"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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Monday, November 10, 2008


We the editors have been saying for a long time now that the struggle for a more participatory and direct democracy must begin in earnest on election day 2008. The historic election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States does not signal the end of that struggle, but rather that our voices must be raised louder than ever, and our activism and participation in politics must be raised to the highest level possible. This is because with this election, the doors to the corridors of power in Washington appear to be opened ever so slightly, perhaps enough that for the first time in decades 'we the people' have a real chance of getting our foot in the door enough to bully our way in. This will of course require maintaining and increasing the levels of popular political activism we have experienced during this campaign. If we do not, we run the risk of missing an historic opportunity for change. Real change will come from the people, not from Obama alone. - Editor

New Civic Politics


Enough is enough.

America's politics should be driven by the priorities of the people, not sound bites, special interest money, partisan gridlock, and polarizing rhetoric.

It is time for a change.

We believe that politics cannot and should not be a spectator sport. No politician, party or ideology will solve America's mounting problems alone. Only by providing authentic opportunities for the people to be part of the solution can we rebuild trust in our political institutions and create mandates for meaningful action on the critical issues facing our nation.

We challenge candidates and each other to recognize lessons from communities across the nation and around the world where citizens have played vital roles in addressing difficult problems that range from health care to education reform, from keeping communities safe to climate change. We need an outpouring of ideas about how Americans can build on this history, developing skills of working together across divisions of party, faith, race, income, and geography to address common issues. Such work is difficult. But it is crucial.

The November 5th Coalition is an all-partisan alliance committed to civic partnerships that address our biggest challenges. The Coalition is named for the day after the election in 2008 when a new chapter of America's civic history begins. Wherever the people gather they should be able to ask candidates “November 5th questions” about how they plan to tap the talents of the whole society, instead of posing as superheroes who will solve our problems for us. We will also develop leadership networks and civic policies that can serve as resources for a new administration. We encourage our fellow citizens to join with us in calling on candidates to rise above excessively divisive partisanship and to promote the common good.

We invite all Americans to help us shape a new civic politics that can galvanize the energies of the nation, drawing us from the shopping mall back into the public square. We must renew Abraham Lincoln's “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” to achieve a rebirth of liberty and justice for all in the 21st century.


We will intervene by:

Creating an environment in which it pays for candidates to engage with other politicians and citizens in more authentic, productive, citizen-centered ways. Modeling better forms of interaction between candidates and voters.

Making it more difficult for candidates to get away with fake versions of civic engagement on the campaign trail (such as town meetings that are scripted and controlled)

Creating an environment in which it pays for candidates to propose serious policies, programs, or ways of governing that will enhance citizen-centered politics. Making visible and strengthening the array of policy options and ideas for citizen-centered politics.

Reconceiving the campaign as about all of us -- and what we will all do after the election, not simply to get someone elected

Using the campaign season to direct attention to citizen-centered activities that are already going on and groups already doing public work

Ensuring that we have a political system and democracy that welcomes the participation of everyone (rather than prohibiting it

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