"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, July 25, 2008


The Washington Fair Trade Coalition consistently communicates with members of congress in an effort to change trade policy in a way that will directly benefit people, not just the "economy." The media and politicians show us graphs with numbers that will placate our fears about our trade deficit, the latest free trade agreement, and low inflation, but groups like WFTC are working to reveal the reality of the problems these policies impose on people in the US and around the world. WTFC employs a participatory approach to achieve their goals, gaining a presence in government by maintaining contact with members of congress in the hopes of influencing their decisions. While it is a constant struggle, some of their campaigns have been successful in reforming trade policy and mitigating the destructive effects that current policies have on workers and the environment. See their website for more information about what they do and recent success in swaying some policy-makers: http://www.washingtonfairtrade.org/ While it is unfortunate how hard they have to work to influence policy, it is at the same time uplifting to know that people are actively taking part in decisions that most are content to leave to representatives and government officials. -Editor

Congressional Leaders Launch Bold New Trade Reform Act

The Washington Fair Trade Coalition Urges Washington State Members of Congress to Co-sponsor Legislation

Source: http://www.citizenstrade.org/pdf/WFTC_TRADEActpressrelease_06102008.pdf

Over fifty original House and Senate cosponsors joined twenty leading labor, environmental, family farm and faith groups in supporting new consensus legislation offering a positive vision for future U.S. trade policy. Entitled the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act (H.R. 6180), the bill was introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) on June 4th, 2008 in Washington D.C. None of Washington State's members of Congress were original co-sponsors.

The act triggers a review of all existing trade agreements, and provides a process to renegotiate them. The bill also outlines principles of what should be included in future trade agreements, and expresses the sense of the Congress that their role in trade policymaking should be strengthened.

Rick Bender, President of the Washington State Labor Council, supports the TRADE Act. "It is time we get some teeth in our trade agreements and require real protections for both workers and the environment," said Bender. "We must no longer treat these vital concerns as a sidebar to broader economic interests. Securing the future of workers and the health of the planet will benefit everyone - business and labor included."

No member of the Washington State Congressional delegation was an original co-sponsor of the bill. However, many local organizations are already praising it as a bold step forward on trade policy, and are encouraging state officials to sign on.

"This bill is ground-breaking. It is an opportunity to restore balance in our trade agenda, between business and investor interests on one hand, and the interests of communities and the public on the other hand," comments Cynthia Cole, President of SPEEA, the union of Boeing engineers and technical workers. "Hopefully, Congress members from Washington State will be quick to support a new model for trade that will benefit working people as well as businesses in our state."

Environmental groups see this bill as important for ensuring trade and environmental concerns are complementary. Kathleen Ridihalgh of Sierra Club Northwest/Alaska Region says: "This Act has the potential to set straight the history of NAFTA and the WTO to encourage truly sustainable development that promises to benefit the majority of the world's people, whether farmers or business owners, while protecting our resources for future generations."

Kristen Kosidowski of Witness for Peace Northwest sees this bill as an opportunity to be in favor of trade policy, since many social justice groups often find themselves opposed to trade agreements. "The TRADE Act is exactly the step that we need to take. Over and over we've had to say "No!" to trade policies that set up our local working communities and our global neighbors for failure, but the TRADE Act gives us hope for a trade model that we can support - one that is of the people and for the people."

The TRADE Act was introduced following a presidential primary season that saw trade policy rise to the top of American's concerns. With several Democratic candidates promising to renegotiate existing agreements (visit www.citizenstrade.org/positions.php for those commitments), the TRADE Act provides a blueprint for how to best remedy many of these past problems in trade agreements.

The current U.S. trade model has had devastating impacts. Since 1975, when Fast Track (Trade Promotion Authority) was first enacted, the trade deficit has gone from a slight surplus to an unsustainable $709 billion deficit in 2007. A net 4.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. In Washington State almost 14,000 workers have applied for Trade Adjustment Assistance, which indicates that our current trade model caused them to suffer job loss or reduced income. This represents only a fraction of the total number of those whose jobs or livelihoods have been negatively impacted by the NAFTA-style trade model, including thousands of Mexican farmers who have immigrated to Washington State in search of a livelihood after the collapse of the Mexican rural economy.

According to Stephanie Celt, Director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, "More and more Americans are realizing that our current trade model hurts more people than it helps. I hope that Congress members from Washington State will act on this important opportunity to support a truly fair trade bill that will benefit our state as well as the world at large."

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