"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, 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

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