"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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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.

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