"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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Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Sunday's recall referendums in Bolivia resulted in a resounding affirmation of support for president Evo Morales and the changes he is bringing to that country, as well as the recall of two opposition governors. Winning with 60% of the vote, more than when he was first elected, his reforms geared towards equal distribution of wealth from Bolivia's resources and a more participatory democracy have received a big boost, despite moves towards autonomy by the wealthier provinces where the oligarchy intends to retain its control of resource wealth. In reflecting upon this exercise in direct democracy that has taken place in Bolivia and similar recall referendums that occur regularly in countries all over the world, including western nations in Europe and elsewhere, we must ask ourselves why in the United States where President Bush has hit a record low in approval ratings, the only option available for a recall on his rule is impeachment by congress. This is not likely to happen, and in a true democracy the people should instead be afforded the option of a recall vote to be put to the entire electorate rather than having to wait until the next presidential election to remove a president that has betrayed the public will. - Editor

Optimism and Uncertainty Follow Bolivian Recall Vote

Written by Alexander van Schaick
Monday, 11 August 2008


Photo: Thousands of MAS supporters celebrate Sunday night outside the Coca-growers union federation office in the city of Cochabamba. Photo by Amaru Goyes

Cochabamba, Bolivia - President Evo Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party won a resounding victory in Bolivia’s Recall Referendum held Sunday, August 10. According to exit polls, more than 60% Bolivian citizens voted "Si" to ratify Morales, a mandate that he hopes will enable the approval of Bolivia’s new draft constitution.

The recall referendum also put eight of Bolivia’s nine departmental prefects (governors) to popular vote. According to exit polls, opposition Prefects Manfred Reyes Villa in Cochabamba and José Luis Paredes in La Paz were trounced at the ballot box, each with only 40 percent support. In Oruro, Alberto Aguilar, one of the two prefects aligned with MAS, may also be revoked.

On the other hand, in Bolivia’s lowlands, where opponents of President Morales have led a movement for "Departmental Autonomy" from the central government, the prefects of Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija have been approved with large margins of support. It is unclear if Leopoldo Fernández, prefect of the lowland department of Pando, has garnered enough votes to continue in his post.

The referendum did not include Savina Cuéllar, Chuquisaca’s conservative prefect, given she assumed the position only a month ago after a special election.

On a national level, MAS has scored an important victory in reaffirming support for their national agenda, including state recuperation of natural resources, wealth redistribution, agrarian reform, and support for indigenous rights. However, conservative sectors have once again shown their strength in the lowlands and will likely continue to impede the Morales administration at every step of the way.

Photo: A woman votes in Huertamayo, Cochabamba a town affiliated with the Federación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Cochabamba, an agrarian union federation supportive of President Morales and critical of Prefect Manfred Reyes Villa. According to a poll comission by ATB/La Razon, rural voters in Cochabamba voted 92.4 percent in favor of President Morales and 87.2 percent against the Prefect. Photo by Luis Gonzales

Ruben Costas, Prefect of Santa Cruz, stated during a vicory speech, "This insensible totalitarian, MASista, incapable government negates the development of the people and only seeks to concentrate power and convert us into its pawns."

In Cochabamba, it remains unclear how the results of the Recall Referendum will play out. Despite his lack of popular support, Manfred Reyes Villa announced in a message Sunday night that he will not recognize the results of the Referendum and carry on his work as prefect.

"We are going to continue doing battle legally against the [Recall Referendum] because someone has to be at the head of the defense of Democracy and Bolivian citizens' rights and obligations and that someone is me," stated the prefect, as quoted in the Cochabamba daily, Opinion.

Since the Senate passed the law convoking the Recall Referendum, Reyes Villa has carried out a legal and media campaign against the referendum on the basis of what he views as its unconstitutionality.

After the results were announced on Sunday night, a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside the prefect’s office in Cochabamba’s principal plaza, shouting "Manfred Out" and "Don’t cry now Manfred!" If Reyes Villa refuses to step down, peasant and left-wing urban organizations will almost certainly mobilize to force him out of office. Such a scenario might lead to a repeat of January 11, 2007, when three people where killed in fights between supporters of Reyes Villa and President Morales.

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