"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson


We as Americans all remember being taught when we were young about our nation's founders, the patriots who stood up to the tyranny of the crown of England, the drafters of the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights, the documents that became the framework for a system of governance that they believed would maintain a balance of power within a truly representative government, that would preserve the basic rights and liberties of the people, let their voice be heard, and provide to them a government, as Lincoln later put it, "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."

Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?

Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.

How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.

In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…



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Monday, July 21, 2008


In the opinion of many who support him based on his promises of real change in Washington, Obama has begun to fall short of the mark on several issues. Questions about his shifting goalposts on FISA, permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq, NAFTA and other policy issues are worrisome to those who have looked to Obama as someone who is willing to make a stand and confront the powers that be in Washington. As Obama seeks a more centrist posturing in the lead up to the November elections evidently in order to appeal to undecided voters, it becomes ever more clear that, as Obama himself has stated, he alone will not be capable of effecting real change. Instead it will require a continuation and expansion of the grassroots movement that has grown around his campaign. It will only be through continued political pressure and participation on the part of the masses that any kind of breakthrough has any hope of being achieved. We reiterate this point and stress that the struggle for change does not end on election day in November, that is the day that the struggle will truly begin in earnest, regardless of whether it is Obama or McCain who emerges the winner. However, as the following article illustrates, Obama continues to be the sole candidate with a chance of winning that will allow the doors to the corridors of power in Washington to be left ajar just enough for the people to have a chance of getting their foot in the door. In his platform he is inviting the participation of the people in federal government to an extent never offered before by any major candidate. Please read about these proposals by clicking HERE. Although this would only be the beginning baby steps towards a truly direct democracy, it is nevertheless a beginning. The alternative offers no hope at all. The question is whether the people who have currently become politically energized will have the perseverance and the determination to push the agenda through even if the candidate that has promised them change does not turn out to be the champion they envisioned him to be. - Editor

Winning -- and Running -- the Presidency as a Participatory Democracy

By Craig Newmark - Huffington Post
Posted July 8, 2008 03:50 PM (EST)


This election is historic, it's the beginning of a long tipping point where networked citizen involvement in the election marks the start of large scale participatory democracy. This year is comparable to 1787, when the Founders defined our system of representative democracy.

As more of us get Net access, we're getting the tools for the kind of representative democracy the Founders envisioned. Whoever wins the presidency will be faced with an electorate that is genuinely empowered. (There's still a digital divide issue, slowly being addressed.)

Barack Obama has signified his commitment to a role for American citizens in his election and his presidency, and he's following through with his commitment. (more below)

John McCain, who I admire, seemed to start with a similar vision, but has recently committed to sharing the current administration's view of democracy: "The American people have input every four years, and that's the way our system is set up." (video here). (Note that he's now hiring people with a record of deceptive campaigning; check out the first link.)

1. The financial contributions of ordinary citizens, including myself, constitute the best of Americans demonstrating their dedication to shared values. It's the most genuine, honest form of public electoral financing. Given the choice between genuine, grassroots electoral financing, and a coercive, tax-based public financing, the grassroots approach is the one consistent with American values.

So, the factual perspective is that Obama honored his commitment to honest public financing by refusing taxpayer based public financing. However, swiftboaters have already used this material for deceptive advertising. Additionally, commentators who don't understand participatory democracy have misinterpreted it.

2. Many parts of the FISA Amendment Act are subject to debate. However, in America, no one should be above the law, including telcoms who may have broken the law.

It should be noted that the Qwest case established that illegal wiretapping started well before the current Adminstration was interested in counterterrrorism, and that intelligence specialists have stated that current FISA mechanisms are effective. One might observe that Ronald Reagen never broke the law in this manner to fight Communism.

I feel Obama has the right position, and is also listening to the grassroots efforts opposing amnesty for illegal activities on the part of the telecoms.

3. After the inauguration of President Obama, real change will be facilitated by the evolution of the grassroots network into an effort for participatory governance. This is a matter of considerable discussion, but some concrete examples include:

-- transparency: all governmental work should be disclosed in an easily accessible manner. If we all can see how the sausage is made, at least it could be made increasingly better. Naturally, there will be sensitive matters which should not be disclosed. (credit to Jeff Jarvis.)

-- customer service and accountability: the success of city customer service call centers, that is, 311 systems, should be expanded to all government operations.

-- speaking truth to power: the current presidency illustrates the danger when the executive is isolated from the reality of his actions, that is, when kept in a bubble. The grassroots network could be used to provide an alternative means of letting the president really know what's going on.

The participatory movement and concrete efforts like these are the kind of change people talk about.

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