"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, April 7, 2008


Legislators in Arizona are attempting to weaken the power of the people and their ability to participate directly in budgeting and other decision making processes through the processes of initiative and referendum enshrined in the state's constitution. They claim that their hands are tied in times of alleged financial hardship because they can not cut funding to vital social programs that are protected by voter enacted initiatives. These funds that have been rendered untouchable by the will of the people are for the health and education sectors, environmental initiatives, and election reform programs. The measure legislators are introducing, if passed, will allow them to bypass the expressed will of the people and cut funding to these essential areas. - Editor

Lawmakers Want to be Free from Voter Restraints

Amanda J. Crawford, The Arizona Republic, Apr. 2, 2008 12:00 AM

Staring down a deficit abyss of about $3 billion for this year and next, Arizona lawmakers complain that their efforts to cut spending and balance the budget are stymied by voters. Health care for the poor. Spending on schools. Money for clean elections and land conservation. Early-education and health programs for kids, funded by tobacco taxes. Major state programs and big bucks - all off-limits because they are protected by voter-approved initiatives. A measure passed by the House of Representatives would give voters a chance to change that. It would free lawmakers from spending restraints mandated by initiatives whenever the state faces a budget deficit.

If approved by the state Senate, the referendum would go on the November ballot and, if passed, could have a dramatic effect on how the state balances future budgets. Now, as lawmakers look for spending cuts, more than two-thirds of the state budget is off the table because it is protected by initiative or federal, court or statutory mandates. Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, says this means that a huge chunk of budget growth, about $600 million a year, is on "auto-pilot," which makes it difficult for the Legislature to balance the budget during hard economic times. Why shouldn't voter-approved programs share the cuts?"In bad times, tough decisions have to be made," said Pearce, who sponsored the measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2044. But opponents say the measure uses current fiscal problems as a smoke screen to mask the real intent: to strip voters of their voice and allow lawmakers to undo or defund programs they don't like."I think the voters of Arizona should be extremely alarmed and disappointed," said Karen Woodhouse, deputy director of First Things First, a board created at the ballot box in 2006 to oversee tobacco-tax-funded early-childhood education and health programs. "How could voters have trust in the opportunity to make their voice heard again through the initiative process?"

Direct democracy In Arizona

The state Constitution protects voters' right to direct democracy, to go around their legislative representatives and create policy at the ballot box. This right has often been used to pass policy that has gone nowhere year after year in the Legislature.In 1998, voters sealed their initiative rights with the Voter Protection Act. Born out of frustration with lawmakers' efforts to change laws passed on the ballot, the Voter Protection Act handcuffs lawmakers, requiring a three-fourths vote to make any changes, which must "further the intent" of the voters.Since then, measures passed by voters have been nearly sacrosanct. They have included big-ticket items such as expanded government health care for the poor and increased spending on education. Now, growth in those two areas is a major driver of the state budget. Together, spending on schools and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which voters expanded in 2000 to cover everyone living under the federal poverty line, account for more than half of the state's general-fund spending. The entire pot of spending on AHCCCS and schools is not protected, but much of it is. Pearce complains that what voters have protected are "the giveaway programs, the socialist programs," referring to programs like AHCCCS and First Things First. He says he fears unprotected areas, like corrections and law enforcement, which he considers to be among the most critical areas of the state budget, will have to bear the brunt of the deficit.Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said that as so much of the budget becomes controlled by voter initiative, he wonders if that's really what voters intended."We need more flexibility here as a legislative body in order to do our jobs in these types of situations," said Burns, Senate appropriations chairman and a co-sponsor of HCR 2044.

Free Rein

Under the measure, lawmakers could divert funds from voter-approved programs or change funding formulas whenever the governor and Legislature agree that the state is facing a budget deficit. Supporters characterize these as extreme times. But, by Pearce's own count, the state has been facing a deficit in five of the past eight budgets. Opponents say the measure would give the Legislature nearly free rein to scale back or defund programs that the majority doesn't support. "I obviously understand we are in a fiscal crisis, but you can't subvert the will of the voters," said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix. She said she believes the measure "takes advantage of the fiscal crisis to go after (programs) they've always wanted to go after."AHCCCS eligibility could be reduced to only the poorest of the poor. Tobacco taxes that go to health programs or early-childhood education could be diverted to the state's general fund, instead. Funding for schools could be scaled back. Money collected to support publicly financed political campaigns could be swept to help balance the budget.Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the whole point of initiatives is to address issues to which the Legislature has been unresponsive. She characterizes the measure as a "power grab.""I understand why the Legislature wants more power," Bahr said. "The citizen-initiative rights are a check on legislative power."

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