"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, August 27, 2008


Urbana, Illinois residents recently voted down the creation of a ballot measure that would have resulted in a referendum on the institution of instant runoff voting. Instant runoff voting is a way of expanding democracy within a representative system by allowing voters to specify multiple candidates in their vote in order of preference instead of their being able to only vote for one candidate, their first choice. When the votes are tallied, a sort instant runoff election occurs when the second and third choices of voters are taken into account as well as thir first choice. While not direct democracy, instant runoff voting is an effective means of making representative democracy more democratic by expanding the voter's influence over the election. Hopefully Urbana and others will adopt it in the near future. - Editor

Urbana rejects runoff voting referendum

By Eric Heisig
Posted: 7/1/08 Section: News

Source: http://media.www.dailyillini.com/media/storage/paper736/news/2008/07/01/News/Urbana.Rejects.Runoff.Voting.Referendum-3386733.shtml

The people of Cunningham township voted against placing a referendum on the November ballot regarding instant runoff voting in Urbana Monday night.

The advisory referendum, if passed, would have asked voters if they thought the Urbana City Council should place a binding referendum on the ballot to change the voting method.

During the meeting, many citizens came forward on both sides of the issue.

"How anti-democratic it would be for the small group of us here tonight to deny Urbana citizens at large that chance to vote," said Urbana resident Gary Storm, arguing that the citizens present only represented a small percentage of Urbana's population.

Still, some on the other side said that the system, which requires voters to list candidates in order of preference, is too confusing for many voters.

"It's frustrating to know if you actually did it right," said resident Carla Tucker.

Ward 1 Council member Charlie Smyth said other cities who have used this type of voting have indicated it can be confusing with their exit polls.

"It is like Florida and the butterfly ballot," Smyth said. "If it weren't for that, Al Gore would have been president, and probably still be president today."

This is not the first time that instant runoff voting has been voted down at town meeting. It was voted down at the annual town meeting in April as well.

Still, the 43-98 vote has not deterred those who are in favor of instant runoff voting, and Urbana resident Wayne Johnson said the next step for them is to collect signatures on a petition to put it on the ballot.

"I think this indicates how much education is necessary, to show what is meant by grass roots participatory democracy," Johnson said.

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