"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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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.

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