"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, May 22, 2008


In the following post, one of our editors recaps a months worth of extremely active political participation. Not only is it uplifting to see an individual so driven and motivated to be a positive force in society and have a strong voice in government and policy decisions by whatever means are available, it also brings to mind that the primary essential ingredient for a functioning participatory democracy is an informed, active, and inspired citizenry. Individual political activism is at the heart of any participatory democracy. Unfortunately when the system does not allow for individual voices to be heard and carry weight within the governing political system itself, individuals are forced to participate through channels outside of government in a struggle to achieve real political power and democracy. By contrast, a direct and participatory democracy would allow every individual an equal say in the creation of legislation, policy, and budgetary allocations. As equal partners in their own government, politically empowered citizens will be naturally motivated to be individual activists and participate in the political process. - Editor

My Month of Participation

My month of solid participation began just like any other month by reading the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and drinking coffee in my studio apartment on Capitol Hill. Walking to class at Seattle University, I could hardly glean the impact that the coming month would have on my level of motivation and inspiration to create change. During the coming month I would come to question my reasons behind participating in Socialist Alternative where socialist revolution was the constant question at hand, while I also would become more involved in the immigrant rights struggle and try to specifically address roots of migration in Latin America, my main region of study.

On April 1 I finished work at Spruce Street School where I teach in the after school program, and returned to campus to chair a public meeting about Bolivia's social movements and the leftist trends in Latin America. A whopping 70 people turned out to this Socialist Alternative event and most walked away feeling inspired by the courage and determination of Bolivians struggling to free their country from capitalist privatization. But one friend admitted that she felt cornered by members of Socialist Alternative who really wanted to sell her a newspaper, an opinion that helped me begin to define why I had begun to feel distanced from SA.

The following day I went to the Labor Temple, where most regional unions meet, to represent the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) and learn from a well-informed panel about plans to revamp NAFTA and make it even worse for the workers. The discussion focused on what citizens can do to organize a response, such as write letters to representatives and participate in the May Day marches.

The next two days were filled with the "six-month planning session" for CISPES. The core group of activists for that organization planned the next 6 months of action and defined programs we will be carrying-out. Having a detailed plan helps us to stay organized and coordinated while activities like anti-oppression workshops help us understand how to participate without (un)intentionally violating any person's human rights.

That weekend I also found out that the Border Patrol would be attending the career fair on campus to recruit students. A group of activists from many different groups got together and planned a demonstration. We educated each other about our rights to protest, we planned how to best convey our message of social justice (having learned from previous actions that some people don't understand why we would be opposed to the current immigration enforcement agencies), and we created petitions demanding that the border patrol never return to our school. Other activists from around the city (mostly socialists trying to sell newspapers to active students) joined us on the eighth for a march around campus and a stand off in front of the building where the career fair was taking place. A couple of representatives from our group entered the building and were essentially dismissed and ignored by the administration, but we felt good about demonstrating when people applauded our efforts in front of the video camera I used to document the action. We attempted to show that violent repression against the immigrant population is not only unjust, it is not a sustainable solution to the immigration problem. Families are torn apart or uprooted by structural problems in their own countries exacerbated by US policy and we must demonstrate this to people who believe that detaining or deporting immigrants is a solution. This action was an attempt to do so and we will continue participating in this way to get people to better understand the violations of human rights being committed in our very own communities.

Throughout the week I attended meetings about the roots of migration while staying caught-up on the planning processes for events that will be discussed later. On the 12th, I awoke to realize that I had overslept and missed my ride to Tacoma for the Workers' Assembly on Immigrant Rights, so I quickly dialed a friend who was also going. She referred me to the organizer of the event who then gave me the number of a friend who would be passing through my neighborhood en route to Tacoma. Although slightly hesitant at first to accept a ride from a stranger, driving to Tacoma with Juan proved to be a tremendous opportunity to gain some valuable insights. We chatted in Spanish about what it is like to come from a working class family and why we have to coordinate between students and workers in the struggle against oppressive capitalist forces. By the time we reached the conference, I didn't want to end the conversation, but upon entering I realized the power within the building. Some of the most dedicated revolutionaries and activists were speaking simultaneously in two languages - English and Spanish - in an effort to connect various groups of people and unite the struggles of workers in the region. Workshops focused on issues of racism in the workplace, educating undocumented workers the rights they have that ICE may not recognize, and how to continue participation (#1 suggestion: participate in May Day marches).

Although I was overwhelmingly inspired during my day of participation and my conversations with Juan, I have noticed that the various groups present that day and nodding their heads at speeches remain divided on trivial issues of history that keep the movement from coalescing and becoming bigger and better. For example I found myself trapped at one point. I had been a "member" (I paid dues) of Socialist Alternative (SA) for about nine months but I was also doing speaking engagements and planning events with the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) because I was interested in their issues (Venezuela and Cuba). A member of SWP approached me to discuss plans for an upcoming event when an SA member was trying to get my attention to talk. I called the SA member to join our conversation about the event because I had invited SA to discuss the book "Our History Is Still Being Written: Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution", released by Pathfinder Press (the main source of income and publicity for the SWP), especially because I knew it would provide a debate regarding Cuba. Immediately the two hardcore members of each parties stiffened up and seemed reluctant to engage in dialogue. As we discussed the event, it became apparent that both individuals wanted to end the conversation quickly without delving into topics of interest. I found it unfortunate that they were unwilling to engage in worthwhile conversation because of their political affiliations. Of course when the discussion came to pass later in the month, the two groups argued senselessly about their analysis of Cuban policy. Little divides like this are what create sectarianism.

I ended that day with a solid discussion with other SU student activists about our next steps after having learned so much about the workers' movement. Our ideas to bond with our University's workers were reaffirmed and we agreed to figure out our next actions ASAP.

The Green Festival was hosted on the 13th at the Convention Center (where the WTO meetings took place almost 10 years ago) and I went to see Amy Goodman speak. What an inspiring woman! She talked about the need to get or stay organized on a local level and encouraged activists to keep trying because you never know when an instance like the WTO protests is going to happen again. The spontaneity of important actions can make small actions seem less important, but they are not. Only through continually organizing will we eventually hit milestones in the struggle for a better world. On her birthday and in a packed auditorium, Amy Goodman inspired me to keep organizing and supporting independent media.

The following week was filled with work; volunteering is important but I gotta pay bills. Meanwhile the planning with CISPES continued and the previously discussed "Our History" took place without much of a ripple. The SWP invited all of their peeps and the handful of student groups involved brought a total of 15 students. A couple of professors from Seattle University spoke on a panel with the editor of the book and I moderated the evening by making a couple of neutral points that the book addresses. During the Q & A, students responded to the professors vague and antiquated analysis of Chinese migration to the Americas while the socialist groups debated the outcomes of the revolution. I was unimpressed by the triviality of the conversation. These are times when Cuba is transforming and there is a call for US citizens to readdress perspectives on Latin America. Continuing to focus on past differences seems to limit our abilities to generate positive and productive changes for the future.

My negative attitude didn't last long because the next day I was on a plane to DC for a conference about participatory democracy in Venezuela. Venezuela is my inspiration to stay involved and participate, so I couldn't wait to hear the good news about the revolution of my dreams. Let me also disclaim that I have read Jan Wong's book From Mao to Now and understand the dangers of a blind revolutionary, but I am still convinced that what Venezuela is doing as a country is generally the better than the systems that continue to confine us in the US. Yes, inequalities remain under Chavez, but the doors to participation have been opened and the weekend of the symposium renewed my passion for the Bolivarian ideals and exposed me once again to the drive of the people to create positive change in a nation state that is welcoming such improvement of daily life. I was impressed by the quality of speakers at the event considering the relatively small crowd of people that exemplifies dedication to the revolution. Please see our post at delaesquinacaliente.blogspot.com for a more detailed analysis of this event, there really is not room here to publish all that I learned.

Not only was the symposium amazing, I also made a great connection with a fellow activist from yet another socialist group - the International Socialist Organization. But whatever, this kid was cool. We shared a lot of ideas regarding sectarianism and he helped fill in some gaps that he had experienced during his own analysis of socialist politics, yet he still seemed determined to convince me that his group is the best and I really should read their literature and join their cause ASAP because they really are going to become the umbrella organization that will lead all others into the revolution (yeah brotha, you and the rest of the socialist groups!). At least he was able to show me a really cool book store that I would not have otherwise discovered where I bought a great book about how to build strong community organizations.

So I got back to Seattle and had some crazy last-minute stuff to throw together (like press releases in Spanish) for CISPES but in between working and attending classes I managed to meet with my favorite socialist revolutionary; Greg. Greg is an easy-going early thirty-something who has dedicated his academic prowess to reading and creating socialist literature while simultaneously teaching individuals in one on one sessions or in a group of three. He was the first to indoctrinate me with the gospel of socialism, so I easily agree with his analysis of everything. On this particular day, Greg listened to all the great stuff I learned at the symposium and suggested that we unite the movements behind CISPES and the Venezuela Solidarity groups through a workers' party. He gave me some literature and reaffirmed that I would agree with him as soon as I read the document. Ok, yeah a revolutionary workers' party would be great, but getting people to agree enough to create it seems like a stretch at the moment.

That week was all about planning for the CISPES events of the following week and preparing for the May Day march. I agreed to speak at the rally that the SU activist crowd was putting together and to be the emcee at the CISPES event, so I focused on creating clear speeches that would draw upon all the information about immigration and social movements that I had been learning about.

On the first of May I started the day rallying at Seattle Central Community College with other students and activists. From there we marched to the piers to meet up with the ILWU workers who closed the ports to protest the war in Iraq. The best part was when the group of workers mixed into the group of students and we all gave high-fives and cheers for our combined efforts. Then the Seattle U group and I bounced back up the hill via bus to host our own rally on campus. While it was small and somewhat disorganized, it was worth it to bring our group together to march together to Judkins Park where the Workers' Rights march was to begin. On our way, we walked by a huge construction site where I noticed the workers peering out at us. I used the bullhorn to give a shout-out to the crew and our group gave a solidarity cheer while the workers cheered down at us from the third story of a new condo complex.

Upon our arrival at Judkins Park I met up with the CISPES crew and we started the long march toward Seattle Center in a mass of 2,000 workers and activists. I met some new folks before jumping out of the crowd to set up for the CISPES party featuring the Georgetown Orbits and food I had helped to prepare the night before. Everything miraculously fell in to place and about 200 people came to learn about a water workers union that struggles against privatization in El Salvador and enjoy some amazing roots reggae. We raised plenty of money to send to SETA, the water workers union, and rocked the house. Attendants celebrated the marches and partied in solidarity to make bonds among individuals who are dedicated to various progressive causes. Such a fun atmosphere blurred the dividing lines between political groups, nationality, and race.

Even though I felt exhausted by the May Day marathon, the next event for CISPES demanded further participation and allowed me to make solid connections with an amazing group of activists. For months I had been working with three other people to plan the Solidarity Cycle from Seattle to Olympia via Tacoma with the intention of raising awareness about US intervention in Salvadoran elections and raising funds to help the people of El Salvador in their grassroots struggle for democracy. The cycle was a complete success even though we had smaller participation than anticipated. Each participant walked away with a better understanding of the issues facing Salvadorans and spending the weekend together brought us closer to each other. Conversations over meals and on the roads clarified our political stances and created connections with other groups in Tacoma and Olympia. Everyone was so supportive and helpful that I didn't want the weekend to end. But fortunately our solidarity is permanent and we are currently trying to plan a similar action with less time commitment to support the community of Pacific as raids plague public policy.

So the month came to an end, but my participation will not. I learned how to move beyond selling socialist newspapers to connect with other groups and communities. It is through action, education, and dialogue that we will continue in the struggle for a more participatory society that can improve democracy here in the US and abroad. Facing the issues together and educating others are tactics that I will continue to use as tools for participation.

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