"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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Monday, July 14, 2008


This article illustrates one of the ways that direct democracy currently functions in the State of California: through the initiative process. Since not all states have direct democratic institutions, California is certainly an example from which other states should learn. They are able to tackle difficult and pertinent issues like street violence and clean energy that require the input of diverse individuals rather than relying solely on the whims of a select group of elected officials . However, for this type of system to function efficiently and effectively, it must be ensured that the electorate is properly educated about the issues at hand and that the petition process is accessable to everyone. Too often the process is exclusive to those interests who have vast financial resources with which to gather the required signatures. This editor would like to know more about who is participating in these petition drives and who is unknowingly being affected by these policies. What kind of outreach programs and public relations do these groups use to incorporate various actors? As has been said here before, cooperation with local communities make for more well-rounded consideration of the issues and a truer democratic process. - Editor

Eight propositions make it to November ballot

By JOHN C. OSBORN , The Eureka Reporter
Published: Jun 3 2008, 11:43 PM

Source: http://www.eurekareporter.com/article/080603-eight-propositions-make-it-to-november-ballot

Eight propositions will make their way to the Nov. 4 general election ballot, with topics ranging from abortion to the sentencing of non-violent offenders.

Only about half the states in the U.S. have ways in which the public can create law through direct democracy practices. Proponents of initiatives must gather a certain number of signatures before moving to the ballot for all to vote on.

Individuals, businesses and organizations can start initiative campaigns that amend California’s constitution or create a new law.

According to the California State Department Web site, 25 initiatives and referenda are in circulation, 17 failed, three are pending signature verification and two are having the signatures counted.

The final day for initiatives to be considered for the ballot is June 26.

The eight that made it to the ballot vary in scope and topic.

Below is a brief summary of what each proposition would do if passed in November based on information from the California State Department:

California Marriage Protection Act

As the California Supreme Court ruled on May 15 to overturn a ban on same-sex couples voted into law back in 2000, an organization is trying to amend California’s Constitution to overrule the court’s decision.

The proposition, if it is approved in November, would allow only recognize marriages between a man and a woman. It would also overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.

California is the second state in the U.S. to recognize same-sex marriages — Massachusetts was the first.

A total of 694,354 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 1,120,801.

Non-violent Offender Rehabilitation Act of 2008

This proposition would attempt to modify sentencing, parole and probation guidelines for non-violent offenders, as well as focus on treatment and rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders.

It would increase funding toward individualized treatment and rehabilitation programs for both non-violent drug offenders and parolees.

At the same time, this proposition would reduce criminal penalties for those offenses by offering a different form of probation focused on treatment.

The court would have their ability to incarcerate parole and probation violators limited.

It would also shorten the amount of parole time for most drug offense, including sales, and non-violent property crimes.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects that it would cost the state no more than $1 billion annually to expand drug and rehab programs. At the same time, no more than $1 billion annually would be saved in reduced prison and parole operation costs.

They also expect a one-time savings of no more than $2.5 billion in prison facility costs. The cost to run these expanded treatment facilities is unknown.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 761,183.

Safe Neighborhood Act: Stop Gang, Gun, and Street Crime

On the flip side of the previous proposition, this one would increase criminal penalties for several crimes and allow hearsay evidence in certain instances.

Funding would be allocated to combat crime and gangs, and toward prisons and parole operations.

Several crimes that would see increases include using and selling methamphetamine and carrying a loaded or concealed firearm for certain felons.

Bail would be eliminated for illegal immigrants charged with gang-related or violent crimes.

It would also change the law to allow certain hearsay statements as evidence if witnesses are unavailable.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expect costs to state to exceed $500 million annually for increased criminal justice programs and for prison and parole operations.

There would also be a one-time cost that could exceed $500 million toward prison facilities and costs to courts, county jails and local criminal justice agencies.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 789,668.

Child and Teen Safety and Stop Predators Act: Sarah’s Law

This constitutional amendment would prohibit abortion of unemancipated minors until 48 hours after their parents, or guardians are notified.

There would be exceptions if the minor has a waiver from a parent or it is a medial necessity.

Minors would also be able to prove to a court that they are mature enough to have the abortion without their parents’ permission, or that it is in their best interest to do so.

Physicians would have to report all abortions of minors. Also allows physicians to be sued for monetary damages if they violate this amendment.

A minor also has to consent to the abortion, though in some cases they don’t have to.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects an unknown state cost of several million annually for health and social service programs and court costs.

A total of 694,354 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 1,228,217.

Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century

The California Senate originally voted for this bond measure to go before a public vote for the November 2004 election. It was moved several times since.

The bond measure would allocate $9.95 billion, in conjunction with federal funds, to plan and construct a high-speed train system.

A line connecting the Bay Area with Los Angeles would serve as the beginnings of a 700-mile system that would eventually connect all major population centers in California, going as far north Sacramento.

Trains would go at speeds of at least 200 mph on this network.

The Solar and Clean Energy Act of 2008

This proposition would require all utility companies have 50 percent of their energy coming from renewable sources by 2025.

The requirements would be phased in: 40 percent by 2010, 45 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025.

An account would be created in order to buy property and rights of way for renewable energy.

There would be fast track approval of energy plants creating renewable energy.

This would also impose fines on utility companies that don’t comply with the regulations.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects it would cost the state up to $3.4 annually to regulate the rules, though it would be paid by fee revenues.

There are unknown costs resulting in increased costs and reduced revenues that may lead to increased electricity rates in the short term.

Costs could be offset, and revenues increased in the long term, if this measure increases the development of renewable energy.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 736,145.

The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act

This proposition would try to alleviate animal suffering by requiring specified farm animals spend the majority of their day in a place with enough space to fully extend their limbs or wings and turn around, among other things.

The animals specified include calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs.

The proposition would make it a misdemeanor to not do this, with the possibility of fines not exceeding $1,000 and/or imprisonment in jail up to 180 days.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects minor financial impact based on local and state law enforcement and prosecution, which may be offset by increased fine revenue.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 782,507 with only 536,605 determined to be valid.

Children’s Hospital Bond Act of 2008

This bond measure would authorize $980 million to fund the construction projects and furnishing children’s hospitals.

The measure requires that 80 percent of funds go toward hospitals that focus on children aliments such as leukemia and diabetes.

The other 20 percent would go toward University of California general acute care hospitals.

The Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance expects that the bond will cost the general fund about $2 billion over 30 years to pay off, with payments of around $67 million annually.

A total of 433,971 signatures were needed to put this on the ballot — proponents collected 684,892 with only 469,967 determined to be valid.

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