"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, May 7, 2008


This article from a small town paper in New York illustrates how the use of initiative and referendum puts the power of decision making and legislation in the hands of the people themselves and out of the hands of elected representatives who may have other motivations, such as those alleged by the union in this case. If the use initiative and referendum were more widespread at all levels of government, the resulting transfer of legislative power to the people themselves would create a much more democratic system, and sidestep the corruption and power politics than inevitably undermine sytems based on representative government. New York State does not currently have initiative and referendum a the state level. Although measures to introduce it have twice been passed in the State Senate in recent years and gone to the Assembly, it has as of yet failed to become law and be enacted. Hopefully it will soon be approved by the Assembly as well and then New York will join the many other states that enjoy this exercise of direct democracy in state governance. Initiative and referendum are however currently used at the village and town level in many municipalities in the state. - Editor

Greenwood Lakers Ready to Petition to Save DPW
Village Retaliating, Union Says

By Matt King
Times Herald-Record
April 15, 2008

Source: http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080415/NEWS/804150322

“My fellow DPW employees want to push for a villagewide referendum,” said Brian Moeller about the fate of Greenwood Lake DPW workers like Bobby Lewis, Brian Pral and Supervisor Bill Roe.

GREENWOOD LAKE — Employees angered over the plan to scrap the village's department of public works hope an exercise in direct democracy will stop it.

As soon as the proposed deal to hand over DPW duties to the Town of Warwick becomes official, employees will circulate a petition in the hopes voters will reject it at the ballot box.

"My fellow DPW employees want to push for a villagewide referendum," said mechanic Brian Moeller. "Let the people decide if this is the best thing to do."

The village is close to a deal with Warwick that Mayor Barbara Moore said is good for residents because it'll save about $200,000 a year and the town has more and better equipment.

"This is a very efficient move for village residents," Moore said, comparing it to Greenwood Lake's water department, which is run by a private company. "If I could get a rate I thought was sensible to privatize DPW, it would be the smart thing to do."

Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton has said each of the seven department employees will get an interview with the town, but not a promise of a job.

Meanwhile, more than 200 residents have signed a petition urging Moore to reconsider. It's being circulated by Donna Garley, a village employee, though not of the public works department.

"A few dollars a week per household is not worth five guys losing their jobs," Garley said. "You can't even buy a gallon of milk with that and you're going to put men out of work?"

A separate petition is required to place a referendum on the ballot. It can't be circulated until after the deal is official and must be signed by registered voters equal to at least 10 percent of the people who voted for governor in 2006, or roughly 100 signatures.

Scrapping the department has been discussed for years, but the timing of the deal — just two weeks after village employees signed cards saying they want representation from Teamsters Local 445 — inspired charges of retaliation by union officials.

Teamsters head Adrian Huff said the union has filed a complaint with New York Public Employment Relations Board, though computer problems kept the board from confirming the complaint yesterday.

The union alleges the deal is a punitive measure and the village is shirking its duty to recognize the union.

"They still have the right to representation, even as they're being laid off," Huff said.


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