"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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Saturday, March 8, 2008


This letter to the editor of KC Community News argues that the caucus was an act of participatory democracy. Pointing out that people came in order to discuss and debate the cadidates, the author says he felt restored faith in "the system". But this is the same system that asks us to vote and be silent, not to influence and make changes as we should. This was a single instance where people showed up and felt like they made a difference, but in order for us to have a direct influence on politics this instance must occur much more frequently than once every four years. -Editor

Democratic Caucus was First-hand Democracy

Letter to the Editor, Wednesday, February 13, 2008 4:19 AM CST

Dear editor,I would like to thank the over 500 Democrats who braved the weather Tuesday (Feb. 5) evening to participate in the presidential preference caucus in Paola. Most attendees had never attended a caucus and were unfamiliar with the process and their actual purpose for being there. While millions of Americans watched the process from home or simply voted and waited, these Kansas Democrats invested three hours of their time to enjoy participatory democracy at its best.

In addition to the organized chaos, there were political conversations among fellow Democrats. There were speeches on behalf of presidential candidates. There were groups trying to persuade other groups to join them. It was an enjoyable and educational political event.

The 12th Senate District Democrats were only one of three caucuses in the state to give a majority of elected delegates to Hillary Clinton. Clinton won six delegates and Barack Obama won five delegates at the caucus in Paola.

I have heard dire calls for a primary because of the perceived difficulties with the caucus system, and to be sure, the system can be improved. But I believe we need more events like the caucuses, not fewer. Voters have become disconnected from the political process. Voter turnout is dismally low. Even those who do vote have a cynical eye turned toward the political process. Political discourse amounts to this media pundit versus that media pundit.

Kansas Democrats in particular feel a sense of isolation. So many people attended the caucuses because we are hungry for change. The caucuses provided an opportunity for one-on-one political discourse and camaraderie among Democrats that seldom exists elsewhere.

During the course of the evening, 22 people from this area, who in many cases never had been actively involved in politics before, placed their names in nomination for delegate and alternate spots to the congressional district convention, the next step in selecting delegates to the Democratic National Convention. They gave their first political speeches, asking participants to vote for them, and they won their first election. For some, this could be the beginning of a lifetime of political activism.No, it wasn’t always neat and clean. It was participatory democracy at its best. We lost some of our cynicism and renewed some of our faith in the system.

Doug Walker,Osawatomie,chairman of the 12th District Democratic caucus

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