"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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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

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