"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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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

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