"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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Friday, August 29, 2008


Thursday, August 28, 2008


Barack Obama has promised changes in the form of increased government transparency and citizen participation in government, which bodes well for moving the nation towards more direct democracy. (See our previous posts on Obama's platform for more information). Nevertheless, as Obama moves to the center on many important issues in the runup to the November election, it is becoming more apparent than ever that if real change has any hope of becoming a reality that it will only come if the large popular movement that has sprung up around Obama's campaign maintains the pressure beyond election day and demands that change come in real terms and not in mere rhetoric disguising pandering to special interests. Change will be the product of the people's increased political activism and participation, not of the belief that one man will revolutionize Washington politics. - Editor

Holding Obama’s feet to the fire

This is an edited transcript of ‘A People’s President? Barack Obama and the left’, a discussion at the Brecht Forum, New York, on 19 June 2008. Transcript: Jennifer Nelson and Lena de Casparis

With his appointment of a series of Clintonite economic and foreign policy advisers, Barack Obama has attracted fire from the American left. But does this mean that hope in his campaign for the presidency is misplaced? Doug Henwood, Gary Younge, Jo-ann Mort, Betsy Reed and Ta-Nehisi Coates debate the politics of Obama’s candidacy and the huge mobilisation of support behind it

Doug Henwood: There is something about the shift from the primaries to a general election that brings out the worst in a Democrat. First, there is the appointment of Jason Furman as an economic advisor. Furman famously argued that raising Walmart’s wage levels would force Walmart to raise prices, which would hurt the working class more than it would help them.

Furman is a Democrat Leadership Council (DLC)-style Democrat, someone out of the Clinton-Rubin summer school. [Rubin was Clinton’s treasury secretary and the DLC is a corporate-funded association of Democrat moderates, closely associated with the Clintons.] He joins Austin Gouldstein as Obama’s chief economic advisor. Gouldstein is famous for eulogising Milton Friedman, and for having been the top DLC economist.

Among that collection of ghouls, Obama recently announced his appointment of foreign policy advisors. They include former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who famously said that half a million dead Iraqi children killed by the sanctions imposed by the Clinton administration was a price worth paying. They also include Lee Hamilton and David Boren, two Congress people known for their protective attitude toward the CIA; Anthony Lake, Clinton’s national security advisor; and Susan Rice, another Clinton leftover and cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq.

I can’t say that I was surprised by any of these appointments, because I never doubted that Obama would be anything but a loyal servant of the empire, but it shouldn’t get past anyone that thought he represented a fresh start.

I think that there is no doubt that the lust for Obama, the mania that he has inspired, the departure from rationality and critical thinking, does represent some fantastic longing for a better world, more peaceful, egalitarian and humane. He is not going to deliver much on that, but there is some evidence of an admirable, popular desire behind the crush, and those desires will never leave disappointed. But, as I have argued for many years, there is great political potential in disillusionment with Democrats.

The working class are really, really pissed off at their standard of living, and the way that the rich have got more than the rest of us. I don’t think that Obama’s administration would do much to change that. But never did that possibility of disappointment offer so much hope. That is not what Obama means when he uses that word, but I think history can be a great artist.

Gary Younge: Doug Henwood’s analysis would work best if Obama was standing in Sweden, or some other place where there was a large left wing that could support him wanting to turn left. He isn’t, he is standing in America and, for the best part of eight years, it has seen of one of the most reactionary governments that we have had for some time. You have to deal with the reality that exists, rather than one that you would like.

I think that most of the criticisms Doug makes of Obama are fine. But then you have to say, okay, Obama goes to AIPEC [America Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby group] and he genuflects, like John McCain and Hillary Clinton, so let’s go support the pro-Palestinian candidate. But there isn’t one.

So what I think many on the left are actually arguing for, and there is a case that one can make, is just don’t stand in elections. That the whole thing is corrupt and bankrupt, and that is it.

But if you are going to stand in elections and you are standing to win and be viable, then there is a context there that Obama inherits and didn’t create. I think that it is very important to criticise Obama from the left. But if one leaves it there, then you don’t really get what I think is a crucial question for the left: how do we get from where we are now to this more progressive society? How do we get a better foreign policy?

Over the last eight years there has been a sense of despondency and frustration, and Obama’s candidacy is both the recipient of and a driver for the unleashing of that energy. There is a symbiotic relationship, I think, between Obama and his base.

The energy that you see in Obama’s base is among people who are desperate for something better, and that is what has enabled his candidacy to do so well. Which brings us to the question: are these people just deluded? Are we dealing with a massive, collective mania and false consciousness? Or do they see a possibility that they hadn’t seen in John Kerry or Al Gore?
The truth is that Obama has roused constituencies that had long been dormant, notably the black and the young. There is possibility in this – definitely the possibility of disappointment, but also the possibility of something better.

So we must ask ourselves two questions. First, are we going to abandon these people to disappointment, disillusionment and cynicism? Or are we going to engage them in a more progressive agenda that puts the pressure on Obama when he starts to flake? Do we provide him with critical support when he is starting to flake in certain areas already? Or do we decide cynical support or no support at all?

Second, who else? If you are on the left and you think that this is all delusional, all crazy, who else then brings 75,000 people out in Portland? Even for a half-way progressive programme, who else gets voter registration people working 12 hours a day in Louisiana? If not him at this moment, then who? Or what, or how?

Because in the five years that I have been here, and in the eight years since Bush came in, I haven’t seen as much possibility as I have now and if you don’t like this, you have to suggest something else. You have to go to Portland and say to those 75,000 people, you should be somewhere else. And they better go there, because otherwise all you are doing is sending them home.

Betsy Reed: We are always looking at Democrat politics as both the more grass-roots and radical elements and the corporates, and these are very disparate elements. The former was in the forefront during the primaries in a very real way, in the form of the small donations that propelled Obama’s campaign, the sort of grass-roots, more progressive elements that have played a key role in bringing out those 75,000 people to those rallies, and really energising that black vote. This could completely revolutionise the electoral maths. There is discussion that a state like Georgia could actually be contested by Democrats.

That is nothing to shrug at, but the other thing that we have started to see more recently is that the corporate-Democratic hold on the party becomes painfully apparent when it shifts into general election mode. With the demise of the Hillary Clinton campaign, Obama has folded in that establishment element into his campaign, in particular with the hiring of Jason Furman as his campaign’s economic policy director.

If that is where we are beginning, it is pretty depressing. There have been some nods to the left. Obama’s people have mentioned the names of some progressive economists, but the people who are beginning to surround him now are similar to those who created the Clinton phenomenon. The key question is ‘what role can the left play?’ We should have some leverage based on the grassroots energy that his campaign really depends on – he needs those volunteers.

The Obamamania thing was thrown around a lot by Clinton supporters, but there is something to it; there is a bit of hero-worship. It’s hard not to get a crush on the guy when you hear him because he is an amazing talker. And there is this desire to believe in him and not really think about what might be going on, and what might be wrong with him, and how we might try to push him in our direction.
Jo-ann Mort I want to start by picking up on something that Gary said: ‘We can have a discussion like this if we are in Sweden.’ But in Sweden the social democrats lost power and the conservatives are in power; it just shows how weak the left is globally. Even where there has been pretty much left-wing hegemony all of these years, there is a crisis of what defines the left and where the balance of power is.

I have been incredibly excited about Obama from the beginning. It is an amazing thing that America would nominate someone like him, and do it enthusiastically, and that he in fact may end up being the president. Now, as someone on the left, did I see him, and the excitement that I feel for him, as part of my left-wing agenda? No. I have never been one to think that the president of the US is the standard bearer for the left.

However, I think that now, in 2008, having lived through eight years of the Bush administration, an Obama presidency is a prerequisite for there to be any left at all in this country, and certainly for us to have the power in terms of the unions, working-class issues and opposition to corporatist economics. The fact is that we, as the left collectively, are as weak as we have ever been. The only way that we are going to be able to build power is to have some breathing space in Washington, in the White House, that is going to make a difference.

I honestly don’t know if I can survive four years of John McCain. Just recently, I got an email to say that the US supreme court, Bush’s supreme court, made a decision that had struck down a California law that barred publicly-funded companies from speaking out against unions. We have a supreme court, a federal judiciary that is as anti-union as we could ever imagine, and then we have all of the regular Tory agencies against them. Bush has never had a meeting with the head of the AFL-CIO or the head of Change to Win, the two labour federations.

The current labour secretary thinks that her job is to investigate union leaders for corruption and block laws that would support workers’ rights on matters like health and safety in the workplace. So we need a good, elected Democrat in the White House, and I happen to think Obama is a centre-left candidate who will govern on the centre-left.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t do any of those things that Betsy and others have said in terms of keeping his feet to the fire. But we do have to look at the Jason Furman appointment in relation to how you get elected. This is still a very close election, but whereas McCain is moving to the right to sharpen his base – which to me shows that he is in trouble – Obama is moving to the centre, which is where you get the 50-plus-1 per cent of the votes you need to win.

The quick response to Furman’s appointment from trade unionists and others also made a big difference. Obama has pointed out that his economic team also includes Jared Burnstein from the Economic Policy Institute [a left-leaning think tank, which is close to the trade unions]. Robert Reich [Clinton’s labour secretary] has also been quite outspoken about the Furman appointment.
Do I have any illusions that the pro-Wall Street, pro-free trade agenda is not going to be the agenda leading the day? No, but that is because the labour movement is so weak.

The only way we are going to be able to strengthen the labour movement is to be able to strengthen laws, to allow workers the right to organise and allow workers to take back the power that they need. And I feel very strongly that the only way that is going to happen is to get Obama into the White House.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: I’m going to talk about the most obvious thing for me, which is Obama as a black president.

We have to face the fact that at the end of the primary this man was commanding a 98 per cent majority in the African American community. To get 90 per cent of black people doing anything, much less going to the polls and going to a voting booth, that doesn’t involve Densel Washington, Electric Sly etc is a tremendous thing.

I have many reservations too. Obama is a man who is expressing nothing explicit, nothing tangible – a great racial transcendent, in fact, and this may offer an excuse to those who don’t want to talk about race to completely get out of the discussion.

Despite this, we still have to stand back and ask: what sort of condition are we in now? What sort of world are we in that he is commanding 90 per cent? What you have to face up to is that African Americans have really paid the price of the last eight years – when you look at Katrina, or the Iraq war.

The possibility of the most famous African American in the world not being an entertainer or a ball player is really encouraging. As an African American, you come home and what you see on TV is always bad news with your face on it, about a black person defiling some child, or getting arrested, always really bad news.

The idea that you come home, you turn on the TV and find Barack Obama on there beating the crap out of John McCain – I don’t know what that is worth, I don’t know how that measures against economic policy, or anything like that, but that is a cause for some sort of optimism.

I live up in Harlem, and everywhere you go there are Barack Obama posters. I was at this great event called ‘Real Men Cook’ this Saturday, and all the people who came up to speak had this great excitement and optimism in the African American community that I have not seen in a long time. For all of my criticisms of Barack, it is very hard for me to dismiss that and say that it just isn’t worth anything.

Doug Henwood: When it comes down to it, Obama is just another Democrat with a sleazy real estate guy in his past, and the level of hope that people are mounting around him is just extraordinary to watch.

In terms of a president that can move us away from uncritical support of Israel – well, I’m afraid that a guy who’s middle name is Hussein is going to go out of his way to prove that he is not that guy, so I think that is another example of misplaced hopes.

Now people point to the degree of enthusiasm and support that he has drawn out, and that is interesting because the people who are so enthusiastic about supporting him are perhaps ahead of him, and perhaps ahead of what our judgment is of what the American population is willing to accept.

Maybe the working class really are pissed off, maybe they are ready for something more progressive than what we think they are, so that kind of mobilisation and enthusiasm is very encouraging in itself.

But I think that we need to prepare for the fact that these people are going to be very disappointed when they see what kind of government he runs. I think we have to be prepared for the disillusionment that comes, and be ready now, think about how we talk to people. It may take a year or two for people to realise how disillusioned they are but we have to be ready to talk to them when they are.

Gary Younge: Well I think being on the left you are always prepared for disilluionment. That is the psychological nature of the left.

The challenge is really to be prepared for hope, and to be prepared for something that is actually better. It is really about the possibility – but not the certainty – that these huge numbers of people that you are seeing turning up aren’t deluded.

Maybe they have seen a vehicle for what they want. And the issue is, do we become a vehicle for him? Or does he become a vehicle for us? And those two things are not mutually exclusive, or assured.

That doesn’t mean we should be uncritical until Obama wins. In the UK, Labour tried the ‘just shut up and wait for the guy to get elected, everything will be fine’ line, and then we ended up with Blair, Brown and the most decimated left that we have had for years.

You shouldn’t give people a blank cheque. The left shouldn’t be taken for granted, and the idea that McCain moving to the right is a sign of weakness should be treated cautiously. Actually, Bush didn’t move to the centre. What Bush did was rally his base. And there is a way to win where you rally your base, and you get everybody out: that is actually how Bush won twice, not by moving to the middle.
Betsy Reed I think that there is some Obamamania out there. But I don’t think it is fair to say that he has run a content-less campaign. If you look at a lot of the speeches that he has given, he has a lot of ideas – although you might not agree with all of them. But in his challenge to trickle-down philosophy, he says there is something that government can do about the problems we face.
There is also his race speech about the legacy of racial pressures and what the responsibility of government is to respond to that. That is a different language from the one that we hear from Republicans, certainly, and it is a more progressive language than any we have heard from viable presidential candidates in my memory.

If you look back at Kerry, he didn’t even oppose the war. Sure, you can fault Obama for his war plan – I think that has been really under-scrutinised. In fact, Obama would preserve the green zone and the biggest embassy in world history. Basically, his plan would require anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 troops to remain in Iraq.

Despite this, Obama has a broadly anti-war agenda and a platform, an opening for the anti-war movement, if he is elected, to push him to end the war.

This is an edited transcript of ‘A People’s President? Barack Obama and the left’, a discussion at the Brecht Forum, New York, on 19 June 2008. Transcript: Jennifer Nelson and Lena de Casparis

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Urbana, Illinois residents recently voted down the creation of a ballot measure that would have resulted in a referendum on the institution of instant runoff voting. Instant runoff voting is a way of expanding democracy within a representative system by allowing voters to specify multiple candidates in their vote in order of preference instead of their being able to only vote for one candidate, their first choice. When the votes are tallied, a sort instant runoff election occurs when the second and third choices of voters are taken into account as well as thir first choice. While not direct democracy, instant runoff voting is an effective means of making representative democracy more democratic by expanding the voter's influence over the election. Hopefully Urbana and others will adopt it in the near future. - Editor

Urbana rejects runoff voting referendum

By Eric Heisig
Posted: 7/1/08 Section: News

Source: http://media.www.dailyillini.com/media/storage/paper736/news/2008/07/01/News/Urbana.Rejects.Runoff.Voting.Referendum-3386733.shtml

The people of Cunningham township voted against placing a referendum on the November ballot regarding instant runoff voting in Urbana Monday night.

The advisory referendum, if passed, would have asked voters if they thought the Urbana City Council should place a binding referendum on the ballot to change the voting method.

During the meeting, many citizens came forward on both sides of the issue.

"How anti-democratic it would be for the small group of us here tonight to deny Urbana citizens at large that chance to vote," said Urbana resident Gary Storm, arguing that the citizens present only represented a small percentage of Urbana's population.

Still, some on the other side said that the system, which requires voters to list candidates in order of preference, is too confusing for many voters.

"It's frustrating to know if you actually did it right," said resident Carla Tucker.

Ward 1 Council member Charlie Smyth said other cities who have used this type of voting have indicated it can be confusing with their exit polls.

"It is like Florida and the butterfly ballot," Smyth said. "If it weren't for that, Al Gore would have been president, and probably still be president today."

This is not the first time that instant runoff voting has been voted down at town meeting. It was voted down at the annual town meeting in April as well.

Still, the 43-98 vote has not deterred those who are in favor of instant runoff voting, and Urbana resident Wayne Johnson said the next step for them is to collect signatures on a petition to put it on the ballot.

"I think this indicates how much education is necessary, to show what is meant by grass roots participatory democracy," Johnson said.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Forty years post-Chicago 7, Tom Hayden wears a tie and reflects

ubmitted by SHNS on Fri, 08/15/2008 - 13:26.

What is this?

On a steamy spring day, in a cramped office that hot air can't escape, the archetypal child of the '60s does something truly radical.

He wears a necktie.

This is not the hairy, scary leader of the New Left who had Chicago locking up its daughters for the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

It's a clean-cut Tom Hayden, retired California state senator, prolific writer, blogger and sage to a whole new generation of street activists.
Still, he knows most people continue to picture him as a sort of cartoon version of himself: shirtless, shouting down authority or scuffling with cops on the streets.

"I can't get past that," he says of the stereotypes. "I can't help them with their problem. They can't see me. I can be, like, 68 years old and I'm still trouble, because they're thinking about something in Vietnam or they're thinking about Jane Fonda. Or they think I slept with their daughter. They think I burned my draft card. It's like a big Rorschach of things that I did or did not do."

If speaking out still means "trouble," then maybe Hayden really hasn't changed that much.

Forty years after he helped lead the anti-war protests that ended in violent confrontations outside the '68 convention, he just put out a new book, Voices of the Chicago Eight, about the circus-like conspiracy trial for protest organizers and the consequences of attempts to come down hard on dissent.

He offers regular takes to Huffington Post readers and was an early member of the group Progressives for Obama. He lectures on college campuses and offers an updated version of the Port Huron Statement -- the 1962 manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society that challenged young people to boldly venture into "participatory democracy."

And behind the scenes, Hayden closely monitors protest plans for the upcoming Democratic and Republican national conventions, advises organizers and warns that authorities appear to be falling into a predictable pattern of hype and overreaction.

"I think that Denver officials would be well-advised not to believe everything that the FBI warns them about," Hayden says. "That's how things can get out of hand, due to fabricated, exaggerated projections about violence or protest."

As the convention approaches, federal dollars pour into the security effort and law enforcement agencies flex muscle with high-profile exercises.

"They don't learn," Hayden laments. "What you saw in 2000 was the claim that 75,000 anarchists were descending, the secret funding of permanent police equipment, the denial of permits for protesters. You saw the same thing in 2004. You will see the same thing in 2008."

He thinks Big Brother posturing helps scare away peaceful protesters, gives the community a false sense of security and can, in some cases, provoke confrontations at demonstrations that would otherwise be routine and mostly peaceful.

"So they have their view," Hayden says of security planners. "They've learned nothing from 1968."

As demonstrators get ready for Denver 2008, 40-year-old memories are front and center. One coalition operates under the "Re-create 68" banner, conjuring images of the street clashes that overshadowed the Democratic Convention itself, galvanizing the anti-Vietnam War effort and undermining Democrats' hopes in that long-ago fall.

But Hayden was there in 1968. And there's really no comparison to 2008, he says.

True, there was a war then and there is a war now.

But back in 1968, the country -- and the Democratic Party -- were more starkly divided over the battle waging overseas.

The Tet offensive by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces at the end of January obscured the light at the end of the tunnel in the war. Hundreds of young U.S. troops were dying every week. Facing a rising voter backlash, wartime President Lyndon B. Johnson was forced to prematurely end his re-election bid at the end of March.

Within days, the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. caused rage to explode into riots, arson and looting in 75 cities. Robert F. Kennedy calmed a shocked crowd in Indianapolis, telling them his brother, too, had been killed by a white man. But weeks later, the younger brother, too, was shot dead, fraying emotions even further. The nation was on edge heading into the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Until then, some protest organizers held out hope of getting the needed permits to avoid confrontations at marches and park demonstrations. But Hayden says he knew trouble was inevitable.

"I planned for multiple scenarios, not knowing which one would play out," he says, sitting in the cramped office while his research assistant continues working nearby. "But certainly, after the murder of Kennedy, coming on the murder of King, to me it was in the air that we were going to be busted and face serious harm unless we surrendered and left the city and simply went along with the plan . . . just go along with our own disappearance."

They didn't, even though they knew -- from personal contacts -- that the FBI was tracking their every move, around the clock.

One declassified FBI memo included in Hayden's new book expresses anger that bureau officials were unaware of his involvement in a student occupation of buildings at Columbia University until after his picture appeared in Life magazine.

"In evaluating this case, you should bear in mind that your prime objectives should be to neutralize him in the new left movement," the memo states.

Other organizers still held out hope of getting permits for access to streets and parks for demonstrations. But Hayden says he was pessimistic -- and in the end proven correct.

The city rejected permits for the Youth International Party -- the so-called "Yippies" led by the late Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman -- to hold a massive "Festival of Life" concert.

Some thought permits would come through at the last minute -- a way of giving a nod to free expression only after turnout had been dampened. But that didn't happen, either.

Hayden says Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was "hoodwinked" into believing that "thousands of hairy Yippies were going to have sex in public while drinking from the LSD-laden waters of Lake Michigan. They actually believed that. And this sex in the parks on acid would occur at roughly the same moment that black revolutionaries would storm the convention with guns."

So the stage was set for constant confrontations, games of cat and mouse between police and protesters, and then bloody clashes on television, just as Democrats also were struggling to show they could maintain order among squabbling delegates inside the convention hall.

It culminated on Aug. 28, when Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota was to accept the presidential nomination. That afternoon, while delegates waged a contentious debate over Vietnam War planks in the party's platform, police allowed a "legal" anti-war rally at Grant Park.

Things broke loose after a shirtless teenager climbed a flagpole, ostensibly to turn the flag upside down as a distress symbol. Police swooped in to make an arrest, the crowd surged and some threw stones or dirt clods at a police car, and the scene quickly deteriorated. Thousands of police, soldiers and National Guardsmen surrounded the area. Calm was restored, but by twilight, many protesters were more determined to make unsanctioned parades to reach the convention site or the Hilton hotel, where delegates were staying.

That night, after moving through the city disguised with a fake beard, Hayden ended up in a police skirmish at the hotel's Haymarket Lounge -- "named, strangely enough, in memory of Chicago police killed by an anarchist's bomb during a violent confrontation between police and protesters in 1886," Hayden writes.

By the time the week's convention ended, 668 people had been arrested, 101 people were treated at local hospitals for their injuries, and hundreds more reportedly received first aid or treatment by protest medics.

And the Democratic Party's hopes of retaining the White House were the ultimate casualty. Republican Richard Nixon was elected with a more than 100 electoral vote margin.

"It simply didn't have to happen," Hayden says of the Chicago chaos, 40 years later. "It takes two for a riot to occur. And if it wasn't for the FBI advisers, Chicago '68 would not have happened -- repeat, would not have happened."

Despite the "Re-create 68" sentiment of some Denver protest organizers, Hayden saw little chance of a chaotic rerun when he sat down in April in his Culver City office to discuss the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

Back then, when the battle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton still raged and there was talk of superdelegates throwing the nomination to Clinton, Hayden imagined there could be some sort of drama on the streets if people thought the election had been stolen. But it never came to that.

More likely, he predicted, were smaller demonstrations to keep up the pressure for Democrats in Denver to take tougher anti-war stands, with more fierce protests against the "war-makers" at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota.
By early July, however, Hayden said he was growing concerned about the city's posture toward protesters and the worst-case scenario security exercises, with black helicopters roaring through the downtown skyline.

The ACLU and protest organizers went to court challenging the location of a so-called free-speech zone on the far edge of a parking lot. Planners of "Tent State University," who hoped to use City Park to house tens of thousands of anti-war activists, were told they would have to clear the park at 11 each night. The ban on camping and curfew enforcement raises the specter of the nightly crackdowns at Lincoln and Grant parks in Chicago '68.

"I do think they are playing around unnecessarily with the rights of protesters to protest," Hayden said in a follow-up interview. "I don't know how the negotiations will come out, but you know, naming something a protest zone but then not allowing it to be heard or seen, it's a mockery of the First Amendment. Most importantly, it's not necessary.

"It does seem to me there's a legitimate right to protest at stake," he said. "I don't think the protests will be very large if Obama is the nominee. I don't see the point in interfering with them . . . It's particularly crazy because most of the delegates at the Democratic convention have been in many demonstrations themselves."
The security exercises, with helicopters buzzing the city, reminded Hayden of something out of the movie Dr. Strangelove.

"The implication is very unsettling," he said. "The message was that the people coming to protest deserve this kind of repression if they get out of hand . . . They're just trying to scare the public into justifying more tax dollars for a false sense of security -- more gadgets for the police department."

He said people don't realize that in Chicago, the initial protests were rather lightly attended, with about 1,500 people in the parks. But the numbers swelled to an estimated 10,000, in part as a reaction to the police crackdowns, Hayden says.
"If they had given us permits . . . I doubt there would have been much confrontation at all," he says. "What caused the rioting in the streets was the lack of permits and the lack of a place to stay. Too much order creates disorder is the way I've always put it."

One might think that Hayden, one of the pre-eminent social activists of the '60s, would be disappointed with the anti-war efforts and the other movements of today.
He isn't.

"I think it's a remarkable peace movement," he says. "You don't have the draft. You have one-fifteenth of the American casualties now that you had at this point during Vietnam. The establishment is doing everything it can to keep this war from impacting the American people. And yet, people have seen through it."

The public at large turned against the Iraq war by the end of 2004, he says, "which I think means the ghosts of '68 are still with us. People know a quagmire when they see one."


Saturday, August 23, 2008


A townwide division over charter changes

01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, July 24, 2008
By Gina Macris


Journal Staff Writer

TIVERTON — The tortuous deliberations of the Charter Review Commission during the last year have exposed a deep divide in the people’s willingness to finance town government — or to let go of the time-honored principle of direct democracy in the process.

The split in opinion is such that even the chairman of the Charter Review Commission says he doesn’t believe voters will approve any change to the annual Financial Town Meeting, despite the clear signal they sent at the polls two years ago that they wanted an alternative.

Two commission members, Frank Marshall and Richard Joslin, have bemoaned the lack of consensus on the nine-member panel, elected last July by just a few hundred voters in town.

The Town Council will at least move forward with a public hearing next Monday on a Charter Review Commission recommendation that an all-day referendum replace the annual Financial Town Meeting.

Another alternative, proposed by Town Council member Brian Medeiros, would delegate the Town Council with budget-setting authority.

A third plan, put forward by council member Joanne Arruda, would simply move the Financial Town Meeting from a Wednesday evening to a Saturday.

The Charter Review Commission would limit the authority of the Budget Committee in that it could not add money to fiscal proposals once they are approved by the Town Council or the School Committee.

And it would put pressure on operating revenues by requiring that the town’s unrestricted general fund be increased from 3 to 5 percent of the annual budget over the next eight years.

The fund would not be permitted to dip below 3 percent of annual operating costs at any time except in a state of emergency, and then only if three quarters of the electorate approves.

In other recommendations, the commission would limit the power of the Town Council in two ways.

Voter approval would be required of any decision to sell town-owned land, apart from property in the town Industrial Park.

And the commission would vest the appointed town administrator with the sole authority to hire and Fire Department heads.

If such a provision had been in effect last year, the council could not have reversed the decision of former town administrator W. Glenn Steckman III to fire Police Chief Thomas Blakey.

THE DIVISION in the community over alternatives to the Financial Town Meeting mirrors the tug between elected officials and so-called “anti-tax” voters, who in May tried to cut nearly $2 million from the Budget Committee’s recommendation for the fiscal year that began July 1.

The Town Council, the School Committee, and the chairman of the Budget Committee warned that the reductions would cripple the town financially, not allowing it to meet its legal obligations.

After a week’s recess in the meeting, the position of the elected officials won enough support to restore all but $100,000 to the original sum.

Since then, the Charter Review Commission has completed yearlong deliberations, putting forth its version of an all-day referendum.

In the event voters reject the Budget Committee’s recommendation, the town could raise the tax levy by no more than 4 percent, or the consumer price index at the time, whichever is less, according to the proposal.

There would be no exceptions to that rule, not even to make up for unexpected losses in outside revenues or to meet debt, as the Budget Committee had recommended in May.

The Charter Review Commission’s proposal received such a chilly reception that the commission amended the final language to allow for a special referendum in case voters initially reject the Budget Committee’s recommendations.

But Town Council president Louise Durfee says the final language is flawed because it does not provide for any finality to the budget process, allowing an “endless override.”

Two members of the Charter Review Commission, Laura Epke and Deborah Pallasch, had proposed a charter amendment that would move the town beyond direct democracy by granting the Town Council the authority to set the budget.

While the majority of the commission did not endorse that proposal, council member Brian Medeiros plucked that idea, tweaked it, and has offered it as an alternative to the all-day referendum.

Medeiros’ proposal would allow a minimum of 5 percent of the electorate to petition for a referendum to override the council vote.

The petition must clearly state the alternatives to the council’s figures, according to the proposal, the same as one approved handily by voters in neighboring Portsmouth last November.

In that town, there was backlash against a divisive special Town Meeting in 2006 in which the taxpayer group Portsmouth Concerned Citizens engineered a cut of about $1.7 million to the school and municipal budget then in effect.

HERE, THE CHARTER Commission first came up with the idea of a Grand Committee of elected officials representing the Town Council, School Committee and Budget Committee to decide the budget.

But Leonard, the chairman, said the idea was discarded because of reluctance to let go of direct democracy.

In the last seven or eight years, he said, voters have rejected two proposals to turn over the budget-making authority to the Town Council, Leonard said.

Because there was no widespread support on the commission for any one alternative, commission member Frank Marshall suggested that the panel forego making any recommendation. But that idea never even came to a vote.

Leonard said that the commission was bound to fulfill the charge of voters, who clearly said in 2006 that they wanted to see an alternative to the Financial Town Meeting.

Not that the members of the commission were elected by a broad mandate.

In a town of about 10,000 voters, 229 cast ballots. Of the nine commission members, six ran for office and three were write-in candidates.

Town Council members have indicated that, while they generally favor having a public hearing on the commission’s recommended alternative to the Financial Town Meeting, they are not enthusiastic about placing the question on the ballot.

Leonard, who says he doesn’t believe voters will go for a change, nevertheless is making an issue of the council’s authority to decide what questions will be on the ballot — or not.

He said the voters who called for a Charter Review Commission should decide whether to accept or reject the results of the deliberation.

Town Solicitor Andrew M. Teitz, however, said the council’s authority to set the language on the ballot flows from the Rhode Island Constitution.

The Constitution is not crystal clear, he said, but it has been the practice for many years for town councils in Rhode Island to decide what questions will appear on the ballot.



Decision on Tiverton budget referendum off ballot

01:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, July 29, 2008
By Gina Macris
Journal Staff Writer

Source: http://www.projo.com/ri/tiverton/content/EB_TIVERTON_CHARTER_29_07-29-08_Q7B195T_v9.42cebe1.html

TIVERTON — On a 5-to-1 vote, the Town Council balked at putting before the voters a proposed change in the Home Rule Charter which several members said was deeply flawed in the way it would replace the Financial Town Meeting with an all-day referendum.

Instead, the council agreed to ask voters in the November general election whether to retain the annual Financial Town Meeting, changing only the date, or whether to delegate the budget-setting authority to the Town Council.

It appears that most people don’t like the Financial Town Meeting, but finding a workable alternative “has defied a lot of people,” said Louise Durfee, council president.

When she has expressed doubt that the all-day referendum should go before the voters, Durfee said, people have told her she is not giving respect to the Charter Review Commission, which spent a year coming up with the plan.

“I respect everyone in this room,” Durfee said, presiding over a public hearing in the high school auditorium attended by fewer than 100 people.

But the details of the proposed budget preparation process did not reflect a sense of community and furthermore, provided “gold mine for lawyers,” said Durfee, a lawyer herself.

Jay Edwards, another council member, said the proposal of the Charter Commission was “so incredibly flawed it would be irresponsible to let it go through.”

Of the six members present, all agreed except for the council’s vice-president, Donald Bollin.

While he did not favor the Charter Commission’s proposal, Bollin said “this is an issue where people should speak for themselves.” Bollin drew applause from the relatively meager audience.

Cecil Leonard, a candidate for Town Council and the chairman of the Charter Review Commission, has maintained that the council did not have a right to keep any of the commission’s recommendations off the ballot.

But Andrew M. Teitz, the town solicitor, said both the Home Rule Charter and the Rhode Island Constitution give the council the responsibility for deciding what questions go on the ballot.

Durfee said she found it disturbing that the commission proposal, by allowing only a yes or no vote on the budget, could undercut community obligations.

“We have an obligation to provide rescue and library services,” she said.

A no vote would limit the maximum increase in the tax levy to 4 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is lower. There would be no exception to build a new library or take on any other new debt.

As a result, the town would have to cut essential services, she said. “I can’t support this.”

Leonard said that the existing Financial Town Meeting has the potential for disaster, recalling the session on May 21 in which voters initially cut nearly $2 million from the proposal of the Budget Committee. That decision was largely reversed the following meeting.

“I don’t understand how the council assumes that any voter will vote no, that we don’t care about the town,” Leonard said.

Durfee pointed out that the Financial Town Meeting, unlike the proposed all-day referendum, provides room for discussion and compromise.

“At the Financial Town Meeting, you can whack each other in the heat of battle,” Durfee said, but “there is flexibility if you want to cut a budget or increase a budget.”

The council approved a ballot question offered by council member Brian Medeiros that will ask voters to put the budget in the hands of the council.

“We’re not a direct democracy,” he said. “Why single the budget out as the one thing subject to direct democracy and then have three to four percent of the people come out” to decide the town budget for the next year.

“We’re a council-administrator form of government,” he said.

Also approved was the proposal of council member Joanne M. Arruda, which would move the annual Financial Town Meeting from the fourth Wednesday of May to the second Saturday of the month.

Arruda said she believed the change in date would allow more people to attend, although Leonard disagreed, saying people are too busy to come out on a Saturday morning in the spring.

Christopher Cotta, the chairman of the town Budget Committee and a candidate for Town Council, favored Arruda’s proposal as a “baby step” toward change.

“Any time you’re dealing with people’s taxes, you need to take very small steps,” he said.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Colorado's direct democracy about to get a major test

Rocky Mountain News
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Source: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/aug/06/colorados-direct-democracy-about-to-get-a-major/

The postal service may need to add temporary workers just to handle delivery of the massive blue books and ballot packets Colorado voters will receive before November's election.

As many as 19 measures are likely to qualify for the statewide ballot, not to mention local initiatives, legislative races and other contests.

And then there's the presidential election - Colorado will be closely watched as a swing state - and the U.S. Senate battle between Mark Udall and Bob Schaffer, which many expect to be decided by a razor-thin margin.

While outside attention will focus on the presidential and Senate races, the panoply of ballot measures could shape important aspects of Colorado's future for decades to come. At a minimum, November's election will provide one of the state's busiest exercises in direct democracy since 1912, when Coloradans considered 32 statewide questions.

There's a temptation to predict that putting so many measures on a single ballot will simply overwhelm voters. And that as a matter of reflex or principle, the people will reject all of them.

Nice idea. But there's no recent evidence supporting it. Veteran political consultant Rick Reiter, who ran the successful 2004 campaign for Referendum C and is in charge of this year's campaign opposing Gov. Bill Ritter's scholarship proposal, says the notion that voters will lash out in frustration against all ballot measures is an urban legend. Voters have shown a willingness to sort through lengthy ballots and make choices that often surprise.

For instance, 2002 is often cited as a year voters rejected ballot measures wholesale. Recall the "millionaires' amendments" - ballot measures underwritten by wealthy sponsors dealing with election day registration, mandatory mailings of absentee ballots, eliminating caucuses to nominate candidates and bilingual education.

All four amendments lost. But others passed, including Amendment 27, a tough campaign finance reform measure that won 2-to-1, as did measures setting qualifications for coroners and eliminating obsolete laws.

In 2006, 14 separate statewide measures were on the ballot - seven amendments and seven referendums. Half passed, including the infamous "ethics in government" measure, Amendment 41, and the troubling Amendment 42, which put the state's minimum wage on an inflation escalator.

This year's ballot will tackle a fascinating range of issues. Among them will be an anti-abortion measure defining "personhood." Dueling issues dealing with racial preferences in state hiring and university admissions. An initiative raising casino betting limits. A sales tax hike to fund services for the developmentally disabled. Two questions affecting severance taxes from oil and natural gas production. An initiative repealing the education-spending inflator in Amendment 23 and lifting state spending limits.

The ballot measures drawing the most media attention, however, revolve around organized labor. The two amendments that will rankle unions the most would outlaw all-union workplaces where everyone is forced to pay dues and ban governments from deducting dues from employee paychecks.

Those measures will duke it out with four union-sponsored initiatives, including one mandating companies with 20 or more employees to provide medical coverage and another imposing tougher sanctions against corporate fraud.

None of these are simple issues, and voters will have to look behind the campaign slogans if they want to understand their true significance. But then that's something Coloradans have been doing, more or less successfully, for nearly 100 years

Friday, August 15, 2008


Walking around Capitol Hill in Seattle, it is hard to miss the giant stickers picturing a rabbit driving a bus with tank wheels, but this editor was confused as to their significance. Are they simple street art? A symbol for a music group? Finally the questions were answered at the annual Block Party where the Washington Bus had a table with the necessary information. The symbol is provocative and prevalent, it connects the campaign to the streets.

The Washington Bus tours the state to register young voters and promote participation in democracy. Their website describes how volunteers rally to spread the word without advocating any single political party. Their message directs voters toward issues and which candidates address these issues. Please see the website for inspiration and further information:


Wednesday, August 13, 2008


This is a perfect example of an issue we have continuously opposed and sought to expose. Direct democracy is a tool to be used equally by all people, not just a handful of elite who wish to dominate the political scene. When people are ambivalent or unaware of the power they have to change their community, city, or state, they leave themselves vulnerable to those who have the funding to usurp that power for their own special interests. This article reveals the situation in Oregon where the people are going to have to fight back against the oligarchs who believe democracy is under their control.

Also see the following website to see the various initiative and referendum efforts made in Oregon:


Checkbook Democracy

Process meant to empower citizens is used by a few

Published: July 9, 2008 12:00AM

Source: http://www.registerguard.com/csp/cms/sites/dt.cms.support.viewStory.cls?cid=123494&sid=5&fid=1

Oregon’s initiative process, the capstone of an era of progressive politics at the dawn of the 20th century, was meant to be an instrument of direct democracy. Yet in modern practice, the initiative looks more like the tool of an oligarchy.

Of the 10 initiatives likely to appear on the November ballot, nine are the work of three men. Eight of those had the financial support of just one person, and he gave more to this year’s signature gathering campaigns than all others combined.

All three initiative promoters are familiar: Bill Sizemore, the former candidate for governor and a prolific sponsor of previous anti-union and anti-tax proposals; Russ Walker, the Northwest director of FreedomWorks, a small-government organization founded by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey; and Kevin Mannix, the former legislator and candidate for governor and Congress who led the campaign for Measure 11, the 1994 initiative that imposed mandatory prison sentences for certain crimes.

Many of the trio’s proposals for 2008 are as familiar as the men behind them. Sizemore has a proposal to tie teachers’ pay to classroom performance and a measure to limit the use of union dues for political purposes. Sizemore and Walker teamed up on a proposal to make federal income taxes fully deductible for state income tax purposes. Mannix wants mandatory minimum prison terms for certain property crimes. These are all variations of initiatives Oregonians have voted on, and mostly rejected, in the past.

Other proposals are new.

Sizemore is sponsoring an initiative that would limit bilingual education in public schools, and another that would eliminate building permit requirements for projects costing $35,000 or less. Walker has a couple of proposals aimed at trial lawyers — one to cap contingency fees, another to allow punishments for frivolous lawsuits. Mannix proposes dedicating 15 percent of lottery proceeds to law enforcement.

All of these proposals are taken from the conservative shelves in the marketplace of ideas. That’s because Loren Parks, a businessman who divides his time between Oregon and Nevada and long has bankrolled conservative initiative campaigns, donated $1.1 million to finance the three activists’ signature gathering efforts. Parks bypassed the building permits measure, but provided half or more of the money behind the eight others.

The conservative flavor of this year’s measures stems in part from the fact that Democrats control state government, leaving the initiative as the only avenue by which conservative ideas can be advanced. Dan Meek, a progressive activist and lawyer in Portland, also has a point when he complains that tighter restrictions on signature gathering have made initiative campaigns harder for grass-roots organizations.

But the most common denominator is money — and more than ever before, money from a single source. Oregon’s initiative process has become an exercise in checkbook democracy.

Copyright © 2008 — The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA


Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Sunday's recall referendums in Bolivia resulted in a resounding affirmation of support for president Evo Morales and the changes he is bringing to that country, as well as the recall of two opposition governors. Winning with 60% of the vote, more than when he was first elected, his reforms geared towards equal distribution of wealth from Bolivia's resources and a more participatory democracy have received a big boost, despite moves towards autonomy by the wealthier provinces where the oligarchy intends to retain its control of resource wealth. In reflecting upon this exercise in direct democracy that has taken place in Bolivia and similar recall referendums that occur regularly in countries all over the world, including western nations in Europe and elsewhere, we must ask ourselves why in the United States where President Bush has hit a record low in approval ratings, the only option available for a recall on his rule is impeachment by congress. This is not likely to happen, and in a true democracy the people should instead be afforded the option of a recall vote to be put to the entire electorate rather than having to wait until the next presidential election to remove a president that has betrayed the public will. - Editor

Optimism and Uncertainty Follow Bolivian Recall Vote

Written by Alexander van Schaick
Monday, 11 August 2008


Photo: Thousands of MAS supporters celebrate Sunday night outside the Coca-growers union federation office in the city of Cochabamba. Photo by Amaru Goyes

Cochabamba, Bolivia - President Evo Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party won a resounding victory in Bolivia’s Recall Referendum held Sunday, August 10. According to exit polls, more than 60% Bolivian citizens voted "Si" to ratify Morales, a mandate that he hopes will enable the approval of Bolivia’s new draft constitution.

The recall referendum also put eight of Bolivia’s nine departmental prefects (governors) to popular vote. According to exit polls, opposition Prefects Manfred Reyes Villa in Cochabamba and José Luis Paredes in La Paz were trounced at the ballot box, each with only 40 percent support. In Oruro, Alberto Aguilar, one of the two prefects aligned with MAS, may also be revoked.

On the other hand, in Bolivia’s lowlands, where opponents of President Morales have led a movement for "Departmental Autonomy" from the central government, the prefects of Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija have been approved with large margins of support. It is unclear if Leopoldo Fernández, prefect of the lowland department of Pando, has garnered enough votes to continue in his post.

The referendum did not include Savina Cuéllar, Chuquisaca’s conservative prefect, given she assumed the position only a month ago after a special election.

On a national level, MAS has scored an important victory in reaffirming support for their national agenda, including state recuperation of natural resources, wealth redistribution, agrarian reform, and support for indigenous rights. However, conservative sectors have once again shown their strength in the lowlands and will likely continue to impede the Morales administration at every step of the way.

Photo: A woman votes in Huertamayo, Cochabamba a town affiliated with the Federación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Cochabamba, an agrarian union federation supportive of President Morales and critical of Prefect Manfred Reyes Villa. According to a poll comission by ATB/La Razon, rural voters in Cochabamba voted 92.4 percent in favor of President Morales and 87.2 percent against the Prefect. Photo by Luis Gonzales

Ruben Costas, Prefect of Santa Cruz, stated during a vicory speech, "This insensible totalitarian, MASista, incapable government negates the development of the people and only seeks to concentrate power and convert us into its pawns."

In Cochabamba, it remains unclear how the results of the Recall Referendum will play out. Despite his lack of popular support, Manfred Reyes Villa announced in a message Sunday night that he will not recognize the results of the Referendum and carry on his work as prefect.

"We are going to continue doing battle legally against the [Recall Referendum] because someone has to be at the head of the defense of Democracy and Bolivian citizens' rights and obligations and that someone is me," stated the prefect, as quoted in the Cochabamba daily, Opinion.

Since the Senate passed the law convoking the Recall Referendum, Reyes Villa has carried out a legal and media campaign against the referendum on the basis of what he views as its unconstitutionality.

After the results were announced on Sunday night, a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside the prefect’s office in Cochabamba’s principal plaza, shouting "Manfred Out" and "Don’t cry now Manfred!" If Reyes Villa refuses to step down, peasant and left-wing urban organizations will almost certainly mobilize to force him out of office. Such a scenario might lead to a repeat of January 11, 2007, when three people where killed in fights between supporters of Reyes Villa and President Morales.

Monday, August 11, 2008


The following post is another in a series of articles we have posted about the evolution of the Neighborhood Council system in the city of Los Angeles. This experiment in participatory democracy seems typical of many in that at first it is often hard for those involved to shed the habits of past governing models and truly entrust the people with decision making power. This article rightfully calls for more popular involvement in overall policy decisions on the functioning of the councils. - Editor

Time for the Commission to Get Out of the Dark

By Greg Nelson


I’ve been making a mistake by stating that our neighborhood council system is based upon a belief by its founders that the goal is to encourage the spread of “participatory democracy.”

I have come to realize that this term leaves open an opportunity for a very broad interpretation by those who resist change in the culture of City Hall. The elitists who can’t bring themselves to accept that better decisions can result from the public’s involvement in government. It saddens me to read the policy that the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners enacted that describes how it will adopt policies.

The commission forms committees of its members that discuss specific issues in private, present them at a commission meeting, and give the public usually a couple of weeks to send in their written comments or trek to its meeting and speak for three minutes, which never occurs at the start of the meeting.

The flaws in this approach are that (1) it is “business as usual”, (2) it is critically important to be part of the drafting process, and (3) the comments, written or verbal, are routinely ignored. There is no exchange of information and ideas. The expertise of the neighborhood council members, which often exceeds that of commissioners, is shunned.

A more recent example occurred last week.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the other agency created to lead the culture change, released a nine-page report on proposed and newly enacted changes to the Neighborhood Council Funding System. The report explained that there would be a 90-day public comment period.

This report and the process are laced with still more flaws.

Neighborhood councils and the public were not part of the drafting of the report. The collective wisdom of the councils could have nixed some bad ideas, noted that some proposed solutions were already in place, and suggested better answers.

But it is extremely difficult for neighborhood council members and the public to provide meaningful comments, regardless of the length of the public comment period, without being provided an explanation of the problem that everyone is trying to solve.

For instance, is it a systemic problem, or one of those far-to-common bureaucratic over-reactions to an isolated problem?

We know that the report was triggered by the fact that at least one neighborhood council president misused some of his council’s funds. We don’t know whether better oversight by those in charge should have caught the problem early on.

We aren’t told how the department will be able to provide the promised greater level of scrutiny when it admittedly doesn’t have enough people to properly monitor the program now, and when half of the program’s staff positions will soon be vacant during a time when the city’s hiring freeze may make it impossible to fill the vacancies.

More correctly, it needs to be said that our neighborhood council system is about promoting “deliberative democracy.”

When City Hall’s community planners hold public meetings with everyone sitting in a circle to discuss the reshaping of a community plan, they are all practicing a form of deliberative democracy. All views are respected, and value is added to the product that will be presented for a final decision.

When BONC and DONE design rules while shut away from the public, they are saying that they find little value in the public’s involvement. They are ignoring the core value that created them. And they are doing nothing to encourage other city agencies to embrace the deliberative democracy concept.

It’s not too late. During the next 90 days, town hall meetings could be held with interested neighborhood council leaders and treasurers. It all needs to begin with the DONE publicly defining the problem.

But it may not happen at all unless neighborhood councils stand up for the reason they were created.

(Greg Nelson participated in the birth and development of the LA Neighborhood Council system and 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 ◘

Vol 6 Issue 52
Pub: June 27, 2008

Saturday, August 9, 2008


The market, the environment, and the state are intertwined in such a way that it requires real change for all three entities collectively if any one is to change for the better. Giving people participatory control of the state and the tools of direct democracy also gives them influence in the market and the abilty to determine environmental and economic policy. The following article makes this clear. -Editor

Power Shift to Economic Justice and Democracy

Why the Environmental Movement Should Aim to Abolish Markets and Embrace Democratic Planning of the Economy

June 22, 2008 By Brian Kelly
Source: Diary of a Walking Butterfly

No sooner than I started to put my thoughts about the environment and markets onto paper, did I stumble upon a concrete example of one of the main things I was thinking about. I got out of bed this morning, went downstairs to make myself a cup of coffee, went outside to the end of the driveway, and grabbed the morning paper. As I was pulling the paper out of the box, a small headline indicating an article at the center of the paper caught my eye: "Utility finds foes to renewable energy line plan."

The problem the article talked about was straightforward. We desperately need a green energy revolution - that goes without saying. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. wants to build a $1.5 billion solar power plant in the California desert which would provide clean power to half of the utility's population, almost 750,000 people. Fair enough. So here's the problem: power plants need power lines and they want those power lines to cut through 23 miles of pristine desert parklands. Many people, quite understandably, aren't too fond of the idea.

Why I was surprised I don't know. Corporate destruction of communities and the environment is inevitable and endemic under market capitalism. And for good reason - people have no democratic say in what companies do with their land and to communities and the environment. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't want economic democracy. When asked, people always say they want a democratic say over the decisions which affect their lives. People want a democratic approach to our economic life and, when pressed, most people support either venues of public input or government regulation. Putting aside democracy for a second, both methods involve an intentional and planned response to market chaos and tyranny. Government regulation prevents markets and corporations from completely destroying our society, while avenues of public input (which are usually very limited or a sham) prevent people from completely revolting against their economic masters by providing concessions to them- they give a semblance of democracy in response to the naked tyranny of the "free" market.

I'm an advocate of what I think is the only solution to this problem: the abolition of markets as an economic system, and the establishment of a democratic and participatory economy with participatory planning to take its place. In short, I want to replace the hellhole we call capitalism with real economic justice, freedom, and democracy. This is the topic I think we all need to start talking about.

Whatever one thinks about cutting through pristine parklands (especially considering the myriad of alternative locations and methods for construction), there is an irrefutable contradiction in our current economic system: under capitalism, people neither have or ever will have a democratic say in the decisions which affect their lives. Development, economic growth, and the shaping of our economic future are all left up to people in corporate boardrooms with no connection to the lives of ordinary people. Every time there's a new technological development, no matter how it might improve our lives in the long run, ordinary people somewhere end up getting the short end of the stick. This usually revolves around one of the central tenants of capitalism, namely that someone else - virtually always the superrich and their mega-corporations - gets to define your economic future (or more precisely, your economic hell is the byproduct of the prosperity of the owning and coordinating classes). Markets have no mechanism to allow for democratic control; we couldn't have a democratic say in the market economy even if we wanted to. In a market economy, the interests of the owners and managers of society are always fundamentally opposed to the needs and aspirations of society's poor and working people, which, in America, are disproportionally people of color.

What makes all this more tragic is that there are alternatives to the chaos of markets and class inequality. Democratic workplaces where all people share in empowering work, management, and the more difficult work can replace undemocratic workplaces where ordinary workers have no say in decisions and do only shit work. Such workplaces could be collectively owned and organized to benefit our entire society. Those democratic workplaces - along with community councils or governments - can network into local, regional, and national networks of councils - that is, we can form economic governments to democratically decide what our economic futures should look like. Workplaces and worker-run industries could submit annual workplace plans for production. Community councils could submit annual plans of what they need and want society to produce. A process of negotiation -a sort-of economic conversation about what's needed and wanted for the year - would occur and, after a few rounds of back-and-forths between the councils, would lead to a plan for that economic year. The plan could be changed as needed throughout the year, but we'd accomplish something that would be truly remarkable: we'd have a directly democratic way to decide what should be produced, what products we want to use that year, how to effectively and sustainably use resources and protect the natural environment, how to go about promoting growth, what technologies to invest in, how to protect human, civil, and labor rights, and how to have a more empowering and secure society and economy. The point is, there are democratic alternatives to the current chaos we live under.

If green development is left up to big corporations, not only will they be resistant to it for many years - coal and oil companies certainly aren't gonna give up without a fight - but it will be the rich, and not the rest of us, who will benefit from the greening of our economy. As is evident by the San Diego power plant example, many corporations that do "go green" will do it out of a drive for power and profit, instead of ecological necessity and sanity. And even if that weren't true, plans made in ivory-tower board rooms will never take into account the needs and ideas of our communities and families. Ordinary people will suffer from these failings. Areas of the natural environment will be destroyed; communities will be devastated, and much, much worse. A clean and just energy revolution is needed more than ever, yes. Such devastation would happen without a clean energy revolution in a thousand other, and more destructive, ways. But what I'm saying is that we can have clean and green energy and economic justice and democracy. And more, I'm saying that it's likely that it will be impossible to solve the climate crisis without being well on the way to economic democracy.

If we think economic democracy is a desirable aim, then that necessitates that environmental groups fighting for clean and just energy put economic justice and democracy - namely democratic workplaces, social ownership of those workplaces, liberatory labor compensation norms, and democratic economic planning - on their agendas. A participatory economic future needs to be one of our central demands. We need to build such an economy from the bottom up. We need to fight for reforms which leave us stronger than we were before, lift up those who most need lifting, and lead us on a path towards the democratizing of the economy. This is one of the most important tasks for my generation. It is our generation calling.

When the alternatives to economic injustice and tyranny are so clear, the only remaining question is: "why not?" And if the only major question is "why not", why don't we add economic emancipation to our list of aims, goals, and demands. Shouldn't our organizational platforms, culture, and conversation reflect what we actually want? And more so, while some level of reform is possible, will a clean and just energy revolution be possible without economic democracy? Unwavering action, more thorough organizing, and bolder demands seem, to me at least, to be the only logical course of action for our movement for a greener, more just, and more democratic society. We should leave nothing up to chance.


Brian Kelly is a 21 year old, revolutionary youth organizer, currently based out of New York, U.S.A. He studies how language, social networks, and communication affect political strategy, vision, and organizing. For the past two years, he has been an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society, and is also on the national council of the Student Environmental Action Coalition - both in the United States - addressing the War in Iraq, the environmental crisis, and youth and student rights and power. He runs a political strategy website - Diary of a Walking Butterfly (www.walkingbutterfly.org) - where he writes on topics of political strategy, social vision, youth organizing, social change, and how language and communication affect each of those topics. You can contact him at brian@walkingbutterfly.com or through AIM/GTalk at butterflywalking@gmail.om.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


The following article gives an overview of the objectives of the New SDS. It highlights how the new movement differs from the original SDS, but also illustrates the biggest common thread between the two: participatory democracy as a central goal. For more information also read the following article in The Nation magazine: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070416/phelps

- Editor

Giving Form to a Stampede: The First Two Years of the New Students for a Democratic Society

July 07, 2008 By Brian Kelly
and Joshua Kahn Russell

http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/18115 Upping the Anti

Why We Write

At a party recently, one of us was introduced as an organizer trying to launch the "new" Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The person raised her eyebrows. "I don't know anything about the new SDS," she said, "but it makes me think of a Beatles reunion tour with none of the original members. Why would I want to see that?"

We were also skeptical of the idea at first. We knew we needed to learn from movements and organizing traditions that have come before us, and to root ourselves in history as part of moving forward. But do we really need a half-assed reunion tour or more Sixties worship? Surely, we thought, we should be building new organizations, not trying to reignite old ones. And why would we want to restart one with as fractious a history as SDS?

The new SDS celebrated its second birthday on Martin Luther King Jr. day in 2008. The new organization bears little resemblance to the original SDS. But building an organization with the same attention-grabbing name, aspirations to inter-generational organizing, and roots in student power and participatory democracy hit a nerve in the US. Within a year, we had hundreds of chapters and thousands of members across the country, the vast majority of them new to organizing. SDS quickly became what is likely the largest self-identified revolutionary youth organization in the country. It has been an exciting time, producing lots of interest and opportunities, as well as mistakes, disputes, frustrations, and heartbreaks. Two years later, we want to step back and examine the birth of SDS,[ii] distill the dynamics of its growth, and draw some lessons from the challenges we have faced. While we have each played different roles within the organization, we have also each done our best to maintain a broad view of the national direction of our group.

More than anything, SDS has so far been a vehicle to introduce political organizing to young people across the United States. This introduction happens differently in different places, and there is great diversity of SDS chapters on a local level. We will try to explore the organizational dynamics of national organizing, while recognizing that these national dynamics have not necessarily been replicated in all local chapters, nor does it capture the experience of SDS across the country in a uniform way.[iii]

Our hope in helping launch SDS was that it would become more than a place for people to share ideas and more than a common banner under which people could identify. We hoped it could be a space to collectively assess the political moment, strategize about how to engage it in a coherent way, and build a base of young organizers in the US as part of a larger mass movement. If we could coordinate our efforts across the country, we reasoned, young radicals would no longer remain isolated, feeling like they had to reinvent the wheel. Participatory democracy, with mechanisms to make quick decisions and respond immediately to changes in our political landscape, could make SDS an organization that effectively tackles pressing political problems and makes meaningful contributions to larger movements as young people. Despite its accomplishments, SDS has faced serious organizational challenges and setbacks. If SDS is unable to meet these challenges, it is difficult to imagine helping to build the mass base we need to build a new society.

SDS is on the brink of what may be a make-or-break year. In exploring both the possibilities and challenges within this young organization, we have identified a spectrum of assumptions about how change happens. While many members came to SDS with at least some analysis of how society works, SDS has engaged in little political education or internal debate about what we think it will take to build a revolutionary movement. Most SDS projects and adventures continue to be informed by a mixed and often contradictory set of approaches, tools, and biases that flow from a number of unexamined assumptions.

If SDS is to overcome its own contradictions, it needs to be more intentional in collectively building an understanding of how people can change society. We see social change as happening through the collective organized action of millions of people. To accomplish this, we need clarity about where we are going and about the commitment required to get there. This means navigating the immediate decisions that organizers must make with an eye to the practical tasks involved in achieving larger goals. Rather than become paralyzed by insular searches for "purity of politics and process" detached from the needs of movement-building, we must create organizational vehicles capable of compelling large numbers of people to move forward together. SDS must focus on important political issues of our time and engage them decisively if it wants to avoid collapsing into a marginal network of self-referential activists.

Where Were We? National and Left context

It's easy to mistake reasoned disillusionment for apathy. In a now infamous New York Times op-ed entitled "Generation Quiet," Thomas Friedman claimed that youth today embody an apathetic student culture, more interested in blogging about social change than actually creating it. Professors across the nation decry the level of disengagement they see in their students.

By launching SDS, we thought we could prove them wrong. We believed that skepticism and disillusionment are different from apathy. Disenchanted skeptics understand that change needs to be made, they just don't believe it can be done. Those who are apathetic, on the other hand, just don't care. It is no coincidence that the most popular forms of progressive media in the US are based on sarcasm and comedy. The Onion, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show are popular because they speak to the reasoned disillusionment of our generation.

Young people do not need to be convinced that society is broken. What our generation needs is a sense of agency. We need to show each other that change is possible, that there are ways of reorganizing society, and that there are groups with a plan to make it happen. By rooting itself in the tradition of an older organization of the same name, SDS hit that nerve amongst students. The result was an attractive force for lots of new (progressive, mostly white) people, many of whom had never had any experience in social movements, as well as young radicals who were excited to feel a part of something big for the first time.

Meanwhile, the increasingly transparent atrocity of the Iraq War was politicizing students across the country. SDS was largely a response to the political void on American campuses: there was no national, multi-issue, radical student formation. The Iraq War, along with domestic attacks on civil liberties and human rights (especially the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina), was a central force in politicizing youth and students, but no one was connecting local student anti-war work into a national framework with the political breadth that SDS seemed capable of.

Pre-existing student anti-war groups chose to affiliate as SDS chapters, becoming our organizational grounding. At Brian's school, Pace University, the anti-war group became an SDS chapter. On Josh's Brandeis campus, the group Radical Student Alliance also affiliated. The name SDS gave us the kind of burst we needed to gain national attention and to connect with others all across the country who took on the name and were thus thrown together to build SDS.

So, what is SDS?

SDS began as a concept - a meme[iv] that was set loose among youth in the United States. Embedded in the idea was the possibility of a national youth and student-led organization that could transcend ideological factionalism, carry explicitly revolutionary politics,, and ground itself in youth power and participatory democracy. That idea has opened a doorway into movements for social, environmental, racial, and economic justice for thousands of young people in the US.

Within its first year, SDS chapters led student walkouts for immigrant rights on May Day, organized large youth contingents at anti-war demonstrations, successfully blocked the deployment of weapons from ports, shut down military recruitment centers, fought education budget cuts, waged free speech battles, ousted a University president, built student unions, ran for student government seats, and practiced solidarity with local community campaigns. Some of the early, more visible chapters of SDS recruited members through catchy media stunts, pushing the boundaries of acceptable protest in order to spark debate, controversy, and to excite a base of newly-politicizing youth[v].

The flashy actions included civil disobedience at major military recruitment centres in New York and New England, and shutting down ports in the Northwest and Southwest to stop the shipment of war supplies and the redeployment of soldiers. We held a handful of fast-moving, highly visible free speech campaigns at Pace University, the University of Central Florida, and Ohio University. The organization publicized college administration crackdowns on SDS organizing, which included arrests, threats of expulsion of student activists, prohibiting SDS chapters from forming as school clubs, and barring them from flyering, tabling, or holding events on campuses.

The result was a stampede, of sorts. Thousands of small white SDS buttons found their way onto the jackets of young people across the country. SDS organizers networked at conferences, held city-wide meetings across the Northeast, and built an online presence to recruit members. But the vision for SDS was so broad that it could include almost anybody, and thousands rushed to join an organization that didn't have the capacity to keep up. Those who joined in the beginning struggled to push this capacity forward in what often felt like a vacuum of experience, structure, and goals. We all made a lot of mistakes.

SDS members in big cities like New York, where a myriad of activist groups already existed, had some support (legal, emotional, and physical) for actions that occasionally resulted in arrests. Most of the time, actions, even those leading to arrest, didn't put members at long-term risk. The arrests helped us push boundaries that had constrained youth groups for some time, and the resulting media attention helped build SDS by exciting people about building popular resistance to the war. But we also faced challenges. In New York, flashy actions put SDS on the defensive. Chapters were often stuck in crisis mode and forced into anti-repression campaigns and legal battles that distracted them from the main goal of organizing. More problematically, methods used successfully in big cities were replicated elsewhere, often in areas where they were not useful or effective.

In a joint action, Pace University SDS and New School SDS, joined by the Pace Muslim Student Association,New SchoolWomen of Color Organization, and Sustainability Committee, successfully shut down a military recruiting station in downtown Manhattan. The action drew over a hundred young activists, many new to activism, and culminated in a 30-person sit-in inside the station. Twenty people were arrested. The action increased our commitment, excitement, and numbers. Several days later, a small group of students tried a similar action in Ohio in a context that lacked the support infrastructure in place in New York. Two students were arrested. Were it not for emergency fundraising through informal networks (SDS has no official structure to accommodate fundraising), one of our activists would have spent up to 30 days in jail. While done with the best of intentions and enthusiasm, the action in Ohio did not mobilize a base of students, nor deepen people's connection and commitment. It was an example of a common dynamic in SDS: a formulaic approach to activism in which certain tactics are applied universally, arrest is romanticized, and expressive, symbolic tactics are preferred to planned strategy and clarity of goals.

Throughout the following years, the most exciting and compelling factors in SDS's initial success often had these contradictory results. These factors prevented SDS from consolidating and making meaningful contributions to the movement, and threatened its vitality and sustainability. Many dynamics that led to the organization's membership growth have also left it volatile, vulnerable, and unable to sustain the true growth it needs to "stampede" on the order of magnitude that our times require. While viral promotion inspired thousands to sign up, SDS did not have the capacity to handle the intensity of interest, nor did it have a plan for building that capacity. We didn't even have a legitimate space to discuss creating a plan. National support work was often invisible, unsupported, or outright attacked,[vi] and many SDSers felt isolated on their campuses.

Still, the process of building local coalitions, waging campaigns, engaging in street actions, organizing training camps, coordinating conventions, and debating ideas, have been opportunities for young organizers across the country to grow and learn. Transformational experiences like these have helped turn energetic young people into long-haul organizers with a holistic analysis of how society works and a vision of how it could work differently. The role of those doing national work has been to create a context for these transformational experiences, in an effort to deepen the analysis, commitment, leadership, and connection of SDSers across the country...

To contiue reading click on this link: http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/18115