"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson


We as Americans all remember being taught when we were young about our nation's founders, the patriots who stood up to the tyranny of the crown of England, the drafters of the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights, the documents that became the framework for a system of governance that they believed would maintain a balance of power within a truly representative government, that would preserve the basic rights and liberties of the people, let their voice be heard, and provide to them a government, as Lincoln later put it, "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."

Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?

Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.

How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.

In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…



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Monday, March 17, 2008


Barack Obama's platform contains many proposals for initiatives in participatory democracy geared toward more transparency in Washington and more citizen participation, many of which would utilize the internet to engage people through e-Democracy. These proposals are laid out in detail on his website primarily under the Ethics section of his platform.To visit that site click HERE. See also our previous related post on this topic HERE. The following e-Week article dating from the time Obama revealed his technology agenda highlights his proposals and the impact they could have on the advancement of particpatory democracy in this country.
- Editor

Barack Obama: Refining Tech Policy

By Roy Mark 2007-11-16

Citizen democracy, privacy and free speech in technology take the stage as Obama's IT platform takes shape.

On an issue where theres little disagreement between the candidates, Sen. Barack Obama moved Nov. 14 to differentiate himself from the Democratic pack with a detailed technology agenda.

While Obamas overall tech policy tracks with the plans from the other candidates—support for
network neutrality, increased H-1B visas and jacked up spending and investment on math, science and technology—the Illinois Democrat uses his ambitious agenda to detail his broader view on citizen democracy, privacy and free speech.

Network neutrality, for instance, is more than a rate dispute between broadband and content providers, according to Obama. Without network neutrality rules or laws, he contends, the "quality of speech through which the Internet has begun to transform American political and cultural discourse" would be threatened.

At a campaign stop at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., Nov. 14, Obama said, "I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality." In his tech agenda released the same day, he added that network neutrality would "ensure that [the Internet] remains a platform for free speech and innovation that will benefit consumers and our democracy."

With the usual obligatory nod to training more Americans for high-tech jobs, Obamas tech immigration position moves beyond his fellow candidates promising more H-1B visas. Under an Obama administration, he says, all immigrants who earn their college degrees in the United States will be given a path to citizenship.

"We should examine our ability to increase the number of permanent visas we issue to foreign skilled workers," Obama states in his agenda. "We do not want to shut our doors to innovators overseas, who have traditionally made America strong."

On the Internet issues of free speech and participatory democracy, Obama steps ahead of other Democratic contenders for the White House in promoting specific ideas and proposals.

"[Obama] believes that openness of the new media world should be seen as an opportunity as much as some see it as a threat," his policy paper states. He "does not view regulation as the answer to these concerns."

Instead of the host of laws—most ultimately rejected by the courts—introduced over the last decade by both Democrats and Republicans to protect children online, Obama said parents should be provided filtering tools, including requiring content providers to offer parental controls software that not only blocks objectionable material but also prevents children from revealing personal information.

"Private entities like Common Sense Media are pursuing a sanity not censorship approach, which can serve as a model for how to use technology to empower parents without offending the First Amendment," the paper states.

Obama also proposes the creation of "Public Media 2.0" as the next generation of public media that will "create the Sesame Street of the digital age and other video and interactive programming." He said he would support funding for moving existing public broadcasting stations online to help "renew their founding visions in the digital world."

But nowhere in his tech policy agenda is Obama more impassioned on his view of 21st century technology as he is about government and the Internet.

"Together, we could open up government and invite citizens in, while connecting all of America to 21st century broadband," Obama said at his Google campaign stop. "We could use technology to help achieve universal health care, to reach for a clean energy future and to ensure that young Americans can compete—and win—in the global economy."

In Obamas view of his potential presidency, Americans would be able to watch a live Internet feed of all government proceedings, from agency meetings to congressional hearings. He would give people an opportunity to review and comment on White House Web site for five days before signing any non-emergency legislation.

In addition, he would create a government Web site and search engine to allow users to track online federal grants, contracts, earmarks and lobbyist contacts with government officials.

Overseeing it all would be the nations first chief technology officer. The federal CTO would have the authority to ensure government agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services to solicit and receive information from citizens. The CTO would also oversee a national, interoperable wireless network for first responders.

"This policy will enable Americans to discuss and debate more actively they key issues that affect our lives and will give citizens greater autonomy to determine where the truth lies," Obamas agenda states.

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