"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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Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Senator Barack Obama back in 2006 co-authored with Senator Tom Coburn legislation mandating the creation of a centralized website that would contain a complete database of government spending, freely accessable by the general public. The act, titled the 'Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act,' received bipartisan support in congress and strong diverse grassroots support from bloggers and activists, and was signed into law by president Bush.

Barack Obama is the only remaining presidential candidate who has signed an oath (see second article below) stating that, if elected, he would ensure that the act is implemented to it's fullest extent. But many readers may be surprised to learn that the website mandated by the new act is up already up and running to a large extent.

The site, http://www.usaspending.gov/, was launched in late 2007 and now provides an easily accessable and user friendly multiple criteria search engine that allows citizens to discover where their trillions in tax revenue is being allocated, and for what purpose. One can even see details of every individual transaction to government contractors, including defense contractors such as KBR, Halliburton, etc. It also provides an easy means of comparing the overall budgets of the individual departments, education vs. defence, homeland security vs. social security, etc.

This amazing resource is intended not only to increase transparency, but also to increase the people's access to, and participation in the policy and budgeting decisions that are currently exclusively down to powerful lobbyists and their elected representative's own whim and fancy. Obviously, this is but one small step on the path to true participatory budgeting and democracy, but it is a crucial first step. The public must first have access to the knowledge of where money is currently being allocated in order to effectively and actively advocate for budgeting changes that will reflect the true will of the people. Hopefully this foot in the door will help lead to a participatory budgeting process sometime in the future, which will allow the people to input into the budgeting process directly.

This initiative of Senator Obama's is but one facet of his platform on ethics, transparency, and accountability, and many of his proposals, if implemented, will provide a measure of direct democracy to the people of the United States on a scale unprecedented at the federal level. Many of his proposals will utilize the internet both to increase citizen participation in government, and to 'shine the light' on Washington's behind closed doors shady deals and bring the process out into the public arena. To learn more about Obama's proposals in this area click HERE to see his platform on his official page, and see our previous posts on the subject HERE, and HERE.

The fact that this one particular element of his e-democracy platform has already become a reality in the form of http://www.usaspending.gov/, is tangible proof that Obama's intentions in this regard are genuine, and that the measures he is proposing are feasible and attainable. It is also interesting to note that Obama has also demonstrated his sincerity on an individual level regarding the subject of transparent finances. He is the only candidate that has posted six years of his personal tax returns on his website. You can view or download them HERE.

While Obama's proposals are a far cry from the true direct democracy that we seek, what is truly cause for hope among direct democracy advocates is the widening mobilization and political engagement of the masses that Obama's campaign has awakened. This, coupled with the foot in the door to Washington that his proposals offer in terms of transparency and active citizen participation, could signal the beginnings of a new balance of power, with the balance being provided by a new player in Washington: the people.

For that is where the true inspiration of Barack Obama's campaign lies: with the people, and not with Obama himself. Obama may serve to provide the catalyst, but it is the people who must provide the necessary pressure that will slowly lead us to direct democracy. As such, it will be crucial to maintain and increase the mobilization of the masses and their participation in politics long after Obama's victory in the election, if that victory comes. On that day, it will be up to the masses not to proclaim "YES, WE DID IT!," but instead to begin the struggle to prove the validity of the Obama campaign mantra: "YES WE CAN!"

The first of the following two articles dates from the passage of Obama's Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, and the second relates to a subsequent oath to uphold the act circulated by the Reason Foundation to all the presidential candidates. - Editor

Senate Passes Coburn-Obama Bill to Create Internet Database of Federal Spending

Friday, September 8, 2006
Obama Contact: Tommy Vietor or Robert Gibbs, 202-228-5511
Coburn Contact: John Hart, 202-228-5357
Date: September 8, 2006

Source: http://obama.senate.gov/press/060908-senate_passes_c/

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) today hailed the Senate's passage of the "Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act," a bill that will create a Google-like search engine and database to track approximately $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, earmarks and loans.

"By helping to lift the veil of secrecy in Washington, this database will help make us better legislators, reporters better journalists, and voters more active citizens," Obama said. "It's both unusual and encouraging to see interest groups and bloggers on the left and the right come together to achieve results. This powerful grassroots alliance shows that at the end of the day, Americans want to see Congress work together to get something done and not continue to engage in the partisan gridlock that so often brings Capitol Hill to a grinding halt."

"Every American has the right to know how their government spends their money, and then to hold elected officials accountable for those decisions. I applaud my colleagues for unanimously supporting a bill that will aid the American people in that effort," Dr. Coburn said. "This bill is a small but significant step toward changing the culture in Washington. Only by fostering a culture of openness, transparency and accountability will Congress come together to address the mounting fiscal challenges that threaten our future prosperity."

"The group that deserves credit for passing this bill, however, is not Congress, but the army of bloggers and concerned citizens who told Congress that transparency is a just demand for all citizens, not a special privilege for political insiders. Their remarkable effort demonstrates that our system of government does work when the people take the reins of government and demand change," Dr. Coburn said.

More than 100 organizations ranging from Americans for Prosperity and Taxpayers for Common Sense to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Greenpeace have endorsed S. 2590.

Dozens of editorials boards across the country including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times and The Oklahoman have also endorsed S. 2590.

Forty-three Senators co-sponsored S. 2590 including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA), John Cornyn (R-TX) and others.

Obama Signs Oath for 'Google Government'

Source: Reason Foundation http://www.reason.org/

News Release LOS ANGELES — Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) have signed oaths declaring that, should they win the presidency in 2008, they will issue an executive order during their first month in office instructing the entire executive branch to put into practice the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, a Google-like search tool that will allow you to see how your tax dollars are being spent on federal contracts, grants and earmarks.

All of the major presidential candidates have been invited to sign the "oath of presidential transparency" which is being promoted by a diverse coalition of 36 groups, led by Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank that has advised the last four presidential administrations.
"The next president should be committed to transparency and accountability," said Adrian Moore, vice president of research at Reason Foundation. "Redesigning the federal government so that it is more accountable to taxpayers is a nonpartisan issue. Transparency will help produce a government focused on results instead of our current system, which is plagued by secrecy, wasteful spending and pork projects."

"Every American has the right to know how the government spends their tax dollars, but for too long that information has been largely hidden from public view," said Sen. Obama. "This historic law will lift the veil of secrecy in Washington and ensure that our government is transparent and accountable to the American people."

"Government transparency is essential to government accountability. Americans need to feel they can trust their government," Sen. Brownback stated.

"When government spends the people's money, it must be done with utmost possible transparency," Rep. Paul, the first to sign the oath, declared. "Signing the Oath of Presidential Transparency was a no-brainer for me."

The oath was sent to every presidential candidate who has met the Federal Election Commission's filing requirements and has "raised or spent $50,000 or more (the threshold for mandatory electronic filing) from sources or to payees other than the candidate him or herself." The oath was first distributed to every presidential candidate's headquarters on July 17, 2007. Subsequently, at least five follow-up emails or calls were made to each campaign.

Full Oath Online

The complete oath of presidential transparency is available online at http://www.reason.org/oath/.

About the Coalition

An alliance of 36 diverse groups is advocating the presidential accountability oath. The following groups are part of the coalition: American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, American Association of Small Property Owners, Americans for Tax Reform, Budget Watch Nevada, Capital Research Center, Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, Center for Individual Freedom, Citizen Outreach Project, Citizens Against Government Waste, Doctors for Open Government, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, FreedomWorks, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Iowa Public Policy Institute, Liberty Coalition, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Minnesota Free Market Institute, Mississippi Center for Public Policy, National Taxpayers Union, Nevada Policy Research Institute, Reason Foundation, Republican Liberty Caucus, Research Accountability Project, Rio Grande Foundation, Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, The Harbor League, The Performance Institute, The Project on Government Oversight, The Pullins Report, The Rutherford Institute, US Bill of Rights Foundation, Velvet Revolution, Virginia Institute for Public Policy, and Washington Policy Center.

About Reason Foundation

Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets. Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason. Reason Foundation does not endorse any political candidates. For more information, please visit http://www.reason.org/.

Government Contact

Presidential candidates interested in signing the oath, or organizations interested in joining the coalition, should contact Reason Foundation's Amanda Hydro at (202) 236-9193.

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