"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, October 15, 2008


Again, another article illustrating how in Arizona, as in many states where intitative & referendum occurs at the state level, reform is needed to allow more grassroots access to the process and prevent direct democracy from being hijacked by and limited to special and corporate interests with the funds to push initiatives through. - Editor

Big money, not citizens, is driving initiatives

by Matthew Benson - Jul. 30, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic


So much for the "citizens" with this year's batch of citizens initiatives.

For most of the nine initiatives planned for the November ballot, financial backing from individual donors has been scarce. The money has flowed almost exclusively from corporations, political committees and a relative handful of wealthy individuals.

Grass-roots? Nope. Not yet anyway.

Take the transportation campaign in favor of a 1 cent-per-dollar hike in the state sales tax.

Of the nearly $1 million received by the ballot effort, just $100 has thus far been donated by individuals. Campaign-finance reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office show that the vast majority of contributions have come from businesses with a financial stake in roadwork and other transportation projects: construction companies, contractors and engineering firms.

Likewise, nearly every cent of the $8.7 million dumped into a ballot effort benefiting the payday-loan industry has been donated by - guess who? - a trade group representing payday lenders: the Arizona Community Financial Services Association.

Initiative representatives counter that the disparity in campaign donations among business interests, political committees and regular Arizonans is nothing new.

But the divide is so pronounced this election cycle that it raises the question of whether Arizona's direct democracy has become little more than a legislative vehicle for wealthy special interests.

Voting via pocketbook

Some past initiative campaigns have demonstrated better success at gathering money from a broad base of donors.

In 2004, the Protect Arizona Now campaign reported that individuals accounted for more than one-fifth of its $550,000 campaign haul.

The initiative, approved as Proposition 200, set restrictions on government benefits for undocumented immigrants and established regulations for identification at the polls.

Two years later, an initiative to ban gay marriage in Arizona garnered thousands of individual donors. Despite raising more than $1 million, Protect Marriage Arizona was rejected at the polls. Supporters have returned to the ballot this year but chose to save their money and energy by opting instead for it to be referred to the ballot by the Legislature.

Although no guarantee of success, small-dollar donations are important when it comes to measuring a campaign's base of support, said Pat Graham, campaign chairman this year for the latest effort to reform the state's trust-land system.

Said Graham, "Somebody who feels strongly enough to vote with their pocketbook is going to get out and carry the message for you."

What if your campaign is short on cash?

Bonita Burks had hoped to qualify for the ballot new state restrictions on motorists' use of mobile phones while driving. But despite a series of high-profile accidents that focused public awareness on the issue, her petition drive stalled long before it collected the 153,000 valid signatures it needed. Some of that she attributes to a lack of campaign funding that forced her to rely on volunteer, rather than paid, signature gatherers.

"It made it difficult," said Burks, whose Safer Road Arizona campaign reported just $1,050 in total donations. "Although it is a very important issue and I'm very passionate about it, we just didn't have the dollars to make it happen this year."

Even with a throng of volunteer signature gatherers, border-security activist Don Goldwater, too, failed to make the ballot with either of his immigration proposals.

"In the history of the state of Arizona, no citizens initiative has ever been done without paid signature gatherers," Goldwater said. "If you've got the bucks, you can get the initiative on the ballot."

Measuring support

Luckily for supporters of Graham's trust-land reform initiative, that campaign has a handful of big-dollar donors.

The Our Land, Our Schools campaign has garnered more than $820,000 in donations so far this cycle, most of which have come from the Nature Conservancy and a development firm owned by Democratic benefactor and former state-party boss Jim Pederson. Individuals have contributed $50,250, all but $250 of which was given by John W. Graham, chairman of the board for the state chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

Campaign Chairman Pat Graham said he expects small-donor contributions to pick up once the initiative is certified for the ballot.

"People don't want to give money to gather signatures," the Nature Conservancy's John Graham said. "The broader base of fundraising is going to pick up now through the rest of the campaign."

Stan Barnes isn't too worried about where the money comes from for his Payday Loan Reform Act. The key is that it's there. And it's big.

"We're not even trying to collect money from Arizonans who are not connected in some way to the payday-lending industry," said Barnes, a lobbyist representing the campaign.

The key, he said, is using the money in a fashion that educates voters about the proposal.

The initiative includes consumer-interest reforms, such as a cap on annual interest rates that branches can charge, and eliminates a planned 2010 sunset date. That change would allow the industry to continue in the state.

Barnes noted that campaign donations aren't the only measure of public support. There are the petition signatures, for one. The payday-lending campaign gathered about 265,000 from across Arizona, he said.

And there's another, most important measure of support. It will come on the first Tuesday in November.

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