"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, January 15, 2008


Many people are not aware that there is a growing movement within the states to adopt a plan which would bring a more direct one person-one vote system of presidential elections into practice in the United States, eventually replacing the existing outdated and less democratic electoral college system. All but seven states have legislation in at different stages of development which would allow such a National Popular Vote system to come into being without the need for a constitutional amendment. Read the following article to learn more, and visit http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/ to track the movement's progress. - Editor

The Path to a National Popular Vote

By David Sirota, Creators SyndicatePosted on December 28, 2007, Printed on January 15, 2008http://www.alternet.org/story/71785/

Right now, many are frustrated about Iowa and New Hampshire voters having such oversized influence in America's presidential elections. In a few months, as the general election campaign unfolds, we will be similarly frustrated about Ohio and Florida. Who arbitrarily gave this handful of states the disproportionate power to determine our national political path?

When it comes to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, the answer is the parties. They decide which states select nominees first. In the general election, the culprit is the Electoral College. Most states award their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. By no matter what margin presidential candidates win your state, they get all your state's electoral votes. That means if you don't live in a "battleground" like Florida or Ohio whose statewide vote is perpetually up for grabs, you are ignored.

The nominating system is easily modified. Parties can add early primary and caucus states if they choose. Changing the general election, on the other hand, looks much harder. The Electoral College and its negative consequences seem locked into the Constitution.
But the operative word is "seem."

The group National Popular Vote has developed an ingenious path around this constitutional obstruction: States can pass legislation mandating that all of their presidential electoral votes go to the winner of the national popular vote -- regardless of the election outcome in their own state.

Maryland Governor O'Malley Signs National Popular Vote law

If, say, Democrat-dominated Vermont signed on to the plan and a Republican won the national popular vote, Vermont would award its electoral votes to the Republican candidate, regardless of an overwhelming Democratic vote inside Vermont. If Republican-dominated Utah signed on to the plan and a Democrat won the popular vote, same thing -- Utah's electors would go to the Democrat.

The key element is the clause ensuring the plan does not take effect until states representing a majority of all electoral votes sign on. That way, the system only launches when it has enough electoral votes behind it to guarantee the winner of the national popular vote is the winner of the presidential election. No one state acts alone, and therefore neither political party gets an undue advantage.

This plan would immediately change presidential politics for the better.
As just one example, take the closely divided city of Indianapolis. It is currently ignored by presidential candidates because both parties know there is almost no chance Indiana will vote anything other than Republican in a presidential contest. Under the national popular vote plan, however, Indianapolis would suddenly be just as worthy of candidate attention as a similarly sized, closely divided city like Columbus, Ohio. That's because geography would cease to determine the importance of a vote. In the national popular vote system, a vote is a vote, regardless of where a candidate gets it.

The public is clamoring for this kind of fix. A 2007 Harvard University study found almost three-quarters of Americans favor a national popular vote over the current system. The problem is Republican operatives who are trying to steer this public opinion into support for a partisan scheme to rig elections for good. Under the banner of democracy and fairness, these apparatchiks began crafting plans to push a ballot initiative in California unilaterally awarding the state's electoral votes by congressional district, rather than by winner-take-all. In other words, California's 53 congressional districts would each be like a separate state with one electoral vote going to whichever candidate won the presidential contest in that district. Experts agree the result would likely be Republicans gaining 22 electoral votes without doing a thing.

Not surprisingly, these Republicans are not pushing the same plan for red states like Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, where Democrats could make similar gains on a district-by-district basis. But that hypocrisy is secondary, because to bill the scheme as a pro-democracy reform is to lie through one's teeth. Consider that if the 2000 election had been decided on a district-by-district basis, George W. Bush's margin of Electoral College victory would have actually grown, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote.

Thankfully, the California initiative was torpedoed by GOP infighting, but you can bet it will be back soon. That is, unless states step up now. By passing national popular vote bills in the upcoming 2008 legislative sessions, state lawmakers can bring America closer to getting the democracy our civics books pretend we already have.

David Sirota is a nationally syndicated weekly newspaper columnist for Creators Syndicate. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government and How We Take It Back (Crown 2006). He is also a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network. His second book, The Uprising, is due in the Spring of 2008.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/71785/

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