"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, June 26, 2008


The collection of signatures for petitions is a long and arduous one, but in Maine it pays off. When people disagree with laws promoted by the the Legislature, they have an opportunity to reject them through a people's veto. Although this is not a common occurrence, two people's vetoes may go through this year. The article below gives historical context and outlines the necessary processes to achieve democratic change of law in Maine. -Editor

History doesn't favor 'people's veto'

Blethen Maine Newspapers

Source: http://kennebecjournal.mainetoday.com/news/local/5114501.html

AUGUSTA -- The activists who want Maine voters to overturn two newly passed state laws have about a 50-50 chance of prevailing at the polls, if they can first overcome the difficult task of collecting enough signatures to place their "people's veto" referendums on the Nov. 4 ballot.
When voters get a chance to kill controversial laws passed by the Legislature, they do so only about half of the time, according to state records going back almost 100 years.

But most veto campaigns never make it that far, records show, so the biggest hurdle for veto backers is qualifying for a spot on the ballot.

The people's veto is making headlines these days because two unrelated groups are circulating petitions to try to get voters to repeal new laws.

If both groups succeed to placing their plans on the ballot, it will mark the first time since 1940 that Maine voters have tackled two people's vetoes in one year.

One campaign wants to block legislatively approved taxes on beer, wine and soda to help pay for the Dirigo Health program.

The other one wants to repeal a state law that would tighten procedures for issuing Maine driver's licenses, in part by requiring that applicants prove they are in the country legally.

Both campaigns involve a long-established but seldom-used provision in the Maine Constitution that allows voters to repeal, or veto, laws passed by the Legislature.

The provision is very similar to another constitutional safeguard that allows Maine voters to pass laws at the ballot box through the initiated referendum.

"It brings a certain legitimacy to the entire (political) process if people participate in it" by second-guessing the Legislature's decisions from time to time, said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. "I think it's a good protection to have."

The organizers of each people's veto campaign must collect the signatures of 55,087 voters and submit them to the Secretary of State's Office by July 17 to get their proposal on the ballot this November.

Each camp received permission to start circulating petitions in mid-May, effectively giving them only two months to meet the signature deadline.

If either group succeeds in getting its question on the ballot, the affected law -- new taxes in one case, and new licensing procedures in the other -- would not take effect unless the voters upheld it Nov. 4.

Maine is one of 24 states in the nation, and one of only two in New England, that allow voters to veto newly passed laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But getting a people's veto on the ballot here can be a daunting task, both because of the number of signatures required and the speed with which they must be collected.

Eleven people's veto campaigns have been launched in Maine from 1996 to 2007, for example, but only two of those have actually made it onto the ballot. In the rest of the cases, organizers either abandoned their campaigns before the deadline for submitting petitions to the state, or failed to collect enough valid signatures to force a public vote.

State records show that Mainers have tackled people's veto referendums only 25 times since Sept. 12, 1910, when they vetoed a law setting a uniform standard for the amount of alcohol in liquor. The records also show that voters have not overwhelmingly supported or opposed the laws they were asked to veto. In fact, they have split down the middle since that first vote back in 1910 by upholding 13 laws and killing 12 others.

In the most recent decision, which occurred in 2005, Mainers voted 55 percent to 45 percent to uphold a gay rights law passed by the Legislature that year. By doing so, they reversed a 1998 vote -- the only people's veto referendum of the 1990s -- in which voters vetoed a gay rights law by a vote of 51 percent to 49 percent.

The Christian Civic League of Maine has mounted a referendum campaign this year to repeal various safeguards for gay men and lesbians, but that effort is not a people's veto. It seeks to rescind laws and programs that are in effect already, rather than veto brand-new laws that have yet to take effect.

Although recent people's vetoes dealing with gay rights have had a high profile, the process of asking voters to veto state laws proved much more popular in the early years of the 20th century than in more recent years, according to state records. They show that voters considered four to six vetoes per decade in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s and three in the 1940s, followed by only one per decade since the 1950s. The fact that there have been relatively few veto referendums over the years, and with mixed results, prompts supporters of the process to argue that it is being used judiciously and that voters are cautious in secondguessing the Legislature. "It's the sort of thing that I think works best when it's used infrequently,"said James Melcher, a political scientist at the University of Maine at Farmington. "I don't think it's gotten too far out of balance." "It's really not being used that much," said Kathleen McGee of Bowdoinham, a leader of the people's veto campaign dealing with driver's licenses. It will be difficult to get that proposal on the ballot, McGee said, because organizers have only two months to collect 55,087 signatures. Critics counter that allowing voters to veto laws gives them more power than they need and undermines the republican form of government. Under such a system, voters elect decision makers to represent them instead of calling the shots themselves, as they would in a direct democracy. "There is a mechanism in place for registering disfavor and changing policy, and that is elections," said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine. In his view, allowing voters to veto laws is unnecessary because voters already have the power to replace politicians who enact offensive laws, by voting them out of office. "The form we set up is inherently a republican form," Brewer said. He said politicians have more time and resources to carefully study issues than the voters do, so lawmakers develop "a more informed position" on issues as a result. "Anything that undermines that makes me a little nervous," Brewer said. Whatever the perceived merits or deficiencies of the process, the two people's veto campaigns can be expected to intensify on June 10, when members of the Democratic, Republican and Green Independent parties cast ballots in primary elections. By law, petition circulators can collect signatures at polling places, so the primaries will provide an ideal forum for doing just that as the July 17 filing deadline approaches.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


This column from a Lexington, MA paper gives an overview and history of the town meeting form of direct democracy in Lexington. The practice is widespead throughout New England and has it's origins in colonial times- Editor

Scene and Herd: Town Meeting has a long, involved history

By Mary Lou Touart/Columnist
Thu Mar 20, 2008, 06:27 AM EDT

Lexington -

Many residents of Lexington may still not know all there is to know about the Town Meeting form of government. So, since the annual March session began yesterday, perhaps it might be time to talk of the history of this ancient tradition.

A person has a sense of awe and history if elected to Town Meeting in a community such as Lexington. You become one of 189 members exercising direct democracy in action. There are nine precincts in town and you are one of 21 representatives from your precinct. The number of elected representatives is determined by each town.

Lexington was settled in 1642. The first Town Meeting was held in 1692, as soon as there were enough land-owning men, the only villagers who were eligible to vote. This was when the village was still called Cambridge Farms. It became the incorporated village of Lexington in 1713, and six days later held it first Town Meeting as Lexington.

Like those in other small- to medium-sized towns all over New England, Town Meetings were instituted early on and became a tradition that continues to the present day. Depending on the size and wishes of each town, some have open forums like neighboring Weston and Concord that include all registered voters at their meetings. Others have a representative form like Lexington that was voted into existence in 1929, and convened in 1930. Lexington now has a population of about 31,000 people.

Town Meeting is the legislative body of the town. It has sole authority to appropriate funds for the operating budget and capital projects. It can vote on municipal budget line items and adopt, amend, or repeal bylaws, including all those related to zoning. Like any good legislative body, it holds the purse strings. And there is always lively discussion.

With the exception of the town moderator who is elected every year, all other officers are elected to three-year terms. These include the Board of Selectmen, School Committee, Planning Board, and Lexington Housing Authority. None has an acknowledged political association. The town manager is appointed by the Board of Selectmen.

The town moderator, selectmen, or town manager appoint major town committees and officers for three-year terms. These include the Appropriation, Capital Expenditures, Permanent Building, Recreation, and Lexington 2020 Vision Committees, Historical, Conservation and Historic Districts Commissions, Personnel Advisory Board, Board of Registrars, Board of Health, Board of Appeals, and the town clerk. All, including lesser committees, have their own specific purposes.

When women acquired the right to vote in 1920, they began to take an interest in their town government. They successfully ran for Town Meeting in 1930 and have now become members and chairmen of major committees. There are 83 women of the 189 Town Meeting members and there are 106 men. Three of the nine at-large members are women. A woman presently serves as chairman of the Board of Selectmen and the woman town moderator has held that office for 21 years.

One of the unique aspects of Lexington’s Town Meeting is its Town Meeting Members Association, or TMMA. Started in the 1930s, the unofficial TMMA continues to thrive and is unusual among towns in the state. Each precinct has three representatives that make up the TMMA Board. They are: clerk, vice-chair, and chair. These 27 plan a series of TMMA Warrant Information Meetings at which questions about forthcoming warrant articles are raised and answered.

The hope is to educate all Town Meeting members on the forthcoming issues upon which they will eventually vote. Written material is available for members to study.

Over the years, Town Meeting membership has become a much more sophisticated and time-consuming job. Today, it faces the complications of a town government that must meet the times and challenges of the 21st century. The recent election had no direct competition for major offices. However, there were competitions in some of the precincts with new candidates unseating some long-time members. So the ancient tradition remains alive and competitive in our own local democracy.

Mary Lou Touart is a Lexington resident and regular columnist for the Minuteman.


Public forums for city planning such as this one in Princeton, Kentucky are a way of increasing participatory democracy in cities and towns across the United States. This kind of invitation to be heard within the political process inspires residents to take more interest and assume more responsibility in the formation of policy that will shape their community's future. It is a practice that should be far more widespread and would serve as a means of political empowerment for those who currently feel they have no say in political decisions that affect them directly. Rather than continuing to leave their futures solely in the hands of elected representatives, public forums such as these could be an important first step towards greater citizen participation. - Editor

Community forum charts city future

Times Leader Staff Report

Community members took the first steps toward plotting the city’s future during a “Focus on Our Future” forum at the UK Research and Education Center Thursday night.

About 50 people attended the forum, the first of its kind held in the city in more than 10 years.

“This is not, tonight, an academic exercise,” said facilitator Dr. Darryl Armstrong, of Armstrong and Associates, an award-winning consulting firm based in Eddyville.

“It’s developing a vision for what you want your community to be in the future,” he said. “This is truly participatory democracy this evening.”

After an opening discussion, participants broke into smaller groups to brainstorm answers to three main questions related to the community’s future:

• What do you want Prince­ton and Caldwell County to look like, feel like and be like three to five years from now?

• If money were no object, what things would you like to see the community, working in collaboration with the government, do in the areas of education, recreation, health services, social needs, economic, community and tourism development, culture and the arts, environment, and police protection/crime/public safety?

• What things do we need to do in our community to make it a better place to work, live, play and visit?

Armstrong, assisted by co-facilitators Kay Armstrong and Cammie Evans, told the crowd that making the changes they sought could be done in cooperation with, not opposition to, local government.

“You don’t have to turn around your local government, because your local governments are coming to you and asking for input,” he said.

The forum was sponsored by the City of Princeton and the Main Street/Renaissance Program.

Results of the groups’ discussions suggested some common desires: additional local collegiate opportunities, better dining options, improved roads, expanded healthcare and childcare services, etc.

When the groups reconvened into one large group, Armstrong gave the crowd electronic handheld devices to allow them to vote anonymously on some new questions.

The first required participants to think of the community in the metaphor of an animal: either a lion (aggressive), an elephant (intelligent but slow to move), a gazelle (fleet of foot) or none of the above.

When asked how they perceived the community, nearly half of those responding chose “elephant.”

Armstrong said that answer almost always prevailed in the other groups and communities he worked with across the nation.

“Unfortunately, in our society, perception is the reality,” he said.

Participants then voted on the importance of improving in each of the eight areas discussed in the earlier breakout sessions, on a scale of 1 to 5.

A one vote meant improving in that area was irrelevant, while a five meant improvement in that area was very important.

The average response in nearly every area was above a four, with education topping the list.

“Anything above a three is pretty doggone important,” said Armstrong.

“Even the lowest one on the scale is 3.83, and that’s cultural arts. Anything above three needs to be seriously considered in this process.”

The third set of questions asked participants to gauge how well the community is performing now in the same areas.

The scale ranged from 1 to 9, with one meaning no performance, five being moderate and nine meaning perfect.

Education earned a 5.34 vote, the highest returned.

Responses in the other seven areas ranged between three and five.

Armstrong said some of the suggestions mentioned could be answered relatively quickly, in six to nine months.

Others would be more long-term goals, he said.

Any action would be positive, he noted.

“The more that you do, the more excitement that you build in the community,” he said. “The bottom line is, perceptions can be changed.”

“This is literally the community coming together, coming together to do the right thing at the right time and to move the community forward.”

In the next 10 days, he said, the firm will summarize the results of the meeting and provide a draft report to Mayor Gale Cherry and the city council.

A strategic planning committee will then be appointed; sign-up sheets were distributed at Thursday’s forum.

Armstrong and his associates will work with the committee to draft a “road map” for the community and seek public feedback.

A final report will then be completed and published, he said, and recommended the city issue a yearly report card to inform the community on how its goals were being achieved.

“The communities that have a plan in place are the communities that will grow and prosper, even in these difficult economic times,” he said. “We’ve seen it over and over and over again … it is time for citizens to understand they have to work in that process to make it better.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


New York State does not have initiative and referendum at the state level. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to pass legislation that would institute it. Hopefully one day these efforts will succeed and New York State will eventually join the many states that do practice direct democracy at the state level with initiative and referendum. Initiative and referendum does exist in New York State at the local level in many municipalities, and New York City is one of them. New Yorkers are using this tool of direct democracy in an attempt to launch a new investigation into the 'events of 911' in an effort to get to the truth behind the many inconsistencies and coverup of the existing official government report. If you are a New York City resident, we encourage you to join this important grassroots effort in search of the truth. - Editor

Calling all New York City residents
and supporters of truth and justice!


There is widespread awareness that the events of 9/11 were never adequately investigated, and that our government has sidestepped accountability on all fronts. As a result, there is growing public desire for a more thorough re-examination of what occurred.

Now there is a grassroots action which is designed to obtain an honest, independent investigation of 9/11 by placing an initiative on the ballot of the Nov. 6th, 2008 general election allowing registered New York City voters to create a new Commission.

YOU can help achieve the goal of passing this important referendum by becoming a part of a historic campaign called the NYC 911 Ballot Initiative.

If you are a New York City resident you can sign our petition, volunteer to help, and donate, all in the cause of placing the issue of a new investigation of 9/11 on the NYC ballot. We suggest reading the Instructions first, then downloading the petition which is on the same page.

If you're not a resident, you can direct all your friends and family in New York City to this site and urge them to sign our petition and volunteer. Also, you can also donate to the cause. You will be contributing to the momentum we are creating to call for an impartial, independent investigation of the most consequential event of our time. If you live near New York City, you can help with our petition drive and help us build an army of volunteers. We need hundreds of people willing to put in 20-30 hours between now and the end of June!

We ask that EVERYONE sign our Guest Book so we can keep you informed of important developments and create a huge network for truth and justice. At the very least, we urge you to spend 10-15 minutes to review this important information and see the difference you can make in this all-important cause. Creating mass awareness will be invaluable to the success of this effort.

Here's the plan. We must get 30,000 valid petition signatures of registered New York City voters as quickly as possible. To ensure we reach this goal, we are aiming for 100,000 signatures. Our target date is June 30th. At that time our petition will be reviewed by New York City Council. On July 1st we'll begin gathering another 15,000 signatures which will override City Council if they decide to reject our proposal.

If you're not a registered voter, you can register here. Also, you can volunteer to help us with our petition drive. If you know of organizations who will endorse this campaign and notify their membership, please contact us right away.

As New Yorkers we deserve a meaningful and transparent process
to reveal to the fullest extent possible what really happened
leading up to, on 9/11, and the period that followed.
The nation, and indeed the world will benefit from our efforts
to obtain truth, accountability, and justice.

Monday, June 16, 2008


The True Champion of Direct Democracy

Joe Mathews -
March 16, 2008 - 10:12am

Source: http://www.blogger.com/www.newamerica.net/blog/blockbuster-democracy/2008/true-champion-direct-democracy-2836%20-%2026k

In Colorado, state legislators are trying to head off a possible Humane Society ballot initiative that would require veal calves and pregnant pigs to be kept in housing that allows them to stand up and turn around.

Why the desperation to stop the Humane Society? Because when the society goes to the ballot, it usually wins.

No organization has a better record at the ballot than the Humane Society of the United States, the true champion of direct democracy. Between 1990 and 2006, HSUS won more than two-thirds of its ballot measure campaigns. (26 out of 38). In most of those efforts, the Humane Society has been on the "yes" side, and "yes" campaigns are far harder to win than "no" campaigns. (About two-thirds of ballot initiatives lose). At the ballot, the Humane Society successfully has sought to ban dove hunting, horse slaughter, cockfighting, and confinement of animals.

The society likes direct democracy so much that it has become one of the leading advocates for protecting the right of the people to make laws directly. It opposes efforts to make it harder to qualify measures, and led the challenge to Florida's Amendment 3, which required a super-majority of 60 percent to pass constitutional amendments there.

Friday, June 13, 2008


An interview with the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia reveals some essentials in city design. Straying from the norm of building cities for cars, Enrique Peñalosa focuses on designing new urban centers for people. Creating more face-to-face interaction on the street allows citizens to meet at an equal level and keeping public beaches gives every kid, even those without country club memberships, the opportunity to play in the sand. When people become separated within their cars, a hierarchical form of segregation divides the people on the street from the people in vehicles while the rise of individualized transportation has increased pollution in the urban centers here in the US. As our cities continue to urbanize, we should learn from thinkers like Peñalosa who seek equality, democracy, and environmental improvement where we live, work, and play. -Editor

Questions for Enrique Peñalosa
June 8, 2008

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/08/magazine/08WWLN-Q4-t.html?_r=1&ref=americas&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin

Man With a Plan


Q: As a former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who won wide praise for making the city a model of enlightened planning, you have lately been hired by officials intent on building world-class cities, especially in Asia and the developing world. What is the first thing you tell them? In developing-world cities, the majority of people don’t have cars, so I will say, when you construct a good sidewalk, you are constructing democracy. A sidewalk is a symbol of equality.

I wouldn’t think that sidewalks are a top priority in developing countries. The last priority. Because the priority is to make highways and roads. We are designing cities for cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. Not for people. Cars are a very recent invention. The 20th century was a horrible detour in the evolution of the human habitat. We were building much more for cars’ mobility than children’s happiness.

Even in countries where most people can’t afford to own cars? The upper-income people in developing countries never walk. They see the city as a threatening space, and they can go for months without walking one block.

Isn’t that true here in the United States as well? Not in Manhattan, but there are many suburbs where there are no sidewalks, which is a very bad sign of a lack of respect for human dignity. People don’t even question it. It’s the same as it was in pre-revolutionary France. People thought society was normal, just as today people think it is normal that the Long Island Sound waterfront should be private.

Are you comparing people with homes overlooking the Long Island Sound to corrupt French aristocrats? If democracy is to prevail, public good must prevail over private interests. The question is: would the majority of people be happier with a public waterfront on the Long Island Sound or not? All children should have access to waterfronts without being members of a country club.

Do most of the six billion people in the world live in cities or in the country? At this very instant, a little bit more in the country. We are in the process of becoming more urban. In the developing world, more than half the cities, especially in Asia and Africa, are yet to be created.

What are the best-designed cities in the world? The best-designed cities are in northern Europe, like the Dutch and Danish cities.

As mayor of Bogotá, you reclaimed the sidewalks for pedestrians by banning sidewalk parking, your most famous achievement. The most famous and the most controversial. But we started by building bicycle paths, and now 5 percent of the population, more than 350,000 people, go to work by bicycle.

Why do you think you lost your most recent bid for mayor last year? I had some huge fights when I was mayor. I was almost impeached for getting the cars off the sidewalk.

Do you own a car? Yes, an S.U.V. with armor.

You mean it’s bulletproof? Yes. We had some problems.

People shot at you? No, they never shot at me, but you never know. Any politician in Colombia is at risk.

Where were you educated? I went to Duke. I actually majored in economics and history.

You were probably the only socialist at Duke. I eventually realized, of course, that socialism was a failure as an economic system. Yet equality is not dead. Socialism is dead, but equality as a goal is not dead.

Do you see yourself as a city planner or a politician? At heart what I really am is a Colombian politician, but a bad one because I lose elections.


Thursday, June 12, 2008


Social movements need to shape a new ideology that can truly embody change. Hierarchy and environmental destruction go hand in hand, as the solutions to these problems should. Participatory democracy fits well into the problem solving picture because it can guide people to make decisions regarding their own destiny and that of their community. -Editor

Radical Clarity to the Concept of Real "Change"

Source: http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1312/1/

Written by Karl Kardy
Monday, 02 June 2008

Book Review: Social Ecology and Communalism by Murray Bookchin. Edited by Eirik Eiglad. Oakland, AK Press: 118 pages. ISBN 978-1-904859-49-9 [Available to purchase from AK Press]

The American presidential election season has pundits and pollsters proclaiming "change" a primary factor in the minds of many voters. It's little wonder that this stark period - marked by the so-called "War on Terror," the extension of neoliberalism across the globe, and the urgency of global warming - has motivated such vague desires among the citizenry. Undefined, undifferentiated and ultimately relegated to mere platitudes, "change" here means little; it is cosmetic, commodified, and reinforces the status quo. Absent is a lens, a coherent perspective through which current and future movements might comprehend and ultimately transcend the prevailing order, inspiring the crucial transformative "change" so necessary to reverse today's regressive and reactionary tendencies.

While the US Green Party struggles on and plans yet again to rely on a presidential candidacy to foster a "trickle down" growth for state and local parties, there is little to suggest that Greens or any other marginalized American Left movements are positioned to fill this void of coherent analyses and strategies for reconstructive action. Yet the American Green movement's early history included the influence of social ecology, a body of thought primarily developed by Murray Bookchin, that articulates just such a vision based on ecological principles, notions of radical democracy, and a celebration of our uniquely human potentialities. Bookchin was a keynote speaker at the first national gathering of US Greens in 1987 and his work, including more than 20 books, numerous essays, articles, speaking engagements, and the co-founding of the Institute for Social Ecology, affected the formation of the Left Greens and played a prominent role in debates over direction for the nascent American Green movement.

Social Ecology and Communalism, a recently released collection of four essays written in Bookchin's later years, offers an accessible introduction to social ecology's fundamental rejection of social hierarchy and domination, critique of instrumental reasoning in favor of a dialectical philosophical orientation, and it's ecological "libertarian municipalist" political strategy. It should be noted that Bookchin's version of "communalism" bears no relation to the (largely religion-based) sectarianism it evokes in South Asia. Instead, here communalism refers to the theory and system of government in which local communities are associated in a confederation.

Norwegian communalist Eirik Eiglad edited this collection and presents the reader with a fascinating, if brief, biography of Bookchin, a man literally raised in the radical political culture of Depression-era New York City. Early adulthood saw Bookchin involved in various Communist Party organizations, though he soon broke with the Communists, aligning for a time with the Trotskyist movement before moving towards libertarian socialism after World War II. Eventually, after years of activism, writing, and serious study of radical theory, he engaged in the anarchist movement. With the appearance of his seminal 1964 essay "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought" began to clearly articulate an explicitly radical and ecological body of thought.

The collection's initial lengthy essay "What is Social Ecology?" represents an attempt at a concise elaboration of social ecology's basic premise that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep seated social problems. Bookchin traces the roots of social hierarchy and domination in early aboriginal societies, at the same time observing examples of distinctively social and egalitarian human institutions that represent the latent human striving for freedom. In particular, he identifies the "irreducible minimum" - a social custom that held that all members of the community are entitled to the means of life regardless of the amount of work they perform - and "usufruct" - a notion of property that allowed for the use of the means of life, as needed, by one group or individual so long as they were not already being used by another - as examples of customs which persisted, evolved, and even today continue to exist in latent forms.

These twin legacies of hierarchy and freedom, he suggests, have evolved through history and provide crucial insights into today's social climate. It is the institutionalization of capitalist ideology, reinforced by notions of social Darwinism and instrumental rationality - one that reduces human reasoning faculties to a mere "means-ends" tool that neglects any concern for what "ought be" - that represents a logical, yet not inevitable, unfolding of the legacy of hierarchy and domination.

Bookchin calls for the replacement this existing "grow or die" mentality with an ethics of complementarity, rooted in ecological principles and informed by a dialectical philosophical orientation writing that humanity "can draw far-reaching conclusions for the development of an ecological ethics that in turn can provide serious guidelines for the solution of our ecological problems." Through a developmental, historical perspective we may "educe" the means to a synthesis of the nonhuman and human spheres into a "free nature" where humanity acts ethically and creatively within the wider natural world.

The two subsequent essays, "Radical Politics in an Era of Advanced Capitalism" and "The Role of Social Ecology in a Period of Reaction," focus on both social ecology's concept of politics and its relationship to the Enlightenment tradition, respectively. Here Bookchin underscores the importance of reason, ethics, and citizenship to the social ecology project.

"Politics these days has been identified completely with statecraft, the professionalization of power" - a vital recognition that leads to his call for a re-thinking of citizenship in the spirit of the Athenian polis, positing the importance of face-to-face direct democracy and an emphasis on the neighborhood, town, and municipality. Bookchin places this emphasis on citizenship, face-to-face municipal politics under the rubric of "libertarian municipalism" a strategy based on human-scale eco-communities linked through confederal bodies guided by reason and ethics rather than profit and the private accumulation of power. For Bookchin, it will be "the ability and willingness of radicals to (redefine politics)" that "may well determine future movements like the Greens and the very possibility of radicalism to exist as a coherent force for basic social change."

"The Communalist Project" closes the collection and was Bookchin's last major work before his passing in July 2006. Significant for it's far-reaching scope and positioning of social ecology and libertarian municipalism under the "communalist" banner, the piece begins with an impassioned plea:

Whether the twenty-first century will be the most radical of times or the most reactionary or will simply lapse in the gray era of dismal mediocrity - will depend overwhelmingly upon the kind of social movement and program that social radicals create out of the theoretical, organization, and political wealth that has accumulated during the past two centuries of the revolutionary era.

Seeking to place Communalism in historical perspective, Bookchin surveys the major Left traditions, endeavoring to illustrate how communalism incorporates the better elements from each while offering provocative critiques of Marxism, anarchism, and revolutionary syndicalism. Bookchin describes libertarian municipalism as the "praxis" of the communalist framework and emphasizes the importance of the civic dimension of the modern world's great revolutions, not the least of which, for Bookchin, was the Paris Commune of 1793.

Bookchin is clear in his belief that the primary concerns of today's radicals should include a solid grounding in the study of history, specifically that of modern revolutionary era. He is also unequivocal in his rejection of what he considers the oft-confused and contradictory aspects of contemporary trends in mysticism and spirituality, "lifestyle anarchism," and the reconstitution of various outdated Left ideologies.

It's telling that Bookchin's ideas were so inspirational to the initial development of the US Greens while the emphasis was on the building of a transformative grassroots movement. Yet as Green Party US emerged and the more radical and movement-oriented activists drifted away, the valuable insights and provocative critiques put forth by Bookchin and social ecology receded from view for many Green activists. Social Ecology and Communalism presents a potential source of rediscovery, an inspiration in a time where lucid alternatives to the grim prospects of enduring social and ecological crises are desperately needed.

Karl Hardy is a graduate student at Prescott College in social ecology and a community activist in South Bend, Indiana.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


The following is yet another example of people seeking more effective ways to make their voices heard within their state government, but we also must consider the various contrary arguments cited here that are directed against these efforts . From fear of corporate manipulation to concerns about what laws would be passed were the public given the chance to decide, there are plenty of objections to altering the state's constitution in favor of referendum and initiative, which would give voters more direct control over state government and legislation.

Nevertheless, there is no argument that can negate the fact that every additional element of direct democracy added to the process makes it more of a 'democracy by the people' than before. The article illustrates that, whether they are conservative citizens who wish to use direct democracy in an attempt to block gay marriage or progressive citizens who seek more equitable and sustainable ways to manage their own communities, most people would prefer to have a direct vote on legislation that affects them, rather than leaving it to their elected representatives to decide issues and policy on their behalf.

It has been said by critics that direct democracy would mean 'mob rule.' Although this statement sounds like it should be saying something powerful, I for one have never seen the logic in it. Direct democracy is not 'mob rule,' rather it is majority rule, and as such it is true to the concept of democracy. How does the majority become 'a mob' in the minds of those who put forth that argument, and why do they prefer rule by an elite group of representatives who traditionally have proved to be poor guardians of their interests, security, and well-being? The votes of the majority of the people on any given issue in a democracy logically represent the collective will of the people on that issue, and should determine policy for the collective group.

As far as fears that this would lead to discrimination against those in the minority are concerned, where direct democracy has been or is currently being practiced, this assertion has not proven to be accurate. To cite a recent example, a referendum just put forth in Switzerland by the ultra-right wing Swiss People's Party in an attempt to restrict immigration in a discriminatory fashion was soundly defeated by the Swiss electorate. The party, which had been gaining popularity, now finds itself in a fight for it's political future. This is but one example of the will of the majority providing the kind of checks and balances that have been lost to corruption in our representative system.

So, after considering the arguments against initiative and referendum in the following article, they are not convincing in light of the benefits that direct democracy would provide. Holding leaders accountable to the people rather than corporate interests, determining the distribution of local resources locally, and promoting mass participation are but some of the benefits that would outweigh the doubts people point to in the article below. -Editor

State's constitution doesn't allow ballot initiatives

Source: http://www.rep-am.com/News/346108.txt


The people of Connecticut can't vote to define marriage, repeal the state income tax or pass a three-strikes-and-you're-out law.

The Constitution State provides voters no direct constitutional means to put questions and measures on a statewide ballot for an up-or-down vote.

The state's 1965 constitution doesn't permit initiative and referendum. Lawmaking is strictly the province of legislatures and governors. Voters only approve constitutional amendments that legislators propose.

Some in Connecticut want to give voters the right to rewrite the constitution, pass laws and repeal actions of the legislature themselves, including Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

"It is a bad idea," said Robert Satter, a retired Superior Court judge, former state representative, and author of several books on state government and courts here.

The head of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group also is doubtful.

"I don't know the problem that people think this solves," said Tom Swan, executive director of the public advocacy group. "It just becomes a means for moneyed interests to undermine the legislature and the democratic process."

The state needs initiative and referendum because the legislature oftentimes is the problem, said Susan Kniep, the president of the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organizations.

The people need a constitutional means to represent their best interests when lawmakers become disconnected from the voters, she said.

"Incorporation of that right in Connecticut's constitution will give all of Connecticut's citizens greater control of their government," said Kniep, a former mayor of East Hartford.

State Sen. Sam S.F. Caligiuri, R-16th District, also believes voters should be able to take matters in their own hands.

Caliguiri said the debate on a three-strikes law showed what the people want doesn't matter if a few powerful legislators disagree.

This session, Caligiuri and Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, forced the first and only vote on initiative and referendum in a legislative chamber in the last 13 years. The Senate rejected an amendment that two co-sponsored in a bipartisan vote.

Today, 24 states have some form of initiative and referendum. Initiative allows citizens to put a proposed new law or a constitutional amendment to a statewide vote. A referendum is a popular vote on a measure that a state legislature passes.

No two states have exactly the same requirements for initiative and referendum. In general, the procedures involve obtaining a specified number of valid signatures on certified statewide petitions. If the legal thresholds are met, then a question goes to a vote at a general or special election.

Another 18 states permit the recall of elected state officials and judges before the end of a term of office, and 36 states allow the recall of local officials. In most of the recall states, specific grounds are not required, and the recall of a state official is by an election.

The General Assembly in Connecticut has never embraced direct democracy -- initiative, referendum or recall.

Interest appeared highest just after the controversial adoption of the state income tax in 1991. Lawmakers proposed more than two dozen constitutional amendments on initiative and referendum in a five-year stretch.

Since then, a handful of legislators have continued to introduce legislation without any success, including Rep. Christopher L. Caruso, D-Bridgeport, House chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

Caruso said a lot of legislators worry that initiative and referendum will unravel legislation and government programs that they have worked hard to enact and protect.

"I am not afraid of it," he said, adding that Connecticut will eventually adopt some form of initiative and referendum, including the ability to amend the state constitution.

On Nov. 4, the ballot will ask voters this constitutionally required question: "Shall there be a Constitutional Convention to amend or revise the Constitution of the State?"

Kniep and others see the ballot question as an opening to add the right to initiative and referendum to the constitution.

"People from every walk of life are coming to understand that we have a state government that is increasingly unresponsive and unrepresentative of the will of the people," said Peter Wolfgang, president of the Family Institute of Connecticut Action.

He said direct initiative is the surest way to reclaim self-government in Connecticut.

The Family Institute of Connecticut Action wants to pass a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. The group fears the state Supreme Court may soon allow gay couples to marry.

The California Supreme Court voted May 15 to legalize gay marriage. On Monday, state officials announced that an initiative that would overturn that decision qualified for the November ballot. If Connecticut's high court rules for gay marriage, opponents here won't have that option.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


An insightful commentary from the Government Technology website. - Editor

A Vote for Sensible Elections

Jun 3, 2008, By Chad Vander Veen


The other day I was going through my morning ritual of visiting certain news sites - in a certain order - to get a quick sense of what's going on in the world. One Washington Times headline, in particular, caught my attention: "Michigan primary revote chances diminish." How is it that in 2008 this nation still can't cobble together a decent, sensible system for electing people to office?

Though the race for the White House is certainly historic, it's also giving more Americans a good look at how dysfunctional our election process has become. The Democrats have gone out of their way to illustrate how cockamamie their system is. Florida, for example, moved up its primary to an earlier date, despite the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) threat to strip the state of its delegates if it did so. Florida did anyway, and now as of press time, the delegates haven't been awarded to either candidate, leading some party officials to call for a "do over."

But the DNC's problem speaks to a larger issue in American elections. Now, I'm as pro-states' rights as any person you'll meet, but it's high time this country seriously considers nationwide standards for electing candidates to national office. It doesn't matter whether it's a nationwide system of electronic voting or paper balloting - just that we design a simple process for casting a vote.

Much of this year's caucuses and primaries have proven themselves totally archaic, so too is the U.S. Electoral College. The time when representative democracy was needed has long since passed. Today direct democracy is socially, technically and logistically feasible, even with punch cards or paper ballots. Think about it this way: The Nielsen system for rating TV shows - in which viewers write down what shows they watch and send that data back to Nielsen - is outdated, inefficient and just plain sucks. But it still works better than the way we vote for president.

Now I know we don't technically live in a democracy. We live in a republic. And those who defend the Electoral College say it's the republic's way of making sure less populous states don't get left out of the process. Under a strictly popular vote system, Electoral College defenders claim large population centers, like Los Angeles and New York, would unfairly skew the state voting results in their favor. The solution, then, is to ignore state lines altogether. Let every eligible American cast a vote, then tally 'em up. The person who receives the most votes wins. Who cares about awarding states? States aren't voting, Americans are.

Sounds simple. But seeing as the DNC can't even hold a simple election for itself, your vote for president may never actually count.

Friday, June 6, 2008


The upcoming United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) in Miami will be greeted by local residents and activist from around the country demanding an urban social policy that includes participatory democracy, community control of resources, and rejecting outside corporate influences who have a growing ability to reshape a community according to their profit driven vision, destroying the fabric of the community and the economic livelihood of it's people in the process. People are rightly demanding more direct democracy in order to regain control over the fate of their communities, and to develop them according to their own visions, not those of exploitative outside interests. - Editor

Local Residents Mobilize Against Mayors Conference

Source: http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20080605152452471

Thursday, June 05 2008 @ 03:24 PM CDT
Contributed by: Anonymous

From June 20-24, 2008 community activists from around the country will be joining hundreds of local Miami residents to call attention to affordable housing, public space, gentrification, privatization, neoliberal policies, ecological destruction and other issues effecting urban communities in Miami and around the country.

Local Residents Mobilize Against Mayors Conference

Contact: 700 Mayors Welcoming Committee, 954.592.6330

June 5, 2008

MIAMI, FL - Local Residents Mobilize Against Mayors Conference

Hundreds Will Rally For Community Control of Resources

From June 20-24, 2008 community activists from around the country will be joining hundreds of local Miami residents to call attention to affordable housing, public space, gentrification, privatization, neoliberal policies, ecological destruction and other issues effecting urban communities in Miami and around the country.

Grassroots activists from local groups including Everglades Earth First!, Food Not Bombs, 700 Mayors Welcoming Committee, Miami Workers Center, Power U Center for Social Change and Take Back the Land will be coordinating days of marches, rallies, bike rides, and a community festival, protesting what local 700 Mayors Welcoming Committee organizer Richard Magon describes as the "irresponsible and destructive policies of local governments; cutting deals with luxury developers and multinational corporations at the expense of the needs of local residents, communities and the Earth."

700 mayors from around the country will gather in Miami from June 20-24 at the Intercontinental Hotel for the 76th Annual Meeting of The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) to debate national policy impacting America's cities and metropolitan areas. The USCM, founded in 1932 during the Great Depression, is an organization of cities with populations exceeding 30,000. Mayor of Miami Manny Diaz, who was credited with eliminating poverty in the city, is the current vice president of the USCM. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain are also slated for an appearance.

"The 700 Mayors Welcoming Committee" says local organizer Voltairine DeCleyre, "is calling for an urban social policy built upon participatory democracy, community control of resources and for a move towards ecological sustainability." The coalition of groups is calling for "development strategies that value historic communities over the interests of luxury condominium developers."

Decleyre further states "vacant and unused properties should fall under the control of the community. We see community control of land and resources as essential in combating the housing crisis." The group's environmental agenda focuses on shifts to clean, renewable energy and for a move from automobile centered cities to cities that are geared to meet the needs of cyclists and those who rely on public transit.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


As an influential intellectual of our time, Howard Zinn has an important perspective to offer on participatory democracy. The following interview with Zinn probes into his views on community organizing and public participation, especially in our globalizing world. Zinn questions the necessity of the nation state and the validity of working within existing government structures. Read on. -Editor

Anarchism Interview

By Howard Zinn
and Ziga Vodovnik
May 13, 2008

"History shows that whenever people have been living under tyranny,
people would rebel against that."

Howard Zinn, 85, is a Professor Emeritus of political science at Boston University. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1922 to a poor immigrant family. He realized early in his youth that the promise of the „American Dream", that will come true to all hard-working and diligent people, is just that - a promise and a dream. During World War II he joined US Air Force and served as a bombardier in the „European Theatre". This proved to be a formative experience that only strengthened his convictions that there is no such thing as a just war. It also revealed, once again, the real face of the socio-economic order, where the suffering and sacrifice of the ordinary people is always used only to higher the profits of the privileged few. Although he spent his youthful years helping his parents support the family by working in the shipyards, he started with studies at Columbia University after WWII, where he successfully defended his doctoral dissertation in 1958. Later he was appointed as a chairman of the department of history and social sciences at Spelman College, an all-black women's college in Atlanta, GA, where he actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement. From the onset of the Vietnam War he was active within the emerging anti-war movement, and in the following years only stepped up his involvement in movements aspiring towards another, better world. Zinn is the author of more than 20 books, including A People's History of the United States that is "a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those who have been exploited politically and economically and whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories..." (Library Journal) His most recent book is entitled A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, and is a fascinating collection of essays that Zinn wrote in the last couple of years. Beloved radical historian is still lecturing across the US and around the world, and is, with active participation and support of various progressive social movements continuing his struggle for free and just society.

Ziga Vodovnik is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, where his teaching and research is focused on anarchist theory/praxis and social movements in the Americas. His new book Anarchy of Everyday Life - Notes on anarchism and its Forgotten Confluences will be released in late 2008.

Ziga Vodovnik:From the 1980s onwards we are witnessing the process of economic globalization getting stronger day after day. Many on the Left are now caught between a "dilemma" - either to work to reinforce the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and global capital; or to strive towards a non-national alternative to the present form of globalization and that is equally global. What's your opinion about this?

Howard Zinn: I am an anarchist, and according to anarchist principles nation states become obstacles to a true humanistic globalization. In a certain sense the movement towards globalization where capitalists are trying to leap over nation state barriers, creates a kind of opportunity for movement to ignore national barriers, and to bring people together globally, across national lines in opposition to globalization of capital, to create globalization of people, opposed to traditional notion of globalization. In other words to use globalization - it is nothing wrong with idea of globalization - in a way that bypasses national boundaries and of course that there is not involved corporate control of the economic decisions that are made about people all over the world.

ZV: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once wrote that: "Freedom is the mother, not the daughter of order." Where do you see life after or beyond (nation) states?

HZ: Beyond the nation states? (laughter) I think what lies beyond the nation states is a world without national boundaries, but also with people organized. But not organized as nations, but people organized as groups, as collectives, without national and any kind of boundaries. Without any kind of borders, passports, visas. None of that! Of collectives of different sizes, depending on the function of the collective, having contacts with one another. You cannot have self-sufficient little collectives, because these collectives have different resources available to them. This is something anarchist theory has not worked out and maybe cannot possibly work out in advance, because it would have to work itself out in practice.

ZV: Do you think that a change can be achieved through institutionalized party politics, or only through alternative means - with disobedience, building parallel frameworks, establishing alternative media, etc.

HZ: If you work through the existing structures you are going to be corrupted. By working through political system that poisons the atmosphere, even the progressive organizations, you can see it even now in the US, where people on the "Left" are all caught in the electoral campaign and get into fierce arguments about should we support this third party candidate or that third party candidate. This is a sort of little piece of evidence that suggests that when you get into working through electoral politics you begin to corrupt your ideals. So I think a way to behave is to think not in terms of representative government, not in terms of voting, not in terms of electoral politics, but thinking in terms of organizing social movements, organizing in the work place, organizing in the neighborhood, organizing collectives that can become strong enough to eventually take over - first to become strong enough to resist what has been done to them by authority, and second, later, to become strong enough to actually take over the institutions.

ZV: One personal question. Do you go to the polls? Do you vote?

HZ: I do. Sometimes, not always. It depends. But I believe that it is preferable sometimes to have one candidate rather another candidate, while you understand that that is not the solution. Sometimes the lesser evil is not so lesser, so you want to ignore that, and you either do not vote or vote for third party as a protest against the party system. Sometimes the difference between two candidates is an important one in the immediate sense, and then I believe trying to get somebody into office, who is a little better, who is less dangerous, is understandable. But never forgetting that no matter who gets into office, the crucial question is not who is in office, but what kind of social movement do you have. Because we have seen historically that if you have a powerful social movement, it doesn't matter who is in office. Whoever is in office, they could be Republican or Democrat, if you have a powerful social movement, the person in office will have to yield, will have to in some ways respect the power of social movements.

We saw this in the 1960s. Richard Nixon was not the lesser evil, he was the greater evil, but in his administration the war was finally brought to an end, because he had to deal with the power of the anti-war movement as well as the power of the Vietnamese movement. I will vote, but always with a caution that voting is not crucial, and organizing is the important thing.

When some people ask me about voting, they would say will you support this candidate or that candidate? I say: ‘I will support this candidate for one minute that I am in the voting booth. At that moment I will support A versus B, but before I am going to the voting booth, and after I leave the voting booth, I am going to concentrate on organizing people and not organizing electoral campaign.'

ZV: Anarchism is in this respect rightly opposing representative democracy since it is still form of tyranny - tyranny of majority. They object to the notion of majority vote, noting that the views of the majority do not always coincide with the morally right one. Thoreau once wrote that we have an obligation to act according to the dictates of our conscience, even if the latter goes against the majority opinion or the laws of the society. Do you agree with this?

HZ: Absolutely. Rousseau once said, if I am part of a group of 100 people, do 99 people have the right to sentence me to death, just because they are majority? No, majorities can be wrong, majorities can overrule rights of minorities. If majorities ruled, we could still have slavery. 80% of the population once enslaved 20% of the population. While run by majority rule that is ok. That is very flawed notion of what democracy is. Democracy has to take into account several things - proportionate requirements of people, not just needs of the majority, but also needs of the minority. And also has to take into account that majority, especially in societies where the media manipulates public opinion, can be totally wrong and evil. So yes, people have to act according to conscience and not by majority vote.

ZV: Where do you see the historical origins of anarchism in the United States?

HZ: One of the problems with dealing with anarchism is that there are many people whose ideas are anarchist, but who do not necessarily call themselves anarchists. The word was first used by Proudhon in the middle of the 19th century, but actually there were anarchist ideas that proceeded Proudhon, those in Europe and also in the United States. For instance, there are some ideas of Thomas Paine, who was not an anarchist, who would not call himself an anarchist, but he was suspicious of government. Also Henry David Thoreau. He does not know the word anarchism, and does not use the word anarchism, but Thoreau's ideas are very close to anarchism. He is very hostile to all forms of government. If we trace origins of anarchism in the United States, then probably Thoreau is the closest you can come to an early American anarchist. You do not really encounter anarchism until after the Civil War, when you have European anarchists, especially German anarchists, coming to the United States. They actually begin to organize. The first time that anarchism has an organized force and becomes publicly known in the United States is in Chicago at the time of Haymarket Affair.

ZV: Where do you see the main inspiration of contemporary anarchism in the United States? What is your opinion about the Transcendentalism - i.e., Henry D. Thoreau, Ralph W. Emerson, Walt Whitman, Margaret Fuller, et al. - as an inspiration in this perspective?

HZ: Well, the Transcendentalism is, we might say, an early form of anarchism. The Transcendentalists also did not call themselves anarchists, but there are anarchist ideas in their thinking and in their literature. In many ways Herman Melville shows some of those anarchist ideas. They were all suspicious of authority. We might say that the Transcendentalism played a role in creating an atmosphere of skepticism towards authority, towards government.

Unfortunately, today there is no real organized anarchist movement in the United States. There are many important groups or collectives that call themselves anarchist, but they are small. I remember that in 1960s there was an anarchist collective here in Boston that consisted of fifteen (sic!) people, but then they split. But in 1960s the idea of anarchism became more important in connection with the movements of 1960s.

ZV: Most of the creative energy for radical politics is nowadays coming from anarchism, but only few of the people involved in the movement actually call themselves "anarchists". Where do you see the main reason for this? Are activists ashamed to identify themselves with this intellectual tradition, or rather they are true to the commitment that real emancipation needs emancipation from any label?

HZ: The term anarchism has become associated with two phenomena with which real anarchist don't want to associate themselves with. One is violence, and the other is disorder or chaos. The popular conception of anarchism is on the one hand bomb-throwing and terrorism, and on the other hand no rules, no regulations, no discipline, everybody does what they want, confusion, etc. That is why there is a reluctance to use the term anarchism. But actually the ideas of anarchism are incorporated in the way the movements of the 1960s began to think.

I think that probably the best manifestation of that was in the civil rights movement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee - SNCC. SNCC without knowing about anarchism as philosophy embodied the characteristics of anarchism. They were decentralized. Other civil rights organizations, for example Seven Christian Leadership Conference, were centralized organizations with a leader - Martin Luther King. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were based in New York, and also had some kind of centralized organization. SNCC, on the other hand, was totally decentralized. It had what they called field secretaries, who worked in little towns all over the South, with great deal of autonomy. They had an office in Atlanta, Georgia, but the office was not a strong centralized authority. The people who were working out in the field - in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi - they were very much on their own. They were working together with local people, with grassroots people. And so there is no one leader for SNCC, and also great suspicion of government, because of experience of SNCC. They could not depend on government to help them, to support them, even though the government of the time, in the early 1960s, was considered to be progressive, liberal. John F. Kennedy especially. But they looked at John F. Kennedy, they saw how he behaved. John F. Kennedy was not supporting the Southern movement for equal rights for Black people. He was appointing the segregationists judges in the South, he was allowing southern segregationists to do whatever they wanted to do. So SNCC was decentralized, anti-government, without leadership, but they did not have a vision of a future society like the anarchists. They were not thinking long term, they were not asking what kind of society shall we have in the future. They were really concentrated on immediate problem of racial segregation. But their attitude, the way they worked, the way they were organized, was along, you might say, anarchist lines.

ZV: Do you thing that pejorative (mis)usage of the word anarchism is direct consequence of the fact that the ideas that people can be free, was and is very frightening to those in power?

HZ: No doubt! No doubt that anarchist ideas are frightening to those in power. People in power can tolerate liberal ideas. They can tolerate ideas that call for reforms, but they cannot tolerate the idea that there will be no state, no central authority. So it is very important for them to ridicule the idea of anarchism to create this impression of anarchism as violent and chaotic. It is useful for them, yes.

ZV: In theoretical political science we can analytically identify two main conceptions of anarchism - a so-called collectivist anarchism limited to Europe, and on another hand individualist anarchism limited to US. Do you agree with this analytical separation?

HZ: To me this is an artificial separation. As so often happens analysts can make things easier for themselves, like to create categories and fit movements into categories, but I don't think you can do that. Here in the United States, sure there have been people who believed in individualist anarchism, but in the United States have also been organized anarchists of Chicago in 1880s or SNCC. I guess in both instances, in Europe and in the United States, you find both manifestations, except that maybe in Europe the idea of anarcho-syndicalism become stronger in Europe than in the US. While in the US you have the IWW, which is an anarcho-sindicalist organization and certainly not in keeping with individualist anarchism.

ZV: What is your opinion about the "dilemma" of means - revolution versus social and cultural evolution?

HZ: I think here are several different questions. One of them is the issue of violence, and I think here anarchists have disagreed. Here in the US you find a disagreement, and you can find this disagreement within one person. Emma Goldman, you might say she brought anarchism, after she was dead, to the forefront in the US in the 1960s, when she suddenly became an important figure. But Emma Goldman was in favor of the assassination of Henry Clay Frick, but then she decided that this is not the way. Her friend and comrade, Alexander Berkman, he did not give up totally the idea of violence. On the other hand, you have people who were anarchistic in way like Tolstoy and also Gandhi, who believed in nonviolence.

There is one central characteristic of anarchism on the matter of means, and that central principle is a principle of direct action - of not going through the forms that the society offers you, of representative government, of voting, of legislation, but directly taking power. In case of trade unions, in case of anarcho-syndicalism, it means workers going on strike, and not just that, but actually also taking hold of industries in which they work and managing them. What is direct action? In the South when black people were organizing against racial segregation, they did not wait for the government to give them a signal, or to go through the courts, to file lawsuits, wait for Congress to pass the legislation. They took direct action; they went into restaurants, were sitting down there and wouldn'tmove. They got on those busses and acted out the situation that they wanted to exist.

Of course, strike is always a form of direct action. With the strike, too, you are not asking government to make things easier for you by passing legislation, you are taking a direct action against the employer. I would say, as far as means go, the idea of direct action against the evil that you want to overcome is a kind of common denominator for anarchist ideas, anarchist movements. I still think one of the most important principles of anarchism is that you cannot separate means and ends. And that is, if your end is egalitarian society you have to use egalitarian means, if your end is non-violent society without war, you cannot use war to achieve your end. I think anarchism requires means and ends to be in line with one another. I think this is in fact one of the distinguishing characteristics of anarchism.

ZV: On one occasion Noam Chomsky has been asked about his specific vision of anarchist society and about his very detailed plan to get there. He answered that "we can not figure out what problems are going to arise unless you experiment with them." Do you also have a feeling that many left intellectuals are loosing too much energy with their theoretical disputes about the proper means and ends, to even start "experimenting" in practice?

HZ: I think it is worth presenting ideas, like Michael Albert did with Parecon for instance, even though if you maintain flexibility. We cannot create blueprint for future society now, but I think it is good to think about that. I think it is good to have in mind a goal. It is constructive, it is helpful, it is healthy, to think about what future society might be like, because then it guides you somewhat what you are doing today, but only so long as this discussions about future society don't become obstacles to working towards this future society. Otherwise you can spend discussing this utopian possibility versus that utopian possibility, and in the mean time you are not acting in a way that would bring you closer to that.

ZV: In your A People's History of the United States you show us that our freedom, rights, environmental standards, etc., have never been given to us from the wealthy and influential few, but have always been fought out by ordinary people - with civil disobedience. What should be in this respect our first steps toward another, better world?

HZ: I think our first step is to organize ourselves and protest against existing order - against war, against economic and sexual exploitation, against racism, etc. But to organize ourselves in such a way that means correspond to the ends, and to organize ourselves in such a way as to create kind of human relationship that should exist in future society. That would mean to organize ourselves without centralize authority, without charismatic leader, in a way that represents in miniature the ideal of the future egalitarian society. So that even if you don't win some victory tomorrow or next year in the meantime you have created a model. You have acted out how future society should be and you created immediate satisfaction, even if you have not achieved your ultimate goal.

ZV: What is your opinion about different attempts to scientifically prove Bakunin's ontological assumption that human beings have "instinct for freedom", not just will but also biological need?

HZ: Actually I believe in this idea, but I think that you cannot have biological evidence for this. You would have to find a gene for freedom? No. I think the other possible way is to go by history of human behavior. History of human behavior shows this desire for freedom, shows that whenever people have been living under tyranny, people would rebel against that.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


The first piece in this post comes straight from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (D.O.N.E.) in Los Angeles homepage and it outlines the way they are trying to implement participatory democracy in the city. The rest of the website is certainly worth looking at as an example of how a well-oiled participatory democracy machine can run. Here is the link: http://www.lacityneighborhoods.com/about_us.htm
The second part of the post is an article we stumbled upon that highlights some of the challenges faced by these organizations and what is necessary to continue success. Although it is more in the context of one individual's personal experiences with D.O.N.E., there are some important points here to consider. -Editor


The vision of a citywide system of independent and influential neighborhood councils, and the creation of a city department to guide that process, was the centerpiece of the new City Charter that was approved by the voters in June 1999.

Mission Statement

To promote public participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs by creating, nurturing, and supporting a citywide system of grass-roots, independent, and participatory neighborhood councils.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment Pledge

1. We will treat the public with courtesy and respect.

2. When explaining a restriction, making a suggestion, or reporting a delay, we will always explain the reason why.

3. We will ensure that people who call during working hours will always have an opportunity to speak to someone.

4. We will avoid using insider or bureaucratic language.

5. We will be good listeners.

6. We will honor the Mayor’s “no wrong door” policy, and never use the words, “It’s not my job!” We will find out whose job it is.

7. We will never say, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” or “We tried it that way once but it didn’t work.”

8. We will keep the promises we make.

9. We believe that everyone deserves an answer.

10. We will strive to be the best friend that Neighborhood Councils have.
The Plan for a Citywide System of Neighborhood Councils (Plan)
Starting with a skeleton staff in 1999, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment held 16 public workshops throughout the city to begin teaching people about grass-roots participatory democracy, and to hear the public's needs, dreams, and suggestions. By the time the Plan for a Citywide System of Neighborhood Councils (Plan) was adopted, nearly 50 more public hearings had been held.

The Plan was approved on May 25, 2001 by the City Council through an ordinance. The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) and the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners reviewed years of extensive study regarding neighborhood councils, and received months of public comment before presenting a proposed plan to the Mayor and City Council in December, 2000. For six months, City Council committees received public comment on the proposed plan, and made revisions before submitting it to the Mayor for final approval in May, 2001. The Plan establishes a flexible framework through which people in neighborhoods may be empowered to create Neighborhood Councils to serve their needs. The Plan also sets minimum standards to ensure that Neighborhood Councils represent all stakeholders in the community, conduct fair and open meetings, and are financially accountable.

Neighborhood Councils are Forming Throughout the City of Los Angeles!
Neighborhood Councils are groups of people that, once certified by the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, will elect or select their own leaders, determine their own agendas, and set their own boundaries. The goal is to make them as independent as possible from government so that they will have the influence and power to affect citywide and local decision-making far beyond what neighborhood groups have done. People would be truly empowered to guide the futures of their neighborhoods.

Through the Early Notification System (ENS), Neighborhood Councils receive notice of issues and projects that are important to them as soon as possible. In this way, they will have a reasonable amount of time to understand, discuss, and develop positions before final decisions are made.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment began accepting applications from developing neighborhood councils that wish to become certified. The City expects that the applicants: know their proposed boundaries, conducted widespread outreach to their stakeholders, and created bylaws, an organizational structure, and a system for financial accountability. The department can tell you about activity in your area.

City Council Committee on Education and Neighborhoods
In August 2001, Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla created a new Committee on Education and Neighborhoods. The committee oversees issues that, among others, involve the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, Neighborhood Councils, civic participation, and community empowerment. In July 2005, the committee assignments changed. Councilmember Bill Rosendahl (District 11) is the chair. The person who will win the election in Council District 14 will be the vice-chair. Councilmember Janice Hahn (the former chair) is the third member.

Five Ways to Succeed as DONE’s New GM

Source: http://www.citywatchla.com/content/view/1224/

Being the permanent general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment isn’t a whole lot different from being the interim general manager.

The pay is the same. You can be fired at any moment for any reason. Your office is in the same place. The duties, responsibilities, and headaches are identical. Everyday you have to earn the respect of those with whom you work. But there is one less word in your title. As Bong Hwan Kim asks the City Council to shorten his title, he faces five significant challenges.

1) Help the neighborhood councils succeed before punishing them.

The Empowerment Academy, which provided educational classes into the community on a regular basis, has disappeared. We know little about what’s being planned for its reincarnation -- the Leadership Institute.

Neighborhood councils should be actively involved in design of the new educational effort, whatever it is called, and hopefully the neighborhood councils will be taught the skills they need to be successful before grumpy City Hall folks begin taking potshots at them for not living up to their unknown expectations.

Most importantly, DONE needs to teach present and future presidents how to be good neighborhood council leaders, and that means going beyond teaching people how to file Community Impact Statements, analyze zoning applications, or apply for grants. It’s not what you know, it’s how you lead.

2) Don’t try and make everyone happy.

Believe it or not, City Council members are not immune from coming up with stupid ideas. During a City Council meeting, one said he wanted me to edit and censor all neighborhood council newsletters. A couple of others told me privately that they wanted me to “take care of” a couple of neighborhood council presidents who were critics or potential political opponents.

After defining ones personal principles and goals, there will be times when a general manager just has to say no to people who aren’t used to being told no. Council members are used to asking general managers to help friends and smack down opponents.

3) Defend the system against the regulators.

The system demands that neighborhood councils be as independent as possible from City Hall, but there will always be someone, usually a planner or a neat-freak, who can’t accept the sloppiness that is participatory democracy. It’s a battle that was fought and won during the design of the system. Expect calls for all councils to have the same bylaws, select their directors the same way, run their meetings alike, so that democracy gets sacrificed for order.

4) Improve communications.

DONE’s general manager needs to be an unapologetic cheerleader for neighborhood councils and the cause of participatory democracy. The whole world is watching Los Angeles. The department’s newsletter and website should be used to keep people up-to-date on the important issues, and to alert them about important City Hall meetings. The accomplishments of neighborhood councils, which can be found in newspapers and from each council, need to be trumpeted from the highest point in the city. It costs nothing.

5) Improve morale, immediately.

DONE recently assessed itself using an online survey of staff and an analysis by a paid consultant. What jumped off the page was that 42% of the staff who took the survey refused to rate their immediate supervisor, and instead rated the interim general manager as a way of, in the words of staff, sending a direct message to him about how dissatisfied they were with his management. Many of the staff feared that the results of the survey would be suppressed and ignored.

This has created a situation in which many senior staff will be looking for ways to transfer out of the department, taking with them their knowledge and love for neighborhood councils.

(Greg Nelson participated in the birth and development of the LA Neighborhood Council system and most recently served as the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. Nelson now provides news and issues analysis to CityWatch.) You can reach Greg Nelson at gregn213@cox.netThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it _

Sunday, June 1, 2008


We can certainly hope that efforts such as the Myspace and MTV debates earlier in the campaign will be successful in raising awareness about the issues at hand and empowering youth to participate in politics. With growing consequences of the economic problems confronting young people each day, and their implications for future generations, it is imperative that we take advantage of every opportunity to wrest control from placating politicians who would just as soon silence young oppositional voices. In order to create the change we want to see, the doors to Washington must be opened even further to the youth of today. The Winter Soldier events around the nation and continued protest against the war in Iraq show that some young people are taking a stand against violence and destruction, but the pressure must continue especially after the elections to adequately change policies that have traditionally left youth feeling powerless and ignored politically. -Editor

Zach Marks

Posted August 23, 2007 06:02 PM (EST)

Today MySpace and MTV announced the details of the presidential candidate forums they will hold this fall. Hosted on college campuses across the country, broadcast on MTV and streamed live on MySpace, the forums seek to foster "candid, unfiltered" discussions between young voters and the major Republican and Democratic candidates.

The blogosphere seems abuzz with optimism about the forums, the latest evidence that 2008 won't be your mother and father's election. "MTV and MySpace have hit up an interactive format with the potential to pioneer a whole new way of doing candidate debates/forums,"
writes Michael Connery , co-founder of Future Majority, a prominent blog with well-done reporting on progressive youth politics.

I'm trying to remain hopeful that the forums will "empower [young people] to connect with presidential candidates in a much more meaningful way," as MTV President Christina Norman promises. They do seem to have the potential to provide much more substantive and straightforward insights into the candidates' views than both the traditional debates, which Connery notes are "nothing but 60 second sound-byte marathons," and the CNN/YouTube debate, which felt like nothing more than a sound bite marathon with that dreamy Anderson Cooper rephrasing questions from viewers who had no chance to ask follow-ups. Candidates will be hit with questions submitted live via instant messaging, text messaging and e-mailing (would've been nice to see some Skype action and viewers will have the chance to rate candidates' responses in realtime through a continuous live poll.

These could be the ingredients for a new kind of truly democratic debate where candidates will refrain from going on talking-point tangents filled with nonspeak. But I'm still a bit skeptical that the MTV/MySpace debates will be able to succeed where the YouTube debate fell flat. No candidates really had their feet held to the fire in the YouTube debate because CNN editors chose what questions were used rather than, say, letting viewers vote on which question they'd like to see asked. How will the MySpace debates be any different if MTV editors are simply letting young people submit questions and then letting candidates have a go at the ones they want answered?

Despite my doubts, these new debates will give young people a chance to inject themselves into the national discussion leading up to the election. I wrote last week that campaigns must focus more on engaging young voters. Participating in these debates seems to be a step in the right direction. My only fear is that some student who's just dying to know whether Barack Obama wears boxers or briefs or if Ron Paul lights up ("Aren't libertarians just Republicans who smoke weed?") will make the entire millennial generation look bad.

These debates are clearly an idea whose time has come as the media has failed in its coverage of the race so far, focusing more on cleavage than policy and turning the election into a two-person contest months before the first vote will be cast. I just hope MTV and MySpace find a way to use the forums to generate a truly participatory debate, not just advertising revenues.