"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, May 12, 2008


The following comments from an Indiana voter just before the recent historic primary election there illustrate how eager most americans are to participate actively in the democratic process provided that they are confident that their vote and their voice wields real power. However, the current power structure of our representative government strives at every opportunity to squelch the voice of the voters, thereby leaving them with the perception that they are impotent within their own (so called) democracy. This in turn generates the apathy among the populus that serves to perpetuate that undemocratic power structure. This 2008 election is inspiring in that it has seemingly broken that cycle more than any election in recent memory. Voters have a sense that their vote does matter this time, and can make a real difference. They are voting in record numbers, most notably on the Democratic side, and thanks in great part to the inspiration that the Obama campaign has generated. This momentum and increased democratic participation must not be squandered and forgotten on election day in November, but must instead be nourished and increased further by the next administration in Washington. The people's voice in government must be amplified, and real power to legislate and decide policy put in the hands of the populus. If we have any hope of achieving true democracy in this country, and of wrestling our future from the corrupt forces that have usurped our democracy for their own financial gain and pursuit of personal power, it will be through direct democracy allowing a government "of, for and by the people" to flourish. - Editor

Posted: May 6, 2008
By Sandy Sasso

There is a palpable excitement across Indiana on this Election Day. Finally, Hoosiers have been saying with evident pride, "We count! It's not just about New York and California. It is about us!"

While the Democratic Party may have wished for a less contentious contest, for an earlier resolution, Indiana residents are pleased to have been given, for once, a decisive voice. For the first time most of us can remember, our votes matter in a presidential primary. Candidates are listening, paying attention to local concerns from Gary to Evansville, Richmond to Terre Haute. And truth be told, it feels good. Polls indicate that more Hoosiers will be voting in this primary than in any other. As a consequence, state and local contests will benefit as well.

It is a sense of enfranchisement that makes for an involved citizenry. This year's renewed excitement in the democratic process speaks volumes for a revision of the primary system. Allowing for a less protracted and more equitable primary season would cost less money and engage more people. It might even reduce acrimony by requiring candidates to focus primarily on political, social and economic concerns and not on negative personal recriminations. Such an electoral process should allow for all states to feel equally empowered in each party's selection of its presidential nominee. The question on all of our minds is: Will the candidates still be attentive to Indiana's concerns tomorrow?

But perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from this year's political enthusiasm is the belief that our voices do matter, that individual citizens can make a difference, that democracy works best when we take seriously our responsibility to effect change, help to shape and influence the quality of our communities.

In the end, the substance and tone of a campaign are determined by our involvement and our indifference, by what we are willing to tolerate or what we are not, by our questions and our expectations. The quality of a campaign is shaped not only by what the candidates bring to the table, but what the electorate demands. In the end, good government isn't just about the decisions of leaders, but about an involved citizenry that holds officials accountable.

We are told that we are to think globally and to act locally. Even as we advocate for governmental action on global warming, let us be attentive to our own habits of wasteful consumerism and exploitation of natural resources. Even as we lobby for fair and just immigration legislation, let us treat our neighbors and the strangers in our midst with dignity and respect. Even as we call for health-care reform, let us promote healthy behaviors and wellness. Even as we require social and educational policies that are attentive to the most vulnerable among us, let us join in partnership with others who seek to raise the quality of life for all our neighborhoods.

In a participatory democracy government and communities, organizations and individuals work hand in hand. Private interest cannot be indifferent to the public good.

The key expectation for the new administration is for a sea of change, for sweeping waves of new directions. But real renewal is not only about making waves but about creating ripples. Each of us has a contribution to make. When one person throws a single pebble into a serene lake, it makes ripples that extend in all directions, far beyond the point of entry. As we move from May to November, may our new sense of enfranchisement in the democratic process move us to make both waves and ripples.

Sasso is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis.

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