages other than English wish to participate, it is necessary to provide interpretation. This is not as daunting a task as it seems because many people are bilingual or multilingual and for their own experience or desire to participate, they would be willing to help out. At grassroots conferences around the country this is evident, so it can surely carry on to the City Council level. Breaking down language barriers provides better understanding of other individuals and groups and is key to making successful participatory democracy. - Editor

Activist Group Recognized for City Council Policy Reform

Contributing WriterThursday, April 3, 2008

The Berkeley City Council has acquired a nationwide reputation for addressing hot-button issues, but some Berkeley residents say that until recently, they were restricted from speaking out during City Council meetings.

Last Friday, a local activist group was awarded for its role in improving the level of public participation during City Council meetings.

SuperBOLD, or Super Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense-a Berkeley citizens' rights advocate group, received the James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for its role in promoting public participation during City Council meetings.
The award "recognize(s) Bay Area organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of freedom of expression," according to its Web site.

Two years ago, SuperBOLD met with attorneys from the First Amendment Project, a non-profit law firm, to file letters against the City Council, threatening a lawsuit unless they changed their public speaking procedures during council meetings.

Before the City Council's reforms, ten members of the public were chosen by lottery to speak during council meetings. Those who lost the lottery were not allowed to speak, said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

Worthington said that the letters prompted the council to spend several months reforming the system. The current reforms were enacted earlier this year.

"Under the new system, even if you have one person waiting to speak, if they're patient, they'll have a chance to speak," he said.

According to SuperBOLD committee member Gene Bernardi, the award will help the group attain public awareness and support.

"It's giving us a lot more attention to the issue, and I think that will hopefully bring more people into the fold to help," she said.

Although she said she believes public participation has improved, Bernardi said that more help is needed to improve the City Council. She said that the city must increase the size of its council chambers to adequately involve the public during well-attended council meetings.

"Some people were standing in the cold and in the mud," she said. "It's not participatory democracy if you can't hear what's going on."

Worthington says the council chambers can hold roughly 100 people, and over 1,000 have attended council meetings before.

"I think (Bernardi) has a legitimate complaint," he said. "Most people can't sit in the audience and watch (the council meetings). I think council meetings should be moved to a wheelchair accessible space and a larger space, so that more people can be there and watch."

Worthington added that SuperBOLD is expected to attend a council meeting on April 22 to propose the "Sunshine Ordinance," which aims to make city information more easily accessible to the public.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Speaking of Democracy

Published on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 by CommonDreams.org


by Maud Schaafsma and Charlie Cray

In the popular American imagination democracy is primarily a system of government that enables the people to vote every few years for their elected representatives. President Bush and the Congress reaffirmed this core concept of representative government this month when they moved to extend the
Voting Rights Act of 1965 for 25 more years. In important ways, however, it was little more than a hollow gesture.

Back when President Johnson first signed the landmark civil rights legislation into law, he committed the nation to eliminating race-based voting discrimination. The Act gave the Department of Justice the authority to oversee election practices in nine states where such discrimination was rampant, and often acutely violent.

Yet the commitment that Johnson and Congress pledged the country to was effectively reversed in 2000, when state and federal officials allowed the disenfranchisement of thousands of black voters in Florida, where Bush supporters stripped them from registration roles, ensuring his election. Instead of the brutal beatings that haunted Americans on the nightly news back in the 1960s, the disenfranchisement of minority voters has shifted to more obscure means, including technology- and data-based fraud.

Thus, forty years after enacting a comprehensive Voting Rights Act, we have been unable to secure a fundamental right to vote for all Americans and we cannot ensure fair and inclusive elections for our highest political offices. We all know that there is something fundamentally flawed and impoverished in the state of American democracy, something that cannot simply be attributed to the imperial personalities of Bush and Cheney. The renewal of the Voting Rights Act should force us to take stock, to perform a much deeper reassessment of the state of American democracy, now weakened on so many fronts.

Take the June decision in Randall v. Sorrell, in which the Supreme Court struck down Vermont’s cap on state electoral campaign expenditures. The Vermont laws were enacted to ensure that ordinary Vermonters could run for elective office and participate in meaningful debates on public issues in state elections without being required to have enormous personal wealth or corporate support. The active participation by a greater part of the citizenry in election campaigns is as fundamental to the integrity of democratic institutions as securing everyone’s right to vote. Those who don’t vote often say they don’t see any reason to bother voting since there aren’t any candidates who even remotely represent their interests. Beating up on a few swing-district incumbents over the war in Iraq or the rising cost of gas may be important to this year’s close congressional race, but in the long run it could just be another chapter in the annals of popular apathy.

When there are few candidates willing to represent the “will of the people” on key issues like Iraq, it suggests that something must be done to open up the process to the people themselves. But when campaign finance reform laws that level the playing field are struck down by the federal courts, democracy is just as weakened as it is when significant numbers of voters are disenfranchised because of the color of their skin.

The right to vote is unquestionably at the heart of democracy. But beyond securing this fundamental right, we need to restore our appetite for taking our concerns to the broader community.

Key to limiting the influence of corporate money in politics is our ability to challenge corporate speech and corporate squashing of independent speech. Campaign finance reform is just one facet of a concern that we can ill afford to leave to the lawyers to settle. There are many key places in the public sphere where corporate speech rights have been used to constrict and even dumb down the political discourse, undermining the cultural basis of our political democracy. A few examples:

Cable companies have been aggressive in using state laws to challenge community wi-fi zones in cities and towns across the country;

The FCC’s proposal to allow further media consolidation a few years ago was framed around the First Amendment rights of corporate broadcasters;

Conservatives and liberals have joined together in challenging the pervasive spread of commercial “speech” (advertising) – especially in places like schools, where parents say the message conveyed by Channel One programs is about selfish consumption rather than civic engagement and other core American, community, and family values.

The movements fighting on these and other fronts may each start from a different place, but at some point all confront the corporations’ illegitimate claims to speech rights. That’s why policy advocates, community organizers, parents, and ordinary people without any particular political aspirations must begin to understand and resist the extension of illegitimate rights to corporations, especially when they are being used to undermine our own rights. We have to become just as conscious of how corporate speech rights have been used to fundamentally disenfranchise us all – as a community – as we are scrambling to respond to the insidious and impenetrable means used to disenfranchise voters in the 2000 and 2004 elections.
Every once in a while popular opposition to the threat of corporate speech erupts into mainstream political debates, but without a strong contextual analysis, the issue fades into the background as a lost opportunity. A few years ago, when corporate telemarketers were poised to launch a new marketing blitz over the phones, 50 million people signed up for the Do-Not-Call Registry. When the telemarketers threatened to sue using their First Amendment rights, i.e. go to the courts and argue that their right to “speak” is more important than our right to privacy, Congressional leaders who are normally at the beck and call of corporations responded by passing a law that preempted the telemarketers and enforced the people’s will.

As activists and concerned citizens, we need to begin to use opportune conflicts like this as wedges into a broader set of questions that will only be resolved through long-term struggle, while developing strategies where we are strongest – at the local level. A good precedent was recently established in
Humboldt County, California where a majority of voters chose to prohibit non-local corporations from contributing money to Humboldt County elections, asserting at the same time that they will not recognize any suggestion that corporations have a “right” to overturn the popular will. Local efforts like this are potential flashpoints in the new democratic populist backlash against corporate rule.

Out of threads of community-based activism like this and other organized efforts like those mentioned before, we can eventually weave a movement grounded in universal demands for participatory democracy. By emphasizing that “speech rights” of the people embedded in these diverse movements are more important than those of corporations, we can shift the political discourse in profoundly important ways. Our aspirations for renewing democracy not only need to be inclusive of the most devastated communities, but our tactics must expand outwards from a fetishistic emphasis on the right to vote to an animated and dynamic vision of participatory democracy.

Maud Schaafsma is a lawyer and sociologist who lives in Evanston, IL. She works on policy analysis for
The Center for Corporate Policy. Charlie Cray is the co-author of "The People’s Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy," and director of the Center for Corporate Policy in Washington, DC.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


The following article from a Colorado newspaper illustrates how fragile the direct democratic institutions we have at the state level have become. When those in power are capable of convincing citizens that it is preferable to surrender what little power they have to self-legislate simply because the majority has produced some legislation that they may be in disagreement with, it shows us that we must struggle ever harder to protect the initiative and referendum process where it exists at the state level, and strive harder to expand it at that level, and above to the federal level as well... Clearly, the following article does not he reflect the views of this editor, but the comments posted by one Colorado citizen that appear after the article certainly do. - Editor

A Better Ballot Measure

It's time to raise the bar for constitutional amendments

Rocky Mountain News
Thursday, April 3, 2008

SOURCE: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/apr/03/a-better-ballot-measure/

Is the 14th time the charm? Let's hope so. Lawmakers recently introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, the 14th attempt in the past decade to change Colorado's initiative process.

We've long believed that amending the state constitution should be more difficult than passing a statute. But for the most part, we're glad that none of the previous 13 legislative measures to tackle this issue went to voters.

Several would have undermined the initiative by erecting unacceptably high barriers to direct democracy. Among them were requirements that initiated constitutional amendments win three-fifths or two-thirds supermajority votes before passing.

SCR 3 - inspired by a University of Denver blue-ribbon panel on constitutional reform - marks an encouraging change of attitude that does not give grass-roots activism short shrift.

Indeed, the measure could encourage some ballot campaigns, as it would reduce signature requirements for statutes. It would also raise the bar for qualifying constitutional amendments. And it would do both without unduly burdening citizen groups that - unlike deep-pocketed interests - cannot buy their way onto the ballot.

The resolution would base the signature level for qualifying ballot measures on the total votes cast in the most recent election for governor; that's typically higher than the secretary of state's race, on which the current threshold is set.

That said, the signature level for statutes would go down, from the current 5 percent of the vote to 4 percent. Based on the 2006 election, the resolution would reduce the signature threshold from 78,000 to 62,000.

Meantime, constitutional amendments initiated by voters would face a higher limit, needing signatures totaling 6 percent of the vote for governor - now nearly 94,000 verified signers. Petitions for amendments would also have to be circulated statewide, with at least 10 percent of the threshold (or 9,400) collected in each congressional district.

As another enticement for sponsors to take the initiative route, SCR 3 would make it tougher for the legislature to modify an initiated statute in the first six years it's on the books. Lawmakers now need only a simple majority to modify those voter- led measures. Under the resolution, a two-thirds vote in both houses would be required.

This should ease the legitimate concern that it's too easy for the legislature to thwart the will of voters by revising or rejecting ballot statutes lawmakers don't like.

All these changes would give initiative sponsors an incentive to offer statutes rather than amendments - but they would not prevent citizen-initiated amendments from reaching the ballot entirely. Moreover, sponsors could no longer qualify amendments by flooding Colorado's major cities with petitioners and ignoring other residents. Amendments are more likely to have a broad appeal before they go to voters.

There's one largely symbolic provision of SCR 3 that we're not wild about. It would require amendment sponsors to complete their signature-gathering efforts and file proposed amendments with the secretary of state seven months before an election, rather than the current three-month deadline. The idea is to give amendments more time for public vetting. But since voters typically pay little attention to ballot measures (whether they're amendments or statutes) until the final weeks of an election season, we can't see how earlier deadlines would matter much.

All in all, SCR 3 should improve the ways Coloradans directly modify the state's governing documents. We hope the legislature places it on the ballot, so voters can consider and approve it this November.


Posted by p_myers661 on April 3, 2008 at 8:05 a.m.

Ah yes..

by all means. Keep the peasants away from the process. And if they do manage to pass an initiative it would only require a slightly higher majority of those super beings we call legislators to undo the measure.

Thanks, but no thanks. This is a thinly veiled attempt to shut the door to substantive change. Guess they're afraid we are going to pass a TABOR initiative on fees so they'd have to get rid of their special projects and actually use good sense instead of using our tax money to pay back the unions for getting them elected.

The people have the means to pass laws that are needed by the people whether the professional politicians like it or not (they don't.)

There have been many attempts to cut back the ability of the people in this area. The outrage that we put things in the constitution because they just legislated our initiatives out of existence is still bubbling. Let's put this one on the dust heap with the rest before we end up hogtied and overtaxed.


A new website attempts to give the people a say on every piece of legislation that comes before congress. Ahh.. if only our votes counted for real.. Visit the site here: http://www.govit.com/ - Editor

Govit Tries to Create a Direct Democracy

Written by Josh Catone / April 8, 2008 2:01 PM /

The knock on the type of representative democracy that is employed in the US is that the people aren't actually voting on the legislation that gets passed -- representatives for the people are doing it for them. And those representatives are potentially beholden to outside influences like political action committees and lobbyists who help them raise money necessary to get elected. The system is supposed to weed out the bad eggs via regular elections (if your rep isn't representing you, don't vote for he or she next time around), but maybe that's not good enough. Enter
Govit, a site that lets citizens weigh in on bills currently being voted on in the US House and Senate.

Govit lists every piece of active legislation currently before the United States Congress and lets users vote yes/no or abstain on each. From the voting page for each bill, users can also send a message directly to their government representatives urging them to vote a specific way, or send a message to their friends doing the same. Govit can also compare your votes to those of your representatives, those of Congress at large, and to the rest of Govit.

Govit acts something like a social network for politics. Each member of the House or Senate gets their own profile on the site that has a bio, fundraising information, and voting record, as well as how that member of Congress stacks up against Govit -- do their votes match the will of the people? Users can rate Congressional members, comment on them, and say whether or not they would vote for them.

On a more personal level, Govit allows members to befriend each other, which basically just lets you to compare your voting record to that of your friends if you have your profile set to public view. Unfortunately, by setting Govit up as a social network, the site becomes sort of a microcosm view of the American political system at large -- or at least it has the potential to. If we pretend that Govit becomes popular enough to actually have a national impact (i.e., politicians actually start paying attention to it), because it is set up in a manner where people are encouraged to shill for votes, it is easy to imagine the same back room dealing that goes on in Washington taking place on the site.

It's hard to look at Govit as the true "will of the people" because users have the option to make their votes public -- thus creating the potential for groupthink. Perhaps that is the will of the people anyway, but it would be easier to trust Govit's numbers if users at least didn't know who was voting which way until after the final ballot was cast. In other words: secret ballots tend to yield better results.

Still, Govit provites a useful tool for keeping track of what Congress is talking about, discussing it with like-minded folks, and seeing how your representatives match up with your own views. If you and your congressman are consistently voting on opposite ends of the spectrum, you might think twice about voting for he or she next term.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Those states that do not have direct democracy in the form of initiative and referendum in place would greatly benefit from the adoption of the practice. Citizens in the states that do not have initiative and referendum should raise their voices and demand that the will of the people be granted that means of democratic expression. See our previous post for more information on Initiative & referendum and to learn if your state has it or not: (CLICK HERE) - Editor

Share Power with Citizens

A succession of recent governors and legislatures have had their chance to make things right in this state and have failed miserably. It's time to give New Jersey voters a crack at it: They should demand that lawmakers give them the power of initiative and referendum — a power granted citizens in 27 states and most Western democracies.

Last fall, all but one of the more than three dozen legislative candidates who met with the Press editorial board said they supported some form of I&R. Empowering voters with initiative and referendum was a major campaign plank of the state Republican organization, and every Republican candidate gave lip service to it.

Today, it seems clearer than ever that the governor and the Democratic majority in the Legislature are unwilling to tackle the persistent problems of overspending, inefficient delivery of services, corruption and self-serving decision-making. It's time for the Republican minority to make a major push for initiative and referendum. Once the budget mess is sorted out, amending the state constitution to permit I&R balloting should be the GOP's major legislative push. It wouldn't take too many Democrats crossing the aisle to make it a reality.

Various attempts to put I&R on the ballot in the 1940s, 1970s and 1980s failed. In 1991, state Republicans made initiative and referendum a major platform of their campaign. It helped them gain control of the Legislature. But once they took the reins of power, their promises to share it with citizens evaporated. This time, voters must insist they follow through on their pledge.

There has never been a shortage of proposed I&R bills. But the legislation typically withers on the vine, rarely even receiving a committee hearing. There are now three active I&R bills, two of which have companion bills in both chambers, that have been referred to legislative committees.

One, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris, co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. and backed by several Shore-area lawmakers, would limit the powers to spending and budget issues. A bill sponsored by Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon, in the Senate and Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, in the Assembly would restrict I&R to campaign finance, lobbying, government ethics and election procedure issues.

A broader I&R bill, sponsored by Assemblyman John Rooney, R-Bergen, would allow the public to submit questions on most matters not specifically exempted by the state constitution. It would require petitioners to obtain signatures equal to only 12 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Based on the most recent election, approximately 260,000 signatures would be needed. About twice that number would be required in the Merkt bill.

An even stronger I&R bill has been proposed, but not formally introduced, by freshmen Assembly representatives Declan O'Scanlon and Caroline Casagrande, both R-Monmouth. It's similar to the Rooney bill, but it would require signatures equal to only 6 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election on statutory questions and 10 percent on constitutional issues. And it would allow the same question to be presented to voters every two years, rather than every four years under the Merkt-Kean version.

Those opposed to I&R cite a number of reasons — most of which are rationalizations for not ceding power to their constituents. I&R, as structured in some states, has had problems. New Jersey could learn from those experiences and develop a law that builds on I&R's strengths and limits its potential weaknesses.

Polls in states with initiative and referendum consistently show voters strongly support it. No state ever has repealed it. It is a way to give citizens disenfranchised by political bosses, gerrymandered voting districts, uncompetitive elections and unresponsive public officials a direct say in state policy. It will help eliminate voter apathy — borne largely out of poor choices at the polls and a sense that one's vote won't make a difference — and stimulate citizen interest in public policy.
Representative democracy in this politically dysfunctional state is not working. New Jersey needs a dose of direct democracy. Citizens must begin clamoring for it.

Source: http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080406/OPINION01/804060350

Thursday, April 10, 2008


The article found at the following link outlines some of the basic concepts that help us better understand direct democracy. From initiative to referendum and recall, it gives us definitions as to how these concepts work in current forms of government. The statistics regarding which countries and states already implement some tools of direct democracy are helpful for understanding what we have to use and for which tools we must struggle. -Editor


For more information on I&R in the U.S.A see also:


Tuesday, April 8, 2008


In the state of Vermont, citizens used the power of direct democracy in the form of initiative to express their outrage over the current abuses of power in the executive branch of the federal government. - Editor

Vt. Towns Put Bush, Cheney on Arrest List

By Jason R. Henske, AP
March 5, 2008 08:52 AM
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) — Voters in two southern Vermont towns passed articles Tuesday calling for the indictment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney for violating the Constitution.

More symbolic than substantive, the items sought to have police arrest Bush and Cheney if they ever visit Brattleboro or nearby Marlboro or to extradite them for prosecution elsewhere — if they're not impeached first.

In Brattleboro, the vote was 2,012 for and 1,795 against. In Marlboro, it was 43 to 25, with three abstentions.

"I hope the one thing that people take from this is 'Hey, it can be done,"' said Kurt Daims, 54, who organized the petition drive that led to the Brattleboro vote.

He said he hopes Bush and Cheney are never arrested here; he wants them impeached before that could happen.

The Marlboro item was introduced from the floor under "other business," but it isn't binding since it didn't appear on the warning for the meeting, according to Town Clerk Nora Wilson.

"It was emotional. There were heartfelt speeches on both sides," Wilson said.

Since it's non-binding, the Marlboro Select Board could act on it at a later date, but they're not required to, according to Wilson.

In Brattleboro, a steady stream of voters paraded into the Brattleboro Union High School gym to cast their ballots on a day when school board elections and Vermont's presidential primary were also on the slate.

Some saw the measure as purely symbolic.

"It really carries no weight," said Brattleboro Town Clerk Annette Cappy. "Our town attorney has no legal authority to draw up any papers to allow our police officers to do so, but the gentleman who initiated the petition, got the signatures, wanted it on the ballot to make a statement."

The vote and presidential primary came on Town Meeting Day, the day when voters in most Vermont cities and towns gather to debate and vote in an annual exercise of direct democracy.

Organizers of the indictment campaign were frustrated that the printed ballot ended up relegating the Bush-Cheney indictment article to the back side, which they said would cause some people to miss it.

The 8-by-14-inch yellow cardboard ballot listed the offices and candidates in the local election on one side, and at the bottom in block letters "Turn Ballot Over and Continue Voting."

The article read: "Shall the Selectboard instruct the Town Attorney to draft indictments against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for crimes against our Constitution, and publish said indictments for consideration by other authorities and shall it be the law of the Town of Brattleboro that the Brattleboro Police, pursuant to the above-mentioned indictments, arrest and detain George Bush and Richard Cheney in Brattleboro if they are not duly impeached, and prosecute or extradite them to other authorities that may reasonably contend to prosecute them?"

"Turn Over Ballot and Indict Bush," read a 3-by-4-foot handmade picket sign carried by Daims, who stood outside the school Tuesday.

Voters interviewed after casting ballots said they saw the article as an opportunity to express their frustration over the war in Iraq and Bush's tenure in general.

"I realize it's an extreme thing to do, and really silly in a way," said Robert George, 74, a retired photographer. "But I'm really angry about us getting involved in the war in Iraq and him (Bush) disrespecting the will of the people," he said.

Ian Kelley, 41, a local radio DJ, said he didn't vote on the article.

"It's not a good reflection on the town," he said. "Do I like either of them and would I vote for them? No. But I don't think it's cause to arrest them."

Barbara Southworth, a 66-year-old nurse, said she would've voted against it.
"I forgot to vote because it was on the flip side," she said.

The White House press office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment but promised one later Tuesday. But a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee denounced the article.

"It appears that the left-wing knows no bounds in their willingness to waste taxpayer dollars to make a futile counterproductive partisan political point," said Blair Latoff. "Town people would be much better served by elected officials who sought to solve problems rather than create them."

Monday, April 7, 2008


Legislators in Arizona are attempting to weaken the power of the people and their ability to participate directly in budgeting and other decision making processes through the processes of initiative and referendum enshrined in the state's constitution. They claim that their hands are tied in times of alleged financial hardship because they can not cut funding to vital social programs that are protected by voter enacted initiatives. These funds that have been rendered untouchable by the will of the people are for the health and education sectors, environmental initiatives, and election reform programs. The measure legislators are introducing, if passed, will allow them to bypass the expressed will of the people and cut funding to these essential areas. - Editor

Lawmakers Want to be Free from Voter Restraints

Amanda J. Crawford, The Arizona Republic, Apr. 2, 2008 12:00 AM

Staring down a deficit abyss of about $3 billion for this year and next, Arizona lawmakers complain that their efforts to cut spending and balance the budget are stymied by voters. Health care for the poor. Spending on schools. Money for clean elections and land conservation. Early-education and health programs for kids, funded by tobacco taxes. Major state programs and big bucks - all off-limits because they are protected by voter-approved initiatives. A measure passed by the House of Representatives would give voters a chance to change that. It would free lawmakers from spending restraints mandated by initiatives whenever the state faces a budget deficit.

If approved by the state Senate, the referendum would go on the November ballot and, if passed, could have a dramatic effect on how the state balances future budgets. Now, as lawmakers look for spending cuts, more than two-thirds of the state budget is off the table because it is protected by initiative or federal, court or statutory mandates. Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, says this means that a huge chunk of budget growth, about $600 million a year, is on "auto-pilot," which makes it difficult for the Legislature to balance the budget during hard economic times. Why shouldn't voter-approved programs share the cuts?"In bad times, tough decisions have to be made," said Pearce, who sponsored the measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2044. But opponents say the measure uses current fiscal problems as a smoke screen to mask the real intent: to strip voters of their voice and allow lawmakers to undo or defund programs they don't like."I think the voters of Arizona should be extremely alarmed and disappointed," said Karen Woodhouse, deputy director of First Things First, a board created at the ballot box in 2006 to oversee tobacco-tax-funded early-childhood education and health programs. "How could voters have trust in the opportunity to make their voice heard again through the initiative process?"

Direct democracy In Arizona

The state Constitution protects voters' right to direct democracy, to go around their legislative representatives and create policy at the ballot box. This right has often been used to pass policy that has gone nowhere year after year in the Legislature.In 1998, voters sealed their initiative rights with the Voter Protection Act. Born out of frustration with lawmakers' efforts to change laws passed on the ballot, the Voter Protection Act handcuffs lawmakers, requiring a three-fourths vote to make any changes, which must "further the intent" of the voters.Since then, measures passed by voters have been nearly sacrosanct. They have included big-ticket items such as expanded government health care for the poor and increased spending on education. Now, growth in those two areas is a major driver of the state budget. Together, spending on schools and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which voters expanded in 2000 to cover everyone living under the federal poverty line, account for more than half of the state's general-fund spending. The entire pot of spending on AHCCCS and schools is not protected, but much of it is. Pearce complains that what voters have protected are "the giveaway programs, the socialist programs," referring to programs like AHCCCS and First Things First. He says he fears unprotected areas, like corrections and law enforcement, which he considers to be among the most critical areas of the state budget, will have to bear the brunt of the deficit.Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said that as so much of the budget becomes controlled by voter initiative, he wonders if that's really what voters intended."We need more flexibility here as a legislative body in order to do our jobs in these types of situations," said Burns, Senate appropriations chairman and a co-sponsor of HCR 2044.

Free Rein

Under the measure, lawmakers could divert funds from voter-approved programs or change funding formulas whenever the governor and Legislature agree that the state is facing a budget deficit. Supporters characterize these as extreme times. But, by Pearce's own count, the state has been facing a deficit in five of the past eight budgets. Opponents say the measure would give the Legislature nearly free rein to scale back or defund programs that the majority doesn't support. "I obviously understand we are in a fiscal crisis, but you can't subvert the will of the voters," said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix. She said she believes the measure "takes advantage of the fiscal crisis to go after (programs) they've always wanted to go after."AHCCCS eligibility could be reduced to only the poorest of the poor. Tobacco taxes that go to health programs or early-childhood education could be diverted to the state's general fund, instead. Funding for schools could be scaled back. Money collected to support publicly financed political campaigns could be swept to help balance the budget.Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the whole point of initiatives is to address issues to which the Legislature has been unresponsive. She characterizes the measure as a "power grab.""I understand why the Legislature wants more power," Bahr said. "The citizen-initiative rights are a check on legislative power."


This recent Zogby poll confirms that the American public are tired of the public will being trampled upon by often corrupt elected representatives. What the survey actually revels is Americans growing intolerance at the lack of participatory and direct democracy in the current system. Rightly, they are not willing to be dismissed by individuals in their government who are pursuing their own personal agendas while dismissing the growing opposition and outrage of the general public at large as 'fluctuations in opinion polls' or 'focus groups' - Editor

American Public Says Government Leaders Should Pay Attention to Polls

SOURCE: http://worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/governance_bt/461.php?lb=brusc&pnt=461&nid=&id=

March 21, 2008

Eight in Ten Say Public Should Have Greater Influence on Government
Questionnaire (PDF)

In sharp contrast to views recently expressed by Vice President Cheney, a new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe government leaders should pay attention to public opinion polls and that the public should generally have more influence over government leaders than it does.

Eighty-one percent say when making "an important decision" government leaders "should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public's views." Only 18 percent said "they should not pay attention to public opinion polls because this will distract them from deciding what they think is right."

When ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz cited polling data showing majority opposition to the Iraq war, Cheney responded, "So?" Asked, "So--you don't care what the American people think?" he responded, "No," and explained, "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."

Americans also roundly reject the position put forward by White House spokeswoman Dana Perino in an effort to explain Cheney's comments. Asked whether the public should have "input," she replied, "You had your input. The American people have input every four years, and that's the way our system is set up."When Americans are asked whether they think that "elections are the only time when the views of the people should have influence, or that also between elections leaders should consider the views of the people as they make decisions," an extraordinary 94 percent say that government leaders should pay attention to the views of the public between elections.

These findings are part of a larger international poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org, an international research project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. The poll of 975 Americans was fielded from January 18 to 27 by Knowledge Networks. The margin of error was +/-3.2 percent.

The focus of the study is the principle expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "The will of the people should be the basis of the authority of government." Presented this statement, 87 percent of Americans say they agree with it.

However, Americans are not satisfied with the extent that the will of the people does govern. Asked, "How much is this country governed according to the will of the people?" and asked to answer on a scale with 0 meaning "not at all" and 10 meaning "completely," the mean response is 4.0. Asked how much the country should be governed according to the will of the people, the mean response is 7.9.

Eighty-three percent of respondents say that the will of the people should have more influence that it does.

Closely related to the dissatisfaction with the degree of government responsiveness to the public is the widespread perception that decisions are not being made in the public's interest. Asked, "Generally speaking, would you say that this country is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, or that it is run for the benefit of all the people?" just 19 percent say it is run for the benefit of all the people, while 80 percent say it is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.

The net effect seems to be a diminished trust in government. Asked, "How much of the time do you think you can trust the national government in Washington to do what is right?" 60 percent say "only some of the time" while 37 percent say most of the time and 3 percent just about always.

Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org and PIPA, comments, "While Americans do not say that leaders should always follow the will of the public, they do think that American leaders should be considerably more responsive to the people and should even pay attention to polls. Dismissing the public as irrelevant and incompetent only contributes to already low levels of trust in government."

The findings of the larger WorldPublicOpinion.org study, which will include findings from approximately 20 countries from around the world, will be released in early May.

The US poll was an online survey drawn from a nationally representative sample of the Knowledge Networks online panel. This panel is probabilistically-based, selected from the population of US telephone households and subsequently provided with an Internet connection if needed. For more information on the methods, see


Friday, April 4, 2008


Visit the following site for information on an upcoming conference on participatory democracy in Venezuela to be held in Washington D.C - Editor:

What’s Up With Venezuela:
Participatory Democracy or Democracy as Usual?

March 6, 2008

Don’t be fooled by the US government and media’s crusade against Venezuela’s democracy. Find out why the Bolivarian Revolution is succeeding and what US citizens can learn from it.

-A National Symposium-

April 18-21, 2008
Howard UniversityWashington, DC

Sponsored by the
Venezuela Solidarity Network and the Howard University Cimarrones Student Organization.

The Venezuela Solidarity Network is a project of the Alliance for Global Justice.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Now that Ralph Nader has entered the '08 race for the U.S. presidency, many activists and advocates of direct democracy find themselves uncertain of which candidate to support at this time. The two chief editors of this blog have been having a running debate for many weeks about which candidate is the best choice for the end goal of participatory democracy and direct democracy for the U.S.A. After 'EDITOR A' sent an email to her friends and family expressing her excitement that Nader was considering candidacy, 'EDITOR B' responded by advocating for Obama. We encourage readers of this debate to contribute by emailing us their own points of view on the subject, especially if they differ from those expressed here, and we will publish them on the page we have created for the debate. (see link below) - Editor


EDITOR B: I had to vote for Obama today because I do not want Hillary to get the democratic nomination. If she wins it may be the death ratlle for the USA just as it would be if Romney or McCain wins. Plus, she is ahead in NY, the state where I vote.

Also I think that Obama for all the 'change' hoopla does have the power to motivate young people and is getting them involved in politics and giving them hope once more. Have you watched any of his rallies? Something ever so slightly revolutionary is happening and he is at the center of it, by chance or calculation I don't know. Whether he will be able to deliver the change he is promising is another matter, but I am willing to give him a shot.
I understand your frustration though, and I think the democratic party itself is a corrupt fiasco. Why I would support Obama is not because of the party, but because of what we have already seen a little of: the increased political activism and participation by the people that he could bring about if he wins. People are yearning to fix this country before it's too late and if Obama by the simple act of winning sets the gears in motion and the people begin to rise up it might be hard for the powers that be to stop that momentum.

Ralph Nader might be able to do the same thing that Obama has the potential to do if he could win, but of course he can't win. We don't have a viable third party in this country, plain and simple. It is a small select group of people who would unite behind Nader. It's a hard pill to swallow, but what everyone says is undeniably true - every vote for Nader would be one less vote for Obama (if he's the democratic nominee.) It's true what Nader says, obviously we need more parties in this country if we are going to move forward... but we have to move forward step by step because there is no chance otherwise.

Let me try to explain where I am coming from on this because I know it's a contentious issue and a hard one to decide on. Normally I would be one of those for Nader, but I believe that only a mass popular movement is capable of bringing about revolution in this country and reversing the damage that has been done. I think that it is going to require a diverse coalition of people far broader than just those that would support Nader and that it needs someone who can actually win office under the current conditions. The next president should be a leader who opens the door just wide enough within a locked system to allow people power to take over, just as Chavez did in VZLA. The revolution has to come from within the system to break the chains, and then a transformation toward a new system can begin. Once that new system is in place, there will be space within it for a green party to grow and prosper.

All that said, if Obama wins the nomination and is ahead by miles in NY over the republican candidate, I may vote for Nader as a symbolic gesture. I may do the same if Hillary wins the nomination, but out of disgust. If Hillary wins, or god forbid Romney or Mc Cain you can forget about change and say hello to cynicism and apathy again pretty quick.

EDITOR A: I appreciate your thoughts, especially what you said about Obama opening up channels for participation. Almost everyone I’ve been debating with in my vote zone (with the exception of the socialists) is going for Obama because of his great rhetoric and charismatic character. I have my own thoughts on this issue. Instead of voting for the "lesser of two evils" as many liberals argue to be the best option in our current two-party system, I will vote for the underdog who will never win, because he more accurately represents my views. While I would prefer to represent my own views in a participatory democracy, I acknowledge that now I am pressured to vote for someone who is backed by corporate donors, Wall Street, and other powers that will continue to manipulate candidates upon arrival at the White House.

From what I have gathered, no candidate in the Democratic Party is actually going to make more than a symbolic change in this country. It is true that the US needs representation of African American and Female perspectives; however I don't think that the current candidates even manage to accurately represent politically the demographics they exemplify physically. Hillary is anti-feminist because she will adhere to the patriarchal system created and perpetuated by our nation’s presidential predecessors. Obama, despite being endorsed by some of my favorite people and organizations, is much more charisma and eloquence than he is real policy change.

I appreciate your views on him and applaud those who are getting involved in politics for the first time by supporting his campaign. I also understand the need to appeal to certain corporate backing in order to stand a chance in the campaign process. However, this very acquiescence to the corrupt system shows that Obama does not have the effort nor the grassroots backing (e.g. green parties, socialists, anti-war activists) to actually defeat the worthless system already in place. Achieving real change, in the sense of demonstrating the freedom to vote for the candidate who more accurately represents my views will come when we have more than two options. There is no reason for me to vote for a candidate that I don't believe in, and I won't. In order to personally promote a multi-party system which I believe is more advantageous to representing diversity in this country I will organize and vote for a third party candidate.

EDITOR B: I see your side totally. I know it's a choice between voting for the candidate that most closely matches your beliefs, or voting strategically for someone who might not necessarily espouse everything that you're for yourself, but might unwittingly be the only chance of unleashing enough people power on the scale necessary to radically alter this locked system in the time we have left before it is too late to stop this runaway capitalist imperialist train. It's a strategic choice, and there's no easy answer.....

To continue reading this debate and to add your own comments, CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Senator Barack Obama back in 2006 co-authored with Senator Tom Coburn legislation mandating the creation of a centralized website that would contain a complete database of government spending, freely accessable by the general public. The act, titled the 'Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act,' received bipartisan support in congress and strong diverse grassroots support from bloggers and activists, and was signed into law by president Bush.

Barack Obama is the only remaining presidential candidate who has signed an oath (see second article below) stating that, if elected, he would ensure that the act is implemented to it's fullest extent. But many readers may be surprised to learn that the website mandated by the new act is up already up and running to a large extent.

The site, http://www.usaspending.gov/, was launched in late 2007 and now provides an easily accessable and user friendly multiple criteria search engine that allows citizens to discover where their trillions in tax revenue is being allocated, and for what purpose. One can even see details of every individual transaction to government contractors, including defense contractors such as KBR, Halliburton, etc. It also provides an easy means of comparing the overall budgets of the individual departments, education vs. defence, homeland security vs. social security, etc.

This amazing resource is intended not only to increase transparency, but also to increase the people's access to, and participation in the policy and budgeting decisions that are currently exclusively down to powerful lobbyists and their elected representative's own whim and fancy. Obviously, this is but one small step on the path to true participatory budgeting and democracy, but it is a crucial first step. The public must first have access to the knowledge of where money is currently being allocated in order to effectively and actively advocate for budgeting changes that will reflect the true will of the people. Hopefully this foot in the door will help lead to a participatory budgeting process sometime in the future, which will allow the people to input into the budgeting process directly.

This initiative of Senator Obama's is but one facet of his platform on ethics, transparency, and accountability, and many of his proposals, if implemented, will provide a measure of direct democracy to the people of the United States on a scale unprecedented at the federal level. Many of his proposals will utilize the internet both to increase citizen participation in government, and to 'shine the light' on Washington's behind closed doors shady deals and bring the process out into the public arena. To learn more about Obama's proposals in this area click HERE to see his platform on his official page, and see our previous posts on the subject HERE, and HERE.

The fact that this one particular element of his e-democracy platform has already become a reality in the form of http://www.usaspending.gov/, is tangible proof that Obama's intentions in this regard are genuine, and that the measures he is proposing are feasible and attainable. It is also interesting to note that Obama has also demonstrated his sincerity on an individual level regarding the subject of transparent finances. He is the only candidate that has posted six years of his personal tax returns on his website. You can view or download them HERE.

While Obama's proposals are a far cry from the true direct democracy that we seek, what is truly cause for hope among direct democracy advocates is the widening mobilization and political engagement of the masses that Obama's campaign has awakened. This, coupled with the foot in the door to Washington that his proposals offer in terms of transparency and active citizen participation, could signal the beginnings of a new balance of power, with the balance being provided by a new player in Washington: the people.

For that is where the true inspiration of Barack Obama's campaign lies: with the people, and not with Obama himself. Obama may serve to provide the catalyst, but it is the people who must provide the necessary pressure that will slowly lead us to direct democracy. As such, it will be crucial to maintain and increase the mobilization of the masses and their participation in politics long after Obama's victory in the election, if that victory comes. On that day, it will be up to the masses not to proclaim "YES, WE DID IT!," but instead to begin the struggle to prove the validity of the Obama campaign mantra: "YES WE CAN!"

The first of the following two articles dates from the passage of Obama's Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, and the second relates to a subsequent oath to uphold the act circulated by the Reason Foundation to all the presidential candidates. - Editor

Senate Passes Coburn-Obama Bill to Create Internet Database of Federal Spending

Friday, September 8, 2006
Obama Contact: Tommy Vietor or Robert Gibbs, 202-228-5511
Coburn Contact: John Hart, 202-228-5357
Date: September 8, 2006

Source: http://obama.senate.gov/press/060908-senate_passes_c/

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) today hailed the Senate's passage of the "Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act," a bill that will create a Google-like search engine and database to track approximately $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, earmarks and loans.

"By helping to lift the veil of secrecy in Washington, this database will help make us better legislators, reporters better journalists, and voters more active citizens," Obama said. "It's both unusual and encouraging to see interest groups and bloggers on the left and the right come together to achieve results. This powerful grassroots alliance shows that at the end of the day, Americans want to see Congress work together to get something done and not continue to engage in the partisan gridlock that so often brings Capitol Hill to a grinding halt."

"Every American has the right to know how their government spends their money, and then to hold elected officials accountable for those decisions. I applaud my colleagues for unanimously supporting a bill that will aid the American people in that effort," Dr. Coburn said. "This bill is a small but significant step toward changing the culture in Washington. Only by fostering a culture of openness, transparency and accountability will Congress come together to address the mounting fiscal challenges that threaten our future prosperity."

"The group that deserves credit for passing this bill, however, is not Congress, but the army of bloggers and concerned citizens who told Congress that transparency is a just demand for all citizens, not a special privilege for political insiders. Their remarkable effort demonstrates that our system of government does work when the people take the reins of government and demand change," Dr. Coburn said.

More than 100 organizations ranging from Americans for Prosperity and Taxpayers for Common Sense to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Greenpeace have endorsed S. 2590.

Dozens of editorials boards across the country including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times and The Oklahoman have also endorsed S. 2590.

Forty-three Senators co-sponsored S. 2590 including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA), John Cornyn (R-TX) and others.

Obama Signs Oath for 'Google Government'

Source: Reason Foundation http://www.reason.org/

News Release LOS ANGELES — Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) have signed oaths declaring that, should they win the presidency in 2008, they will issue an executive order during their first month in office instructing the entire executive branch to put into practice the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, a Google-like search tool that will allow you to see how your tax dollars are being spent on federal contracts, grants and earmarks.

All of the major presidential candidates have been invited to sign the "oath of presidential transparency" which is being promoted by a diverse coalition of 36 groups, led by Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank that has advised the last four presidential administrations.
"The next president should be committed to transparency and accountability," said Adrian Moore, vice president of research at Reason Foundation. "Redesigning the federal government so that it is more accountable to taxpayers is a nonpartisan issue. Transparency will help produce a government focused on results instead of our current system, which is plagued by secrecy, wasteful spending and pork projects."

"Every American has the right to know how the government spends their tax dollars, but for too long that information has been largely hidden from public view," said Sen. Obama. "This historic law will lift the veil of secrecy in Washington and ensure that our government is transparent and accountable to the American people."

"Government transparency is essential to government accountability. Americans need to feel they can trust their government," Sen. Brownback stated.

"When government spends the people's money, it must be done with utmost possible transparency," Rep. Paul, the first to sign the oath, declared. "Signing the Oath of Presidential Transparency was a no-brainer for me."

The oath was sent to every presidential candidate who has met the Federal Election Commission's filing requirements and has "raised or spent $50,000 or more (the threshold for mandatory electronic filing) from sources or to payees other than the candidate him or herself." The oath was first distributed to every presidential candidate's headquarters on July 17, 2007. Subsequently, at least five follow-up emails or calls were made to each campaign.

Full Oath Online

The complete oath of presidential transparency is available online at http://www.reason.org/oath/.

About the Coalition

An alliance of 36 diverse groups is advocating the presidential accountability oath. The following groups are part of the coalition: American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, American Association of Small Property Owners, Americans for Tax Reform, Budget Watch Nevada, Capital Research Center, Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, Center for Individual Freedom, Citizen Outreach Project, Citizens Against Government Waste, Doctors for Open Government, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, FreedomWorks, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Iowa Public Policy Institute, Liberty Coalition, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Minnesota Free Market Institute, Mississippi Center for Public Policy, National Taxpayers Union, Nevada Policy Research Institute, Reason Foundation, Republican Liberty Caucus, Research Accountability Project, Rio Grande Foundation, Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, The Harbor League, The Performance Institute, The Project on Government Oversight, The Pullins Report, The Rutherford Institute, US Bill of Rights Foundation, Velvet Revolution, Virginia Institute for Public Policy, and Washington Policy Center.

About Reason Foundation

Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets. Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason. Reason Foundation does not endorse any political candidates. For more information, please visit http://www.reason.org/.

Government Contact

Presidential candidates interested in signing the oath, or organizations interested in joining the coalition, should contact Reason Foundation's Amanda Hydro at (202) 236-9193.