"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 19, 2008


Interesting analysis from an Oklahoma newspaper on the history and the current state of democracy in the U.S.A. - Editor

Democracy or Republic?

Think the U.S. is a true democracy? Actually, the founding fathers visualized a republic – and neither form of government has anything to do with party affiliation.

Source: http://www.tahlequahdailypress.com/homepage/local_story_086152904.html?keyword=leadpicturestory

By BETTY SMITH Press special writer

The ancient Greeks came up with the idea that the people should run the government. That legacy continues today in the United States and many other countries around the world.

But different countries vary on their interpretations of “democracy,” and wars have been fought over it.

Although most people probably didn’t know about it or think about it, Tuesday was National Celebration of Greek and American Democracy Day. There were no parades, no speeches, no politicians kissing babies. But when asked, some people did reflect on the meaning of democracy and how it functions in the U.S. today.

Democracy had its genesis in the city-state of Athens about 500 B.C. In that society, people – more precisely, men – made decisions together, rather than electing representatives to make those decisions on their behalf.

Obviously, that is not possible today in a country as large, well-populated and diverse as the U.S. The founding fathers created what they considered a “republic,” or federation of states, with the House of Representatives elected by the people and other federal officials appointed.

In case you’re wondering, none of this has anything to do with whether one is a registered “Republican” or “Democrat.”

The U.S. Department of State Web site defines democracy as “a government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.”

Or, as Abraham Lincoln termed it, a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

“Greece is the home of democracy,” said Dr. Justin Halpern, professor of political science at Northeastern State University. “The founding fathers [of the U.S.] were not especially keen on direct votes of the people. The founding fathers thought they were a republic, and they only provided for direct election of one house.”

The electoral college is a survivor of that philosophy – a survivor many people believe should go the way of the dinosaur, with the president instead being elected by popular vote.

And for a long time, people did not vote directly on senators, who were appointed by the states.

One also has to take into consideration that for much of America’s history, various groups were not allowed to vote. Women have been able to vote for less than a century. While blacks – the men, anyway – gained the right to vote after the Civil War, in actual practice, the poll taxes, literacy tests and other measures prevented them from casting ballots, especially in the South. And Native Americans were not granted full citizenship until the 20th century.

Halpern believes direct democracy is becoming more prevalent, especially on votes such as the state questions and local issues like sales taxes. And New England preserves the Greek style of direct democracy in its famous town meetings, he added.

He also has watched the evolution of the presidential election process. Candidates used to be selected in caucuses and in the infamous “smoke-filled rooms” where political bosses ruled.

“Now, more and more, they are selected in primaries,” he said.

Halpern believes continued development of the Internet will result in more direct democracy in the future.

Retired educator Fred Gibson, who has taught history and government and led public and foreign policy issue forums, sometimes fears for democracy.

“I think we have gone to great lengths to change the idea of democracy,” he said. “We have been more or less brainwashed to think of democracy as socialism, and we have a perverted knowledge of what capitalism is. It’s more a matter of license than it is freedom, for persons who have the advantage to succeed.”

Gibson pointed out Jesus Christ was concerned with the poor and with equality of people.

“He didn’t have that much respect for wealth,” Gibson said.

Gibson admires President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policies to give people a hand up and out of the Depression through meaningful work programs.

He believes today’s society needs more programs to promote equality.

“We are getting away from what democracy means,” he said. “Democracy is where everybody has an equal opportunity for liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Department of State’s publication indicates that “freedom and democracy are often used interchangeably, but the two are not synonymous.”

It calls democracy the institutionalization of freedom. A direct democracy, where all people participate, is only possible where a small number of citizens are involved, such as in the New England town meetings.

In larger groups, people elect their representatives to vote on issues – whether it be a church board, club officers, or something as large as the federal government.

While the general concept of a democracy is that the majority rules, many contemporary societies also consider it important to protect the rights of the minorities.

Locally, people are often presented with the concept of two sovereign nations, such as the Cherokee Nation or the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, dealing with the federal government.

The Department of State lists these principals as the pillars of democracy:

• Sovereignty of the people.
• Government based on consent of the governed.
• Majority rule.
• Minority rights.
• Guarantee of basic human rights.
• Free and fair elections.
• Equality before the law.
• Due process of law.
• Constitutional limits on government.
• Social, economic and political pluralism.
• Values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise

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