"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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Friday, February 29, 2008


The following article examines the challenges faced in the struggle to preserve community participatory radio broadcasting in the United States. Community radio in the U.S. has all but been been obliterated by corporate broadcasting effectively buying up the public airways, which are the property of the people and the commons. There are many obstacles to overcome in bringing those airways and community based broadcasting back from the brink in the U.S. The article poses Latin American community radio experiences as a model that could be followed. - Editor

Recapturing the Promise of Alternative Radio: Serving by Letting Others Speak

By Leslie López Source: http://www.re-public.gr/en/?p=90

Focusing on Latin American participatory radio, Leslie Lopez highlights the promise that the commons hold for the reinvigoration of democratic values. Democracy requires not just a refraining from greed, but an ongoing, constructive effort to serve the greater good.
Alternative radio has, from its inception, tantalized us with its promise of the commons. Bertolt Brecht, back in 1932, fantasized about “the finest possible communications apparatus in public life…if it understood how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a network instead of isolating him.” Today, as we turn increasingly to private non-profits to preserve our dreams of democracy where the public sector has clearly failed us, we should think carefully about what helps those organizations advance toward that promise of shared space, and what pulls them, in Garrett Hardin’s terms, towards the “tragedy” of the commons.

Hardin wrote about the impossibility to legislate “temperance,” and the consequent imperative for people to impose their own restrictions on their freedom to use resources that impinge on the commons. But studying community radio has convinced me that the political economy of democracy requires not just a refraining from greed, but an ongoing, constructive effort to serve the greater good.

Radio and the tragedy of the commons

Certainly, there are plenty of community radio applications of Hardin’s model: the temptation to use public channels as one’s own personal sound machine often proves too great. In the most benign circumstances, given audio equipment in an isolated, sound-proof room, many volunteers experience a failure of imagination and an urge to express themselves at the cost of context. Yet a disturbing social isolation accompanies many radio performances, a simultaneous retreat from community along with an urge to project into it that seems to fit Renato Rosaldo’s description of “imperialist nostalgia:” “people destroy their environment, and then they worship nature.”

I witnessed an extreme example of this, a true tragedy of the commons, in Watsonville, California, where a community’s micro-radio frequency was lost to greed and vanity. About 80% of the population in Watsonville is Mexican, but there are no local broadcast media in Spanish; print options are very limited. After micro radio licenses became legal, an Anglo married couple living on the edge of town, calling themselves Ohana (“Family”) applied for the town’s only micro license, to pursue their mission: to broadcast 100% Hawaiian music. Their application was blocked in the bureaucratic queue by another group: Neltiliztli, a Mexican-American human rights group. When the 2001 amendment to micro radio law was passed, Neltiliztli’s history of unlicensed broadcasting disqualified its application but did not remove it from the queue. The groups agreed to collaborate under Ohana’s name, to build a multi-cultural station, and after Neltiliztli withdrew its application, the license came in the mail.

Six months later, the Ohana couple locked Neltiliztli out of the station under construction, announced they were the sole owners of the station, and proceeded to pursue their dream: a dream of a closed circuit consisting of their home, their own business, and their very own “community” radio station.

Community radio on the defensive

Most first-world community radio projects are a gasp of oxygen in broadcast spectra overflowing with commercialism. But at least in the US they often seem to be on the defensive—and fighting a losing battle—against the progressive retreat from common life. Here, the promise began to pale in the 1970’s, when the Corporation of Public Broadcasting obliged stations to increase their wattage, “professionalism” and operating costs. Acting “rationally,” most stations have amputated their costliest functions—ironically, those that are best served by local radio: news, and live local music. Thus they have foregone their means of knowing their communities, and of expanding local loyalties along with volunteer networks. Despite a lot of hard work, good intentions—and some bright spots—too often community programming is either bland, or smorgasbord and narrow-cast. Syndication brings us the nation’s Left and Liberal super-stars, filling a true need in parched circumstances, but subscription drives seem soul-less as well as all-consuming; and tremendous time and energy is wasted on internal organization issues that never seem to resolve, because the sense of collective mission has been lost.

There are no easy answers for a culture that has forgotten how to serve the common good. However, for ideas we might turn to the kind of radio used by communities struggling against authoritarianism: while poor service is learned behavior, so is good service. Granted, in most rural communities throughout the world, radio teams do not have to cope with the pervasive ethic of personal gain maximization that was already the norm in the US when Hardin was writing. But capitalism and individual survival modes have shaped practices everywhere, not least where poverty and danger press in from all sides. In response, these radios emphasize proactive, participatory programming to build a sense of community and a functional public sphere, diminishing the fear and isolation that have served neo-colonialism so well.

Participatory programming

Latin Americans pioneered participatory programming, inventing a variety of cheap ways to get people’s voices on the air, like neighborhood and rural production committees, and roving correspondents, with or without tape recorders. Because poor and oppressed people often cannot come to the station themselves, radio workers leave the studio, carrying recorders “like key-chains,” expanding the boundaries of journalism to include recordings of life occurring, especially wherever people are challenging the status quo.

Such is the case of Radio Teocelo, located in the central mountains of Veracruz, Mexico. As with many Latin American stations, this institution’s story shows that democratization-by-radio was not simply a matter of building a space and waiting for the people to come. After 15 years of sporadic, uncoordinated programming by volunteers, the Jesuits came to town, bearing systematized techniques to encourage democratic participation from elsewhere in the continent, the centerpiece of which was radio team training. Mario Hernández, now station director, recalled the “human formation” aspect of the training: Everything [was] about service, towards the community, no? They’d say: Remember that here we are servants…We’re not going to sell the listener the request; we’re not going to sell the saludo; we’re their servants, right? If there are two or three people, we should be the third, no?

The Jesuits left, but the service ethic, celebrated after centuries of repression by corrupt authorities, has persisted. Despite pressure from political bosses, across epic organizational splits and a bitter internal lawsuit that lasted a decade, the license has never lapsed. The population has turned out repeatedly to defend the station, and, despite regional economic crises, to support it financially (at near-bankrupt levels).

Seventy years after Brecht, the techniques now exist to be able to use radio proactively, to promote “structures of feeling” and practices that can create or restore the promises that the commons holds for democracy and healthier communities. But contemporary radio publics are at the mercy of the private groups that hold these strategic resources. Those who have elected to staff our community microphones should remind themselves that good media, like democracy, was never created just because someone up above created space for people. And as survivors of authoritarianism can tell us, the failure to serve, and to sustain a functional public, can in fact produce tragedy over time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


As early as last May, Barack Obama began setting the tone for more citizen participation in the electoral process, and more transparency and openness. He wrote a letter to Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Commission requesting that copyrights be waived on all video of presidential debates immediately after they were aired so that the material could be freely distrubuted by bloggers and all of the general public in order to make the debates reach the maximum audience possible within the electorate, recognizing the importance of an educated and informed electorate to the democratic process. See also our previous post which highlights the specifics of Obama's platform and how they will bring about radical changes in governance the implementation of participatory and direct democratic systems at the federal level. (Click here) - Editor

Obama Asks Dean to Drop Restrictions on Debates

Source: Washington Post May 03, 2007

By Ed O'Keefe

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is joining with top bloggers and technology leaders in asking the Democratic National Committee to make all video of Democratic presidential debates available for free after they air.

In a letter sent to DNC chairman Howard Dean earlier today, Obama suggests debate video should be placed in the public domain, or licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license. Such licenses allow authors, musicians, producers, scientists, etc. to pick and choose the copyright freedoms to apply to their work.

"As you know, the Internet has enabled an extraordinary range of citizens to participate in the political dialogue around this election. Much of that participation will take the form of citizen generated content," Obama's letter states. "We, as a Party, should do everything that we can to encourage this participation."

The senator references a letter sent to Dean and the DNC by "a bipartisan coalition of academics, bloggers and Internet activists." That letter was signed by, among others, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, Markos Moulitsas, founder of liberal blog Daily Kos; Lowell Feld, who ran online campaign activities for Sen. Jim Webb's successful 2006 Senate campaign; and John Amato, the founder of Web site Crooks and Liars. It calls for "the DNC to ensure that all video footage from Democratic debates is able to be shared, re-used, and freely blogged about without the uploader of the video being deemed a lawbreaker."

A similar letter sent to the Republican National Committee was also signed by Newmark, Wales, Huffington, among others.
Read the letters to the RNC and DNC here.

"Barack Obama is a strong believer in using technology to make the political process, and the important debates on issues as open and accessible to the American public as possible," Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "In the spirit of openness, Obama wanted to make sure the debates are accessible to everybody."

Psaki wouldn't say if Obama would skip future DNC debates if his video distribution idea is not adopted. He's scheduled to attend a debate hosted by PBS host Tavis Smiley in late June at Howard University, an early June debate in New Hampshire co-sponsored by CNN and WMUR-TV, and six DNC sanctioned debates set to begin in July.

Here's the full text of Obama's letter to Dean:

Chairman Howard Dean
Democratic National Committee
430 S. Capitol St. S
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 863-8000
Dear Chairman Dean:

I am writing in strong support of a letter from a bipartisan coalition of academics, bloggers and Internet activists recently addressed to you and the Democratic National Committee. The letter asks that the video from any Democratic Presidential debate be available freely after the debate, by either placing the video in the public domain, or licensing it under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license.

As you know, the Internet has enabled an extraordinary range of citizens to participate in the political dialogue around this election. Much of that participation will take the form of citizen generated content. We, as a Party, should do everything that we can to encourage this participation. Not only will it keep us focused on the issues that matter most to America, it will also encourage participation by a wide range of our youth who have traditionally simply tuned out from politics.

The letter does not propose some radical change in copyright law, or an unjustified expansion in "fair use." Instead, it simply asks that any purported copyright owner of video from the debates waive that copyright.

I am a strong believer in the importance of copyright, especially in a digital age. But there is no reason that this particular class of content needs the protection. We have incentive enough to debate. The networks have incentive enough to broadcast those debates. Rather than restricting the product of those debates, we should instead make sure that our democracy and citizens have the chance to benefit from them in all the ways that technology makes possible.

Your presidential campaign used the Internet to break new ground in citizen political participation. I would urge you to take the lead again by continuing to support this important medium of political speech. And I offer whatever help I can to secure the support of others as well.
Sincerely,Barack Obama

Click here to read the blog post at the Washington Post

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Pete Ashdown, a 2006 senatorial Candidate from Utah became the first candidate ever to utilize open source politics in the form of a Wiki site. In his bid against long time Utah incumbent conservative Orrin Hatch, Ashdown opened his campaign up to the public by creating a Wiki site on which potential voters could contribute to the structuring and content of his campaign platform. Although not surpisingly he did not defeat the well entrenched Orrin Hatch, his campaign innovation has since been used by candidates such as Segolene Royal, the socialist candidate in last years election in France. She also created a site where voters could contribute to her platform. Since her defeat by Nicolas Zarkozy, Segolene Royal has introduced participatory budgeting in her home province of Poitou Charentes, and has launched a collaborative effort with the governments of Tuscany, Italy, and Catalonia, Spain to introduce participatory democracy in those regions and promote it throughout Europe. See our previous post on Segolene Royal (click here), and the related links by coutry on our resource page (click here) If more candidates in the U.S. followed the lead of these individuals in their open source campaigns , the result we be a much more directly democratic process within the representative system, with the public having direct control over the platforms of the candidates, and thereby the means to hold them accountable in delivering upon the expressed will of the electorate. It would be a step in the right direction, that of a more participatory and just system. - Editor

Pete Ashdown - Open Source Politics

Source: http://www.re-public.gr/en/?p=145

Being the first politician to to use a wiki to develop his campaign platform for the 2006 US Senate election in Utah, Pete Ashdown makes the case for open source politics.

An interview to Pavlos Hatzopoulos for Re-public

Pavlos Hatzopoulos: What is wrong with traditional party politics? Can the extended use of collaborative technologies reverse this situation?

Pete Ashdown: Your own Aristotle said “In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme.” Although I do not believe in the majority crushing the rights of the minority, this statement has rarely been true.

Party politics is currently centered around money and who can raise the most. In spite of most politicians rejection of the claim, it is obvious most that the power goes to where the money is, and the voice of the rich is overheard above everyone else.

Collaborative technologies have the power to level this. The Internet is blind to wealth, ability, race, creed, gender, and background. A good idea presented through collaborative technologies will rise to the top and be implemented, regardless of the source. That is good for all including the minority.

P.H.: Would you consider your
wiki senatorial campaign as a new way of making politics?

P.A.: It was the first use of a wiki for open policy discussion by a candidate anywhere. However, I was less interested in being “first” rather than simply opening my campaign to anyone who wanted to participate. Many were stunned to have that kind of access to a candidate. That is unfortunate, for who are our elected officials, but servants of the people? To have no access to them is to write them a blank check to do whatever they wish. As much as I hoped other candidates to follow my lead, I have seen none on a national scale do so. There have been some elected officials employing wikis for policy discussion, but nothing officially sanctioned. I am certain that this will continue to evolve and receive acceptance, for democracy requires advice and consent of the people. If they have these technologies in every other avenue of their lives, government will have to adopt them to keep up.

P.H.: Is the lack of citizens’ participation the problem, or the hierarchical framework through which this is usually channelled?

P.A.: Apathy and cynicism of the citizen sources from the overwhelming feeling of not being able to make a difference. “I am not heard, so why try?” This is the mantra of the disconnected citizen. By demonstrating they have a voice and using their input in decision making makes better leaders and more active citizens. The current hierarchy is absolutely at fault, but it is a descendant of governments run by aristocracies.

P.H.: To what extent did your campaign become decentralized and/or horizontal because of its emphasis on collaborative methods?

P.A.: The hierarchy of a traditional campaign was still present in

my race for the U.S. Senate. However, I would rate the value of the horizontal contributions from non-staffers as greater than what I received from staff and advisors. Most likely due to Aristotle’s idea, in that there were more of them instead of a hand-full inside the office. The gems of my platform came straight off submissions to my wiki.

P.H.: Would you elaborate on the concept of the “open source” political platform?

P.A.: In a traditional authorship, whether it be books, or software, you have a monolithic closed structure. You can petition Microsoft or your favorite author for a change in a future release, but in essence, the decision rests on the individual or company who controls the property. This is much like current democratic governments in that citizens are left to petition our representatives, but in the end our voices are secondary to the lobbyists who see them every day. Our consideration is minor in comparison to big donors.

With “Open Source”, anyone with a good contribution can be part of the process. With software, anyone with ability can write patches or add features. Wikipedia is demonstrating the collection and vetting of knowledge through the same “Open Source” techniques.

Open Source” politics allows anyone with expertise or a good idea to contribute. Rhetoric and bias will stick out like a sort thumb on an emotionless “Wiki” page and lacking a cohesive defense, will sink to the bottom while the good workable ideas rise to the top. Solutions to problems are not partisan, they simply work. The cloistered party politics of the past will give way to open collaboration from people of all backgrounds working towards the common goal of a better life for all.

Further links:
Pete Ashdown's Wiki Site
Wired interview with Pete Ashdown

Friday, February 22, 2008


Tenants threatened by gentrification and eviction in 'El Barrio' in East Harlem, Manhattan have joined together and organized themselves following the model of participatory democracy adopted by the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. This, like the Zapatista revolt itself, is an example of how grassroots organizing can bring about a more democractic structure from the bottom up, when the will is not there in the corridors of power to build it from the top down as well. Just as the Zapatistas created their own form of local governance that is truly more democratic than that of the Mexican federal government, this community in Harlem created their own participatory system to achieve social justice and see that the will of the people is not trampled upon by forces from above. - Editor


Source: http://www.ww4report.com/node/5036
by Michael Eamonn Miller, NYC Pavement Pieces

The noisy, bustling streets of upper Manhattan known as "El Barrio" bear scant resemblance to the farmlands of Chiapas, Mexico's poorest, southernmost state. But three decades of Mexican immigration to New York have subtly transformed the neighborhood, establishing ties between the two communities and injecting new, sometimes controversial, ideas into the fight against gentrification in El Barrio.

No group demonstrates these ties or this controversy as strikingly as Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB). Founded in December 2004 by tenants fighting eviction from their East Harlem apartment building, MJB now considers itself a "Zapatista" organization—a name normally reserved for armed revolutionaries fighting for their indigenous Mayan lands in Chiapas. But to the extent that the affiliation has brought new methods of grassroots democracy and community organization to East Harlem, MJB's brand of Zapatismo holds promise for a neighborhood undergoing rapid gentrification.

Gentrification affects many of New York's poorer neighborhoods, not just El Barrio. Loosely defined as an influx of money and development, gentrification causes the displacement of low-income families by wealthier ones, its critics argue. As New York crime rates have fallen over the past 15 years, parts of the city once shunned by young, wealthy professionals have become targets for development. In neighborhoods like El Barrio, where many poor families have only recently arrived in the US, the potential for rapid change—and displacement of the poor—is even greater. Across New York, rising rents have led to confrontations between landlords and tenant organizations, between the tenants' need for affordable housing and the owners' property rights. In this clash of philosophies, New Yorkers' homes are at stake.

"Gentrification is a fact of life," argues East Harlem landlord Scott Zwilling.

"People look at me and say 'the big, bad owner kicked me out,'" Zwilling said. "But if it wasn't me buying the property and raising the rent, there would have been 10 others ready to do the same thing."

But gentrification is neither inevitable nor desirable, according to Movement for Justice in El Barrio.
"What initiated the organization was the housing crisis," said MJB founder Juan Haro. Fearful of eviction, tenants in five East Harlem buildings approached Haro for help. "People were trying to figure out how to combat the effects of gentrification," he said.

Since 2004, MJB has grown to more than 380 members in 25 buildings around El Barrio. One key to this growth has been MJB's link to the Zapatistas—a connection that, while intuitive for some members, may surprise Americans who remember 1990s images of masked Zapatista peasants clutching rifles.

MJB's embrace of Zapatismo began in summer 2005. Far from a publicity stunt, the move was "organic," Haro said.

"What happened early on was we began an internal discussion to learn about different social movements based in the US and abroad," explained Haro. "Zapatismo made sense because most of our members are Mexican." One of the group's first meetings coincided with the "Sixth Declaration of the Lacondan Jungle," a Zapatista call for an international campaign against neoliberalism and repression. "Our members read the declaration and got very excited," Haro said.
El Barrio has had a large Hispanic population since the 1950s. But today's neighborhood reflects recent national immigration trends. Just as Hispanics are now the largest minority in the US—growing from 9 to 12.5 percent of the population from 1990 to 2000—they have risen from 32 to 55 percent of the population in El Barrio since 1970, according to US Census and city government statistics. Meanwhile, the makeup of Hispanics in El Barrio has also changed. While Puerto Rican flags can still be seen on neighborhood murals and in shop windows, El Barrio's cultural and political movements increasingly reflect its growing Mexican population.

But MJB's affiliation with the Zapatistas goes beyond mere cultural connections, instead relying upon the perception of a common enemy and a shared solution.

Like the Zapatistas in Chiapas, MJB sees neoliberalism—free trade and unregulated international businesses—as the underlying problem. In New York, MJB members argue, the gradual weakening of rent control laws fits this neoliberal pattern and has led to gentrification.

After MJB's early campaigning against local landlord Steve Kessner, he sold all 47 of his buildings to a London-based investment bank, Dawnay, Day. It was an important but Pyrrhic victory for MJB. Unlike Kessner, "Dawnay, Day has from the outset been very explicit about what they are trying to do," Haro said.

"It's not our goal to kick people out of their homes," said Michael Kessner, director of operations for Dawnay, Day in New York and a relative of former owner Steve Kessner. "But obviously we're out to make a profit, too."

"Movement for Justice is out to serve their own interests," Kessner said, describing MJB as "very confrontational" and only representing a small percentage of Dawnay, Day's tenants. At the heart of the disagreement are Dawnay, Day's business practices since buying the apartments in March.

Dawnay, Day has aggressively tried to replace tenants in rent-controlled apartments with those willing to pay higher amounts, Haro said. "Dawnay's other new tactic is offering money to the tenants to vacate." The company has introduced a "buy out program," he said, in which longer-term tenants have been offered $10,000 to leave their apartments. "Because of rent control, they're targeting longer term tenants, some of whom have lived in El Barrio for 30-40 years."

A lawsuit filed in October by 17 MJB members accused Dawnay, Day of making "false, deceptive and misleading representations to [tenants] in verbal and written communications, including rent bills and other correspondence," in an attempt to force them out of their apartments. If true, these charges would violate a number of New York consumer protection laws.

"Billing and accounting was an issue at first," Kessner said, referring to rents allegedly owed to the previous owner. "I think [the lawsuit] has been resolved because we've credited their accounts."
But neither the lawsuit against Dawnay, Day nor the broader fight against gentrification is over, according to MJB.

The influx of multinational companies such as Dawnay, Day is both "an international problem" and a consequence of neoliberalism, Haro said. "To combat this, we have to have an international plan. It can't be local, can’t be regional: it has to be international."

MJB's response to both Kessner and Dawnay, Day has been to rely on Zapatista strategies of community consultation and cooperation. MJB's "Consultas del Barrio" is a grassroots initiative for popular democracy within the neighborhood. MJB canvassed over 800 people—of all ages and races—from around the community, asking them to identify the issues that most affected their lives.
"Our goal is to create space and opportunity for the broader community to engage in the democratic process," Haro said. "We can't say we represent every single member of the community unless we consult with all of them."

"People feel discouraged or disillusioned with the forms of discourse in civil society," he said. "For example, when it comes to voting, they feel that the powerful always win out," but the "consultas" represent another form of politics, independent from the government.

Though time-consuming, these "consultas" have allowed MJB to stay abreast of evolving relationships between El Barrio's tenants and landlords—relationships which, in the case of Dawnay, Day, are volatile.

"We consider ourselves to be on 'red alert' because of what Dawnay, Day has been doing," Haro said.

But an equally important side to MJB's success has been its cooperation with other anti-gentrification and social justice groups, both in New York and around the world. On October 21, MJB hosted its first "NYC Encuentro for Humanity and Against Gentrification."

"The encuentro is a tool very helpful in getting people from different communities to share stories that are usually left out or silenced," said Helena Wong, coordinator for the Chinatown Justice Project and for Right to the City New York. Attending the "encuentro" made sense, she said, because MJB and Right to the City both face gentrification in their respective communities.
"Gentrification is something that’s been happening in Chinatown for 10 years," she said, "but you don't know it's happening until storefronts start changing." Companies are buying up entire blocks, "kicking people out" so that they can build luxury condos, she said. Wong sees the same erosion of New York's once-strong rent protection laws at work in Chinatown as in El Barrio.

"It seems like our struggles are the same, the causes of the conditions in our communities are the same," Wong said. "We're never going to win anything by ourselves in Chinatown so it's important to work with other communities that are marginalized."

Although tenant groups like Right to the City and MJB see gentrification as the enemy, landlords consider it their livelihood.

According to Zwilling, gentrification is as old as the neighborhoods themselves. It isn't just business, he argues, it's part and parcel of the American promise of upward mobility.
Zwilling says he understands peoples' anger towards landlords, and has offered to help former tenants find new apartments. But landlords aren't to blame for gentrification, he argues.
"Whose fault is it? I have a family to feed, too," Zwilling said. "Is it the former owner's fault? Is it no one's fault? Is it the city's fault for not having programs in place to help these people?"

The gentrification of East Harlem isn't likely to slow down any time soon, Zwilling acknowledged. He bought an apartment building in East Harlem one year ago for $6 million. While honoring pre-existing leases, Zwilling said he has raised rents to market value whenever possible. But most long-time tenants cannot afford market prices, meaning they lose out to wealthier newcomers.
"Since we bought it, most of the building now houses young professionals," said Zwilling. Unlike the apartments in which MJB’s members live, these buildings are not rent-controlled, Zwilling said.

For MJB, January marks the beginning of both the New Year and a new campaign against Dawnay, Day.

"For the first time, we have an international campaign or plan to target Dawnay, Day," Haro said, adding that MJB's small staff had been working seven days a week to map out where the company owns property, both in the US and abroad.

MJB's international campaign also includes cooperation with anti-gentrification groups in London, where Dawnay, Day has its headquarters. Haro met several of these groups at a conference on participatory democracy in Barcelona last April.

MJB plans to give presentations and workshops on its Zapatista-inspired "consultas del barrio" across Britain next year, Haro said, hoping to make more allies in the fight against gentrification and for affordable housing for the poor.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


10 Downing St. has set up a website where british citizenry can post their petitions to the prime minister. The petitions can gather signatories on the site, and completed petitions generate a response from the Prime Minister. It is unclear whether this site has in fact been a means for the public to influence policy, or merely a gimmick to allow people to believe that they have a voice in government. It's mere existence however is yet another example of how the internet can be a revolutionary tool in bringing direct democracy to bear on a large scale. The trick is to make the popular will binding, and create a system in which representatives are merely executors of that popular will. Barack Obama has proposed measures in his platform that would allow for much more significant citizen participation and transparency than this somewhat symbolic british measure. To learn more about his proposals see our previous post on the subject. (click here) It is encouraging to see such proposals reaching the mainstream but we must continue to build upon them and push for deeper direct democracy. - Editor

Click here to visit the P.M's e-petitions site

Source: http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page11051.asp

13 November 2007

There is a long-established tradition of members of the public presenting petitions at the door of Number 10 Downing Street. The e-Petitions service has been designed to offer a modern parallel, which is more convenient for the petitioner. Unlike paper-based petitions, this service also provides an opportunity for Number 10 to respond to every petitioner via email.

Since its launch in November 2006, the ePetitions site has proved to be a highly popular innovation, helping people communicate with Government and with the Prime Minister's Office. ePetitions has become a part of the landscape of debate in the UK.

The service allows any UK citizen to create a petition and collect signatures via the website. Petitioners are asked to meet basic criteria, but we aim to accept most petitions. The principal reasons for rejecting petitions so far have been obscenity, potential to cause offence, libel or duplication.

Facts and figures

Since its launch, the site has been very busy. The facts and figures to the end of October show:
Over 29,000 petitions have been submitted, of which over 8,500 are currently live and available for signing, over 6,000 have finished and 14,601 have been rejected outright.
There have been over 5.8 million signatures, originating from over 3.9 million different email addresses.

The most common reason for rejection is duplication - many users have commented that there are petitions on similar subjects clogging up the site. We are trying to eliminate too much duplication or overlap, although we need to balance that with the need to allow for the nuances of similar petitions.
The other common reasons for rejection are: legal issues, offensive language, party political content and issues outside the government's remit.

If a petition is rejected, petitioners are given a chance to reword their petition. Some users choose to resubmit their petitions, some prefer not to.


The article below gives a detailed outline of an inspiring process created by teachers to help children explore collective decision-making and collective ownership. The steps taken by the teachers directly respond to the input made by the children. They work as an outside mediator to the conflicts that children have among themselves but actually do very little to manipulate the children's feelings toward the issue. Instead, the teachers redirect frustration from individuals who hold the most power toward the unjust system itself and allow the children to collaborate in reforming the rules. This article responds to much more than issues about sharing, it raises questions of children's participation in decision making and is an excellent example for how we, as adults, should be solving our own problems with the system. -Editor

Why We Banned Legos

Exploring power, ownership, and equity in an early childhood classroom

Source: http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/21_02/lego212.shtml

By Ann Pelo and Kendra Pelojoaquin

Carl and Oliver,* both 8-year-olds in our after-school program, huddled over piles of Legos. They carefully assembled them to add to a sprawling collection of Lego houses, grocery stores, fish-and-chips stands, fire stations, and coffee shops. They were particularly keen to find and use "cool pieces," the translucent bricks and specialty pieces that complement the standard-issue red, yellow, blue, and green Lego bricks.

"I'm making an airport and landing strip for my guy's house. He has his own airplane," said Oliver.

"That's not fair!" said Carl. "That takes too many cool pieces and leaves not enough for me."

"Well, I can let other people use the landing strip, if they have airplanes," said Oliver. "Then it's fair for me to use more cool pieces, because it's for public use."

Discussions like the one above led to children collaborating on a massive series of Lego structures we named Legotown. Children dug through hefty-sized bins of Legos, sought "cool pieces," and bartered and exchanged until they established a collection of homes, shops, public facilities, and community meeting places. We carefully protected Legotown from errant balls and jump ropes, and watched it grow day by day.

After nearly two months of observing the children's Legotown construction, we decided to ban the Legos.... To read full article click here

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


As this transcript from Democracy Now! demonstrates, young people in geat numbers are getting involved in the presidential campaigns. This has much to do with the message of change pushed by the candidates in the democratic party and the hope people have to make it happen. Widespread participation in the campaigns has the potential to grow into more widespread participation in this country's democratic process to ensure that the promised changes are cariied out. In order to create a successful campaign and a legitimate government that adequately responds to the people who seek to combat and reverse the injustices imposed by the current administration, candidates must continue to foster participation from diverse sectors of society and acknowledge their contribution by effecting tangible changes in the current oppressive system. These excerpts from debates and personal accounts of the pre-primary jubilee below exemplify that participation, in this case straight out of New Hampshire. - Editor

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the first presidential primary, just one day away, campaigning at a frenzied pace in New Hampshire. Candidates are gearing up for days of meetings, rallies, house gatherings in a last-minute push for the votes for the party nominations.

In the Democratic race, two new polls show Barack Obama with a whopping double-digit lead over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, after earlier ones suggested he had just drawn even. A USA Today/Gallup poll said Obama had opened up a thirteen-point lead over Clinton. The same poll showed John Edwards running a distant third.

On the Republican side, surveys indicate John McCain is leading in New Hampshire. The USA Today/Gallup poll said McCain had a four-point advantage over Mitt Romney, with Mike Huckabee, the Republican winner in Iowa, way back.

New Hampshire has been flooded with campaign volunteers of every stripe, but the story of 2008 is the youth vote. Melissa Harris-Lacewell is a professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University. She is leading a group of Princeton students in New Hampshire to volunteer with the presidential campaigns of their choice. She joins us now from New Hampshire. We’ll soon turn to the students. Welcome, Professor Harris-Lacewell.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe the scene to us in New Hampshire.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, it’s really amazing, I have to say. It’s the kind of democracy that you wish everybody in the nation got all the time. So, you know, if you drive down the street, there are signs and there are people standing on the corners, you know, holding up signs for their candidate. If you go have coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts, one of the candidates might walk in to shake your hand. At one point, I was walking yesterday afternoon, looked up, and there was an airplane going across the sky with a Ron Paul banner on it. So sort of at every moment, you are steeped in the whole process of the electoral system here, and you just have this sense it’s what people are talking about, what people are thinking about. And there’s a real intensity here in Manchester, New Hampshire.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe some of the rallies, some of the speeches that you’ve gone to.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, so I’ve been to a couple. I was in Nashua at Barack Obama’s really packed speech. And we got there about two hours early and stood in line. I had my five-year-old daughter with me, and she stood in line that whole time. Along with me was lots of other older people who were using canes, young people, infants. And it was an incredibly moving and powerful experience. And also, again, just sort of—it was a cross between, you know, the "I Have a Dream” speech and a high school football pep rally. It was a bizarre, but really kind of exciting mixture.

Yesterday I was at a John Edwards, and it was a much more intimate venue. It was sort of a town hall meeting, both John and Elizabeth Edwards taking questions from the people in the audience. And I’ll say, you know, in that kind of intimate event, it was really nice. You got a chance to see Edwards and his wife interacting. They were telling jokes. They had campaign supporters there with them. And they were answering questions in a very serious way.

We went over to the Dennis Kucinich office a little bit later in the day and saw folks there, talked to them about how they were feeling about being shut out of one of the debates and what that meant for, you know, their possibilities of really getting a groundswell here that would push some of the front-running candidates to address some progressive political issues. So it really is—I mean, seriously, on every single corner, there is this kind of participatory democratic system going on.

AMY GOODMAN: On every single snow-bank-laden corner?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Oh, that’s right. And all of this is happening with like six-foot snow banks all around you. And again, you know, as I’ve been sort of checking in with students about their experience, the group of two dozen students that Princeton University brought up here—and again, there’s students from lots of universities here. In fact, at all of the rallies there’s probably, I’d say, two-thirds of the folks are New Hampshire voters, and the other third are, I don’t know, sort of political tourists who are here to get an opportunity to be part of it. But the students are doing serious physical labor for the democratic system. I mean, they are walking around—the first couple days we were here, it was fifteen degrees, six-foot snow banks. They were canvassing until 8:00 at night, knocking on the doors of some people who have had their doors knocked on three or four times and dealing with the rejection, but also with the excitement. I mean, it’s just—it’s an incredibly, incredibly intense experience.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to some of the students who have come up. Melody Chan is a Princeton University student volunteering for Barack Obama’s campaign in New Hampshire. Regina Lee is a Princeton student volunteering for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

Melody Chan, why Barack Obama? Explain what you’ve been doing in New Hampshire and how you got involved in presidential politics this year.

MELODY CHAN: Oh, well, gosh, I have to say that I’m absolutely not a political person. I don’t have that sort of background. You know, in my undergraduate years, I definitely sort of—I saw activism as something that activists do, and the rest of us sort of go about and do our own business. We study our own things, and so forth. So it was probably just over the last four years that I really felt, I guess, the need for change and just felt how pressing that need was and how each one of us, I guess, needs to be an activist. And that’s how I got involved.

I mean, I absolutely believe so much in Barack Obama’s, I guess, core values and the ideas that he represents and also just the power he has to inspire people. I mean, I was at that same rally in Nashua, and, I mean, it was kind of like a rock concert, you know? Like he was just—he took over the crowd, and there was so much excitement. And it was like—it was really electrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: I thought it was Mike Huckabee that plays the guitar.

MELODY CHAN: Yeah, but, you know, he had this presence that, you know, just filled up the entire high school gym

What most appeals to you about him? Are there positions he has taken that you deeply care about?

MELODY CHAN: Yeah. For example, I mean, I would say that my values and my ideas just align so closely with what he has to say, and I particularly like, you know, his approach, I’d say, to foreign policy, which is, you know, one of talking to everyone at the table and not just—you know, it’s a very different approach probably than the one we’ve seen in the last four, eight years.

AMY GOODMAN: Regina Lee, why Hillary Clinton? And how did you get involved in coming to New Hampshire and getting involved in her campaign?

REGINA LEE: Well, to begin with, I’m a senior politics major at Princeton, so it sort of made sense for me to come here. I’ve noticed recently that a lot of my friends don’t necessarily find it that important to actually vote, even those who are politics majors, and it seems sort of counterintuitive. So when this trip came along, we basically had the choice of coming—basically, the bill is being footed by two different organizations through Princeton and helping us get here. And so, it became this amazing opportunity to really talk to, take pictures with, be in the presence of these people who will have the biggest impact on our country over the next four years.

And then, for me, the why Hillary question? Every time I go to a door and knock on it and someone will give me two seconds to actually say something to them, that’s what I say to them. So my—sort of my pitch is that I truly believe in her experience and her strength as a person to bring about those policy issues, be it healthcare, energy, withdrawing from Iraq. And I think—I wish—and what I love to see is when people get into her presence, they feel that same inspiration that you hear talked about Barack Obama, and I believe he has it, too. But I just have become really fired up being at these rallies with her and Bill and Chelsea and just the rest of the supporters.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to play an excerpt from Saturday night’s Democratic presidential debate on ABC, where tensions ran high between the three frontrunners of the Iowa caucus: Senator Barack Obama, Senator Edwards and Senator Hillary Clinton. Richardson was also there. Congressmember Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel were excluded, so we will be talking to a student who is for Dennis Kucinich in a minute. The excerpt begins with John Edwards.

JOHN EDWARDS: You know, Senator Obama and I have differences. We do. We have a difference about healthcare, which he and I have talked about before. We have a fundamental difference about the way you bring about change. But both of us are powerful voices for change. And I might add, we finished first and second in the Iowa caucus, I think in part as a result of that
Now, what I would say is this: Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack. That’s exactly what happens. It’s fine to have a disagreement about healthcare. To say that Senator Obama is having a debate with himself from some Associated Press story, I think, is just not—that’s not the kind of discussion we should be having. I think that every time this happens, what will occur every time he speaks out for change, every time I fight for change, the forces of status quo are going to attack every single time. And what we have to remember—and this is the overarching issue here, because what we really need in New Hampshire and in future state primaries is we need an unfiltered debate between the agents of change, about how we bring about that change, because we have differences about that. But the one thing I do not argue with him about is he believes deeply in change, and I believe deeply in change. And anytime you’re fighting for that—I mean, I didn’t hear these kinds of attacks from Senator Clinton when she was ahead. Now that she’s not, we hear them. And anytime you speak out, anytime you speak out for change, this is what happens.

CHARLES GIBSON: With apologies—

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, making change—making—

CHARLES GIBSON: With apologies to Governor Richardson, I think we [inaudible]—

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Wait a minute now, wait a minute. I’m going to respond to this, because obviously making change is not about what you believe. It’s not about a speech you make. It is about working hard. There are 7,000 kids in New Hampshire who have healthcare because I helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program. There are 2,700 National Guard and Reserve members who have access to healthcare, because on a bipartisan basis, I pushed legislation through, over the objection of the Pentagon, over the threat of a veto from President Bush.

I want to make change, but I’ve already made change. I will continue to make change. I’m not just running on a promise of change, I’m running on thirty-five years of change. I’m running on having taken on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, taking on the oil companies.
So, you know, I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered. The best way to know what change I will produce is to look at the changes that I’ve already made.

JOHN EDWARDS: Can I respond briefly to that?

CHARLES GIBSON: Let me—I’ll let you respond. Let me—in all fairness to Governor Richardson.

Well, I’ve been in hostage negotiations that are a lot more civil than this.

The Democratic presidential debate Saturday night with ABC. We’re joined by a Princeton University student who is working for one of the candidates who was excluded from that debate, Dennis Kucinich. Michael Collins is volunteering for his campaign in New Hampshire. Welcome, Michael. Why Kucinich?

MICHAEL COLLINS: I mean, I think in the Democratic debates, we heard a lot about change, change, change. That was actually the buzzword I guess everyone got in a memo somewhere. But none of those candidates actually can purport to have real change, simply because they’re all supported by a system of, you know, insurance companies. You can’t talk about creating healthcare for everyone when you’re supported by the big corporations that demand that people have insurance that they can’t afford. So I think Hillary is an example of someone who proclaims change, but actually hasn’t—is part of the system that we’re trying to get rid of.

So Kucinich is someone who’s kind of an outsider. He’s often said as being ridiculous or crazy, but he’s pretty mainstream. He wants healthcare for everyone. And I think that’s something that a lot of people can agree with, and it’s something that I certainly believe in. So Kucinich, although he’s seen as an outsider or someone who’s a little bit radical, is a pretty reasonable guy. And he’s an outsider, and I think that helps get in—helps him—gives him a different vantage point that a lot of people simply can’t afford, because they’re being paid off by people, they’re getting a lot of funding from people who are, you know, perverting the democracy that we are trying to participate in up here in New Hampshire.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you think—we just have ten seconds—of in Iowa saying that voters should throw their support to Barack Obama?

MICHAEL COLLINS: I mean, I don’t know exactly what the political mechanization for that decision was. I’m not higher up; I’m just a lowly intern. But I believe that, you know, really people should vote their conscience and vote with courage and do something that they believe in. And I personally am not a big fan of Barack Obama, but if some people think that they should throw their vote that way, I guess they can go ahead and do that.

: Michael Collins, I want to thank you for being with us, volunteering for Dennis Kucinich’s campaign; also Melody Chan and Regina Lee.

For more about these issues see: democracynow.org

Monday, February 18, 2008


The following article gives another example of how participatory democracy can function at the community level , in this case a small Virginia community. Such independant transitions to grassroots governance on a larger scale throughout the U.S. would greatly enhance the democratic process. Not only is it an option for small communities like this one, but for larger ones as well utilizing the internet and e-democracy methods to facilitate participation by larger populations. - Editor

Virginia Community Practices Grassroots Participatory Democracy

Twin Oaks uses long consultative process, rotating managers and planners
By Stephen KaufmanUSINFO Staff Writer, 17 September 2007

Photo: Members of the community process carrots that will carry them through the winter. (Twin Oaks)

Washington -- Much of the world is governed by professional politicians entrusted to make decisions on behalf of their constituents. However, one community in Virginia is taking advantage of its small size to engage in “participatory democracy” -- making decisions based on direct input from members rather than delegating the actual governance to others.

The roughly 100-member Twin Oaks community near Louisa, Virginia, was founded on the principles of “nonviolence, equality and ecology.” The 40-year-old community is sustained by manufacturing hammocks and casual furniture, as well as indexing books and making tofu, a staple food of some Asian diets. Members also provide for many of the community’s collective needs such as growing food, educating children and providing non-emergency health care. Its membership constantly fluctuates as new members arrive and others resume their lives in contemporary society.

There is no “leader” to decide community policies or practices on behalf of others. The goal is to allow everyone equal access to decisionmaking. But, with a population comparable to a small village that might otherwise be governed by a mayor and town council, how is this accomplished?


“We’re not hierarchical. We want everyone to have a voice,” Valerie Renwick told USINFO. Renwick, a native of Ottawa, has lived at Twin Oaks for 15 years. She explained the “planner-manager” system that guides community decisionmaking.

Both managers and planners serve rotating one-and-a-half year terms. Managers are in charge of specific work areas, such as the production of hammocks or community meals, while planners decide issues that affect the community as a whole through a lengthy consultation process. “[Planners] are synthesizing information, trying to determine the collective will of the community on a given issue at a given moment in time,” Renwick said.
Issues of concern range from membership decisions to business relations with outside retailers who sell Twin Oaks products.

Community members can propose new ideas or policy changes by posting a message on Twin Oaks’ “Opinions and Ideas Board” and soliciting expressions of support or opposition. Planners use that information to decide whether to pursue the proposal. Planners also may distribute surveys on the issue “where they ask very particularly pointed questions,” Renwick said.

Photo: Members and visitors gather for dinner on the deck in the main kitchen dining center. (Twin Oaks)

In such a small community, the planners also can talk directly with people to determine the collective will or hold meetings to discuss the issue and allow for further input.
Following this process, “the decisions are always left to the planners and they will take all these various forms of information,” Renwick said. Rather than having planners serve in a “hierarchical position where they are making decisions for the community … the voice of the people is being brought to the decisionmakers,” she said.

Even after a decision has been made, there is an appeals process, allowing the planners to reopen an issue if a community member feels all factors were not considered. But, she added, “That hardly ever gets used because we do generally do such a good job of going through [the process].”


Renwick acknowledged the length of the participatory democracy process. “It can range from weeks to months to years, depending on the scale of the decision.” Quick decisions “cause more problems than they solve and it’s important for us to do a very thorough job so we try to make sure all the bases are covered.”

In emergencies or on time-sensitive issues, the three planners “will just talk among each other and do what they feel is best, but there are very few situations that actually require an immediate decision within a day or two or a matter of hours,” Renwick said.

Much of Twin Oaks culture is based on complete trust between members, making interpersonal conflicts rare. However, when they occur, conflict resolution starts small at the individual level and progresses to wider concentric levels such as groups of friends or co-workers. Some community members also specialize in mediation techniques. “If it gets really big, the last step is [the planners] will ask the person to leave the community,” she said, “but that’s happened maybe two or three times in the 15 years of me living here because we have all of these other systems in place to address the problem before it gets so big.”

So while there is no “community leader,” at Twin Oaks, “certainly the planners provide leadership for the community such as setting policy, and responding to problems.”


The three planners’ terms of office are staggered to ensure varied levels of experience at all times. When a term nears its end, interested community members go through an interview process at a public meeting where they are asked about their administrative and interpersonal strengths, and how they would deal with conflicts, stress and sensitive issues. For the next 10 days, community members can express support or opposition to the candidacy through an “input box,” and the planners use those comments to decide whom to appoint. Even after an individual is designated, a “veto box” is available for the following 10 days as a last chance to voice objection.
Twin Oaks’ style of democracy might appear impractical for larger groups of people, but it is nevertheless a working example of grassroots democracy designed to embody the community’s egalitarian philosophy.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Is Barack Obama a candidate who will deliver a higher level of participatory democracy if he is elected President? If you are inspired by his moving yet somewhat ambiguous rhetoric on the campaign trail, it may be worth your while to take the time to actually read about his platform and proposed policies in depth on his campaign website. What his stump speeches may lack in detail is laid out in intricate detail on the website, and you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find there. The ethics section in particular spells out many revolutionary policies that have the intention of making government and the activities of lobbyists more transparent, and the flow of money traceable by the general public on freely accessable internet databases. Some of these policies will also have the effect of increasing citizen participation in government, utilizing the internet as the channel for participation in many instances. To give an example, his "Sunlight Before Signing" policy states: "Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days." His "Hold 21st Century Fireside Chats" policy states: "Obama will bring democracy and policy directly to the people by requiring his Cabinet officials to have periodic national broadband townhall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies." These and other policies laid out on his website are designed to both cast light upon the dealings in the halls of power so that representatives will be held more accountable to their constituents will, and to "bring americans back into their government." Obama, if he succeeds, may well usher in a new era of popular participation in governance, and in the process open the door to a more radical and permanent transition to direct democracy in the U.S.A.

Visit the issues section of his website and read the following article to learn more. - Editor

Obama for a Participatory Democracy

By Guest Author Kenny Grand • Jan 28th, 2008 •
Source: theactivist.org Young Democratic Socialists Online Magazine

To be completely honest, I didn’t plan to vote next February. I really didn’t see any point in wasting my time or getting my hopes up. After the incompetent leadership of the Bush Administration, I was waiting for a miracle; waiting for some miraculous leader to step forward and put an end to the sectarian squabbling and bring us into a golden age. Unfortunately, it looked like business as usual. In all of the debates and all of the television interviews, I never really saw anything worth getting excited about. Interviewers seemed to be more concerned with who is the next “threat to democracy” and what the candidates thought about cheating spouses. Everybody gave the same vague slogans and promises:

“I’ll cut taxes.” or “I’ll make the world safe from terrorism.”

Let’s face it, we live in a crippled democracy. There is a reason why when it comes to voter turnout,
we rank 139th out of 172 democratic nations. Not that I don’t love this country - as Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.” Right now, as it has been for a good long while, we live in what is called a plutocracy; that is, a country ruled not by the masses, but by a privileged minority. If the government official doesn’t initially belong to that privileged minority, they quickly join the fold.

Take Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor for example. I sat in a labor organization meeting with some of his staffers and workers who were concerned about Central American Free Trade Agreement legislation. If CAFTA passed, we’d see thousands of American jobs disappear to Central America where they could produce goods without having to worry about fair wages. His representatives told the workers that it was horrible legislation and they shouldn’t worry too much about it…and of course, Pryor ended up voting for CAFTA. Luckily, the working people of Central America rose up by the tens of thousands and sent Bush and the foul trade agreement packin’.

The only way to have a true democracy is to have a transparent and accountable government. It is not a democracy if the people don’t participate. A little over a week ago, I heard of a candidate who surprisingly believes in the same thing. A national organizer for the Obama campaign came to UCA and spoke to the student body for two hours, addressing all questions and outlining most of Barack’s main platforms. Unlike the other candidates, Obama started his career as a community organizer for Chicago’s South Side. He’s also the only one still running that has had zero corporate political action committee campaign contributions. Every penny of the two-hundred million dollars that he has raised came from individuals and grassroots organizations. He has a solid understanding of why people have lost faith in American democracy, and what it will take for the people to reclaim ownership of the system.

One simple idea is to eliminate shady back-office dealings. When a bill comes forward to be approved by the president, he wants to put the American public in the room. Have a table with him in the middle, the lobbyists to one side, his advisors to the other, and a camera poised front-and-center, broadcasting the proceedings on C-Span for everyone to see.

He has plan after plan to promote social consciousness and participatory democracy. Doubling the Peace Corps in size, doubling Americorps, creating a Classroom Corps to supplement public education, a Health Corps to improve public health outreach, a Veteran’s Corps to assist veterans in hospitals, nursing homes, and homeless shelters. Even a Clean Energy Corps to weatherize and work on renewable energy projects. He wants to get college people actively involved in their communities - offering a $4,000 tax credit to student who commit to more than 100 hours of community service per year.

He’s also a candidate with a healthy worldview. There are many countries whose economies are so crippled that they are only able to pay the interest on their loans from the IMF, World Bank, and African Development Bank. The premise of being able to pay these loans off is so alien to them because interest just eats away every hand up they could possibly get. Obama supports complete debt forgiveness to the 18 poorest nations to give them the leverage to be able to enter the world market. However, he shares the same sentiment for Americans of course, and is committed to put an end to predatory lending practices that we suffer at the hands of Credit Card and Mortgage companies. He also plans on instituting a federally funded transitional employment service, which will serve as a training spot and hand up to unemployed Americans.

Also, other than Dennis Kucinich (who recently had to drop out of the race), he was the only candidate who was openly opposed to the War in Iraq from the outset. While the media was selling the war to the public and while all of the other candidates (who had access to a wealth of information that we citizens don’t) either went with the flow or rode the fence. In this way, he was one of the few to stand up as a person of principle.

I could go on and on and on, but instead you should just check things out for yourself. For once, I’m excited to vote, and on February 5th - I’m gonna go cast my lot and pray that in the face of an impending recession, we get off of the couch and choose a capable candidate. I’m not even advocating that you vote for Obama…JUST VOTE!

Kenny Grand is a NOC Facilitator and member of the University of Central Arkansas chapter of YDS

Friday, February 8, 2008


If video fails to play, view it at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIp7SLdZ5fQ

Video description: Fmr. four time Chairman MacDonald took time out on-set during a recent documentary interview to answer questions and make remarks on the need for Navajo Nation to implement constitutional reform to our government.

Within the Navajo Nation there is a movement that aims to bring about a constitutional convention that would write a body of law according to the will of the people, creating the first constitution of the Navajo Nation. This is in part an attempt to establish a new form of government that will be more directly accountable to the people, and will also provide the necessary structures that will diminish dependance upon the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. This will allow for more freedom and self determination within the nation, and open the door for participatory democracy to flourish within a system of their own design. - Editor

Navajo Constitution:

(Source: www.myspace.com/navajoconstitution )

It is time for the Dine', young and old, to finish the work of our ancestors and make the Navajo Nation a free and democratic place where the needs of all are respected. The Dine' need to make some serious changes to their government in order for our generation to have anything to inherit. Unlike the previous generations, we will never have Grazing Rights, we will never have Customary Use Areas, we will only have a Homesite to own. The most reliable and self-sufficient manner in which Navajo Nation can truly be sovereign is to be economically independent. To do this, the Dine' must unite and tell the stagnant bureaucracies that, in order to be self-sufficient, the Dine' must be able to own and control their land without the Bureau of Indian Affairs having trustee oversight. Our government in Window Rock is not accountable to the People so we must remind them of the sovereignty of the People. No one can give us sovereignty, it is a series of rights and responsibilities that a people take upon themselves.

Check out our plan at WWW.NAVAJOCONSTITUTION.COM to see how we propose the People create a body of laws, a Navajo Constitution, to guide our leaders into a future that respects the youth and elderly, and the needs of generations unable to ranch and farm as our self-sufficient ancestors did. Please pass on the message and get informed. Only united can the People start the next world of the Navajo. Ahe'ee.

On the Use of the Internet to Increase Popular Participation in the Constitutional Convention:

Al Gore might be right in saying the promise of participatory democracy can be actualised through the Web. Navajo Nation is a true participatory democracy where everyone has a say; in a sense we are all citizen legislators through our one hundred ten (110) chapters. It is true egalitarianism, except for Vermont and New Hampshire townhalls, I can't find many other examples.

The crux is to ensure each chapter meeting is broadcast on the Web, for ex-pat chapter members wishing to participate in the constitutionalising of their national law the right to participate without limit by geographical need because of employment or education. Our Navajo Nation law recognises the right for off-nation members to vote already, and thanks to some great leadership by the Navajo Nation Washington Office, funds for video conference equipment for each chapter, and to teach them how to use it, has been secured and work should be in progress. We have the tools for demoracy and have the right, let's all fix our broken government together with k'e and hozhonji in mind.

(Source: http://navajoconstitution.com/):


Ya'a'teeh. This website is here to collect signatures of Navajo people wanting change in their government, wanting direct action to re-organize and fix the existing deficiencies of their Navajo Nation. As members of the Committee for a Navajo Constitution we have come to realize that the Navajo people are not as free as they could be, are not as protected as they should, that our nation stagnates without a central source of Navajo law. The Navajo Nation Code has become overweight and cumbersome, full of overlapping inconsistencies. The Navajo judiciary system is left weak without a Navajo constitution to use in judiciary review, and Navajo people are not as protected. Whenever a Navajo has to use the United States constitution for protection, it takes away a little more of our sovereignty each time and invites the federal government to step in further and further.


Our goal is the restructuring of the Navajo government through the creation of a Navajo constitution written BY and FOR the Navajo people by representatives from each of the Navajo chapters. Each chapter would send a representative to a Constitution Convention where the representatives would use the inherent wisdom and beliefs of the Navajo people to forge a Navajo constitution to clearly delineate the roles of the branches of government, would choose the number of delegates to the Navajo Nation Council, and would reexamine the concept of federal trusteeship. This Constitution Committee would meet four times, once per month, and return to the chapters to discuss the work in the time in between meetings. Through proper use of the democratic process the Navajo Nation must show the world that our people care about their children's future and are ready to present a body of rights and laws for the generations to come. As the largest of the Native nations, the Navajo must lead, by example, a proper relationship between the federal government and the Navajo Nation.

What You Must Do:

All Navajos the world over are invited to sign this petition. It will be presented to the Navajo Nation Council at the fall session for a vote on whether or not to call a Constitution Committee. Please fill out the appropriate places with you name, home chapter, census number, address, and email/ or telephone. Non-Navajo supporters are invited to show their support at the appropriate location. Only by uniting the clans, by bringing the Navajos together in one collective voice will we be able to truly create a sovereign Navajo Nation where the rights of all are respected in the true spirit of democracy. Please also spread the word and tell every Navajo you meet that the People have hope and invite them to sign onto this petition. Also please pray! No matter whether you pray with the corn pollen, in a Christian church, a tepee, or in a Muslim mosque, one of the most important aspects of democracy is ensuring the right of freedom of religion. Our land needs our prayers and action, united, to make this happen. Change is the hardest thing sometimes and only as a united people will the Navajo Nation survive. Please help us, sign on, and pray for a better tomorrow.

Visit http://www.navajoconstitution.com/ for more information and to sign the petition.