"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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Wednesday, April 16, 2008


The following article from a Colorado newspaper illustrates how fragile the direct democratic institutions we have at the state level have become. When those in power are capable of convincing citizens that it is preferable to surrender what little power they have to self-legislate simply because the majority has produced some legislation that they may be in disagreement with, it shows us that we must struggle ever harder to protect the initiative and referendum process where it exists at the state level, and strive harder to expand it at that level, and above to the federal level as well... Clearly, the following article does not he reflect the views of this editor, but the comments posted by one Colorado citizen that appear after the article certainly do. - Editor

A Better Ballot Measure

It's time to raise the bar for constitutional amendments

Rocky Mountain News
Thursday, April 3, 2008

SOURCE: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/apr/03/a-better-ballot-measure/

Is the 14th time the charm? Let's hope so. Lawmakers recently introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, the 14th attempt in the past decade to change Colorado's initiative process.

We've long believed that amending the state constitution should be more difficult than passing a statute. But for the most part, we're glad that none of the previous 13 legislative measures to tackle this issue went to voters.

Several would have undermined the initiative by erecting unacceptably high barriers to direct democracy. Among them were requirements that initiated constitutional amendments win three-fifths or two-thirds supermajority votes before passing.

SCR 3 - inspired by a University of Denver blue-ribbon panel on constitutional reform - marks an encouraging change of attitude that does not give grass-roots activism short shrift.

Indeed, the measure could encourage some ballot campaigns, as it would reduce signature requirements for statutes. It would also raise the bar for qualifying constitutional amendments. And it would do both without unduly burdening citizen groups that - unlike deep-pocketed interests - cannot buy their way onto the ballot.

The resolution would base the signature level for qualifying ballot measures on the total votes cast in the most recent election for governor; that's typically higher than the secretary of state's race, on which the current threshold is set.

That said, the signature level for statutes would go down, from the current 5 percent of the vote to 4 percent. Based on the 2006 election, the resolution would reduce the signature threshold from 78,000 to 62,000.

Meantime, constitutional amendments initiated by voters would face a higher limit, needing signatures totaling 6 percent of the vote for governor - now nearly 94,000 verified signers. Petitions for amendments would also have to be circulated statewide, with at least 10 percent of the threshold (or 9,400) collected in each congressional district.

As another enticement for sponsors to take the initiative route, SCR 3 would make it tougher for the legislature to modify an initiated statute in the first six years it's on the books. Lawmakers now need only a simple majority to modify those voter- led measures. Under the resolution, a two-thirds vote in both houses would be required.

This should ease the legitimate concern that it's too easy for the legislature to thwart the will of voters by revising or rejecting ballot statutes lawmakers don't like.

All these changes would give initiative sponsors an incentive to offer statutes rather than amendments - but they would not prevent citizen-initiated amendments from reaching the ballot entirely. Moreover, sponsors could no longer qualify amendments by flooding Colorado's major cities with petitioners and ignoring other residents. Amendments are more likely to have a broad appeal before they go to voters.

There's one largely symbolic provision of SCR 3 that we're not wild about. It would require amendment sponsors to complete their signature-gathering efforts and file proposed amendments with the secretary of state seven months before an election, rather than the current three-month deadline. The idea is to give amendments more time for public vetting. But since voters typically pay little attention to ballot measures (whether they're amendments or statutes) until the final weeks of an election season, we can't see how earlier deadlines would matter much.

All in all, SCR 3 should improve the ways Coloradans directly modify the state's governing documents. We hope the legislature places it on the ballot, so voters can consider and approve it this November.


Posted by p_myers661 on April 3, 2008 at 8:05 a.m.

Ah yes..

by all means. Keep the peasants away from the process. And if they do manage to pass an initiative it would only require a slightly higher majority of those super beings we call legislators to undo the measure.

Thanks, but no thanks. This is a thinly veiled attempt to shut the door to substantive change. Guess they're afraid we are going to pass a TABOR initiative on fees so they'd have to get rid of their special projects and actually use good sense instead of using our tax money to pay back the unions for getting them elected.

The people have the means to pass laws that are needed by the people whether the professional politicians like it or not (they don't.)

There have been many attempts to cut back the ability of the people in this area. The outrage that we put things in the constitution because they just legislated our initiatives out of existence is still bubbling. Let's put this one on the dust heap with the rest before we end up hogtied and overtaxed.

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