"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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Sunday, September 28, 2008


Direct democracy in the form of initiative & referendum has brought a vote on a constitutional amendment to the ballot in Minnesota. The amendment would raise the state sales tax slightly to fund both the arts and fish and game conservation efforts. The unlikely alliance between hunters and artists that the effort to bring the amendment to the ballot has brought about shows how when people are given legislative power through direct democracy they are able to find common ground in order to benefit all members of society. - Editor

Campaign for constitutional amendment gears up

Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
September 22, 2008

When Minnesotans head to the polls in November, they'll be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that would raise the state sales tax by three-eighths of one percent. If approved, the measure would raise millions of dollars for environmental protection and the arts.

Supporters include an unlikely pairing of hunting and fishing groups with organizations that support arts and culture. Opponents say the state can't afford another tax hike.

Bemidji, Minn. — Thousands of people walk through the Bemidji Community Arts Center each year. The art gallery is popular with locals, and it brings lots of tourist dollars into town.

The organization relies heavily on donations and state-funded grants to stay afloat. Center director Lori Forshee-Donnay says funding the facility can be a nail-biter each year. She says passing the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment will help.

"There's more and more organizations and artists looking for a shrinking pool of money, and whenever there's a deficit, these are the areas that get cut first," said Forshee-Donnay. "So it will be really nice to be able to have a stable, long term source of funding."

If approved, the constitutional amendment could raise nearly $300 million a year. Eighty percent would go toward things like clean water initiatives, wildlife habitat restoration and land conservation efforts. The rest would help fund groups like the Region 2 Arts Council in northwest Minnesota.

Region 2 director Teri Widman says in 2003, state funding for the arts council was cut 32 percent.

She says that hurt their ability to provide music and arts programming grants to school districts. Widman says the council's mission is even more critical now that many schools are slashing their arts budgets.

Widman says raising the sales tax is a good way to meet needs that most Minnesotans agree are important.

"It's only three-eighths of one percent, which means that the average family of four would pay less than $5 a month to invest in their clean water, conserving the wildlife habitats, the outdoors, and providing arts funding," said Widman. "We're talking about future generations. It's a very small amount of money to invest in the future."

The proposed amendment that voters will see in November has been years in the making, and arts weren't part of the mix until now. The initiative was started mostly by groups supporting hunting and fishing.

Scott Anderson, northwest regional director for Ducks Unlimited, says broadening the coalition to include the arts was a smart political move.

"We've been fighting this battle to get it out for a vote for many years," said Anderson. "The organizations fighting for it just had to realize that there's give and take with it. If we absolutely say the arts and culture shouldn't be a part of it, we might not even be this far yet."

Getting the amendment question on the ballot is one thing. Rallying voter support may be a bigger challenge.

A Minnesota Public Radio News/Humphrey Institute poll last month, showed 72 percent of respondents were against raising the sales tax.

Terry Stone lives in International Falls, where he runs a retail electronics business. Stone says Minnesota already has one of the highest sales tax rates in the country.

He worries a hike would hurt his business, and says now is an especially bad time to do it.

"It couldn't be worse," Stone said. "We have a soggy economy and we have extreme budgetary issues. Legislators are saying about a billion dollar deficit just for starters in the next session. To start throwing dedicated, locked in, 25-year-long funding for anything strikes me as bad government."

Some studies show voters tend to approve tax increase questions at about a 50-50 rate, but those that promote things like clean water and conservation tend to do better, says Pat Donnay, a political science professor at Bemidji State University. He's married to the director of the Bemidji Community Arts Center.

Donnay says passage of the amendment may be more difficult because if voters leave the question blank, the ballot is counted as a no vote.

He says it's likely many voters aren't familiar with the issue yet. They'll be big targets of the special interest groups either for or against the measure. He says that's one of the downsides of posing referendum questions to voters.

"People like to think it's direct democracy, but it really plays to the interest groups in much the same way, if not more so, than representative democracy," said Donnay. "It's all about who's got the money to get the airwaves and the billboards. That's what it will become between now and election day, is a battle between the various interests to get their message out."

Supporters of the amendment include a coalition of about 200 organizations. They're funding a multi-million dollar advertising campaign promoting the measure.

Groups like the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce have mounted their own campaigns to defeat the amendment.

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