"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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Thursday, October 9, 2008


Is Direct Democracy in Oregon Too Much of a Good Thing?

Voters in Oregon's 1st Congressional District are taking the law into their own hands. In fact, so are voters throughout the state, and they have been doing it for years.

Oregon is one of 24 states that give voters the right to place proposed laws and constitutional amendments on the state ballot via petition.

Since 1902, Oregon voters have used the petition to change the state's political landscape. In 1908 they instituted the recall election, allowing citizens to remove elected officials from office before the expiration of their terms. Another early initiative authorized one of the nation's first open primaries, giving voters the power to choose their party's nominees for office.

In recent years, Oregon voters have placed on the ballot and passed several important measures, including limits on property taxes, increased rights for crime victims, term limits for legislators, and a controversial measure on physician-assisted suicide.

But many Oregonians are wondering if this long-respected institution has become too much of a good thing.


The initiative process was used sparingly for its first 85 years, averaging about one measure per year. Since the 1990s, it has mushroomed, with 20 initiatives on the ballot in 2000. In 1996, more than 200 ballot measure petitions were circulated in the state, with only a small minority gaining enough support to appear on the ballot. The use of initiatives has dropped a bit since 2000, but there were still, on average, about eight initiatives each in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

Some recent citizen initiatives were judged unconstitutional and overturned by the courts. On other occasions, approved ballot measures contradicted each other or were worded so vaguely as to be unworkable.

A cloud over the process has been cast by the activities of a man named Bill Sizemore, who has sponsored more initiatives than anyone else in the state's history, including one with the greatest impact of any Oregon ballot initiative in decades: His 1996 ballot measure drastically restricted property tax increases. More recently, a court found he had used forged signatures and filed false financial reports during his initiative efforts. It ordered his organization to pay more than $3 million in damages. Although portions of that ruling were set aside by an appeals court, the litigation damaged Sizemore's credibility with some voters.

Despite these problems, most Oregonians know some recent ballot measures have proven successful and remain an important check on government officials. Voters are seeking reform, rather than abolition, of the initiative process. Reforms already enacted include a ban on paying petition circulators for each signature gathered. Perhaps ironically, this reform was achieved through a ballot initiative.

In 2007, the Oregon Legislature created further restrictions, including a requirement for registering and training petition circulators. Supporters of the reforms say they will give new relevance and life to a cherished example of direct democracy. Opponents call them unjustified restrictions on free speech.

The 2008 ballot will be the last before the new measures take effect.


Eight measures - five sponsored by Sizemore - are on the upcoming ballot. One would limit bilingual classes in public schools. Others would reduce state revenues by increasing tax deductions, require teachers' pay increases to be based on student achievement rather than teacher seniority, require harsher sentences for criminals (two initiatives), dedicate more money to public safety, and harmonize voting eligibility for school board elections with eligibility requirements for other state and local elections.

The most far-reaching measure might be a proposal to eliminate the traditional party primaries, which were established by one of the first successful initiatives a century ago. Instead of holding a separate primary election for each party, Oregon would hold only one joint primary, with the top two nominees going forward to the November general election, regardless of party affiliation. Proponents say it would encourage more moderate candidates. Critics counter that one of the major parties could end up with no candidate on the November ballot.

Whatever the fate of this year's ballot initiatives, 2008 could be the last year that Oregon voters face such a range of petitions and ballot measures. Whether that is good or bad is still a subject of debate.

This article is part of America.gov's continuing coverage of seven of the 435 U.S. congressional districts during the 2008 campaign. Each offers a different prism from which to view U.S. politics. For more information, see U.S Elections - State and Local ( http://uspolitics.america.gov/uspolitics/elections/stateandlocal.html ).

Source: U.S. Department of State

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