"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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Thursday, April 3, 2008


Now that Ralph Nader has entered the '08 race for the U.S. presidency, many activists and advocates of direct democracy find themselves uncertain of which candidate to support at this time. The two chief editors of this blog have been having a running debate for many weeks about which candidate is the best choice for the end goal of participatory democracy and direct democracy for the U.S.A. After 'EDITOR A' sent an email to her friends and family expressing her excitement that Nader was considering candidacy, 'EDITOR B' responded by advocating for Obama. We encourage readers of this debate to contribute by emailing us their own points of view on the subject, especially if they differ from those expressed here, and we will publish them on the page we have created for the debate. (see link below) - Editor


EDITOR B: I had to vote for Obama today because I do not want Hillary to get the democratic nomination. If she wins it may be the death ratlle for the USA just as it would be if Romney or McCain wins. Plus, she is ahead in NY, the state where I vote.

Also I think that Obama for all the 'change' hoopla does have the power to motivate young people and is getting them involved in politics and giving them hope once more. Have you watched any of his rallies? Something ever so slightly revolutionary is happening and he is at the center of it, by chance or calculation I don't know. Whether he will be able to deliver the change he is promising is another matter, but I am willing to give him a shot.
I understand your frustration though, and I think the democratic party itself is a corrupt fiasco. Why I would support Obama is not because of the party, but because of what we have already seen a little of: the increased political activism and participation by the people that he could bring about if he wins. People are yearning to fix this country before it's too late and if Obama by the simple act of winning sets the gears in motion and the people begin to rise up it might be hard for the powers that be to stop that momentum.

Ralph Nader might be able to do the same thing that Obama has the potential to do if he could win, but of course he can't win. We don't have a viable third party in this country, plain and simple. It is a small select group of people who would unite behind Nader. It's a hard pill to swallow, but what everyone says is undeniably true - every vote for Nader would be one less vote for Obama (if he's the democratic nominee.) It's true what Nader says, obviously we need more parties in this country if we are going to move forward... but we have to move forward step by step because there is no chance otherwise.

Let me try to explain where I am coming from on this because I know it's a contentious issue and a hard one to decide on. Normally I would be one of those for Nader, but I believe that only a mass popular movement is capable of bringing about revolution in this country and reversing the damage that has been done. I think that it is going to require a diverse coalition of people far broader than just those that would support Nader and that it needs someone who can actually win office under the current conditions. The next president should be a leader who opens the door just wide enough within a locked system to allow people power to take over, just as Chavez did in VZLA. The revolution has to come from within the system to break the chains, and then a transformation toward a new system can begin. Once that new system is in place, there will be space within it for a green party to grow and prosper.

All that said, if Obama wins the nomination and is ahead by miles in NY over the republican candidate, I may vote for Nader as a symbolic gesture. I may do the same if Hillary wins the nomination, but out of disgust. If Hillary wins, or god forbid Romney or Mc Cain you can forget about change and say hello to cynicism and apathy again pretty quick.

EDITOR A: I appreciate your thoughts, especially what you said about Obama opening up channels for participation. Almost everyone I’ve been debating with in my vote zone (with the exception of the socialists) is going for Obama because of his great rhetoric and charismatic character. I have my own thoughts on this issue. Instead of voting for the "lesser of two evils" as many liberals argue to be the best option in our current two-party system, I will vote for the underdog who will never win, because he more accurately represents my views. While I would prefer to represent my own views in a participatory democracy, I acknowledge that now I am pressured to vote for someone who is backed by corporate donors, Wall Street, and other powers that will continue to manipulate candidates upon arrival at the White House.

From what I have gathered, no candidate in the Democratic Party is actually going to make more than a symbolic change in this country. It is true that the US needs representation of African American and Female perspectives; however I don't think that the current candidates even manage to accurately represent politically the demographics they exemplify physically. Hillary is anti-feminist because she will adhere to the patriarchal system created and perpetuated by our nation’s presidential predecessors. Obama, despite being endorsed by some of my favorite people and organizations, is much more charisma and eloquence than he is real policy change.

I appreciate your views on him and applaud those who are getting involved in politics for the first time by supporting his campaign. I also understand the need to appeal to certain corporate backing in order to stand a chance in the campaign process. However, this very acquiescence to the corrupt system shows that Obama does not have the effort nor the grassroots backing (e.g. green parties, socialists, anti-war activists) to actually defeat the worthless system already in place. Achieving real change, in the sense of demonstrating the freedom to vote for the candidate who more accurately represents my views will come when we have more than two options. There is no reason for me to vote for a candidate that I don't believe in, and I won't. In order to personally promote a multi-party system which I believe is more advantageous to representing diversity in this country I will organize and vote for a third party candidate.

EDITOR B: I see your side totally. I know it's a choice between voting for the candidate that most closely matches your beliefs, or voting strategically for someone who might not necessarily espouse everything that you're for yourself, but might unwittingly be the only chance of unleashing enough people power on the scale necessary to radically alter this locked system in the time we have left before it is too late to stop this runaway capitalist imperialist train. It's a strategic choice, and there's no easy answer.....

To continue reading this debate and to add your own comments, CLICK HERE

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