"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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Saturday, August 2, 2008


This article from Oklahoma has a very clear plan for what would work in the author's home state. Others may find that something similar would work in their own locality. As always, solutions to local problems are usually best found within local councils. However, in all the states that do at least allow initiative & referendum, the problem of limited accessability for any citizen or group without major funding is universally restrictive, and solutions to this problem should be freely shared in the spirit of interstate cooperation. -Editor

Math problem: Petition process in need of change

Sun June 15, 2008
The Oklahoman Editorial

Source: http://newsok.com/math-problem-petition-process-in-need-of-change/article/3257526/

OKLAHOMA voters in November will choose the next U.S. president and determine who they want to serve in various statewide, county and local offices. They won't vote on any issues that made it to the ballot via initiative petition, because there are none. Prospects for that changing any time soon are dim

During this decade, 23 initiative petitions have been filed by various groups seeking to address various issues. Only two (regarding cockfighting and the state's gasoline tax) have made it to the voters. Five were declared invalid, eight were withdrawn and eight were abandoned.

Those figures come from Oklahoma City attorney Kent Meyers, who in 40-plus years of practice has represented clients on both sides of initiative petition issues. Like us, Meyers thinks the process for statewide initiatives is broken, in part because it dissuades the people it was designed for by our constitution's framers — everyday Oklahomans who desire direct democracy.

During a recent visit with our editorial board, Meyers said he's concerned the process is "becoming inaccessible, except to the very few.” Those would be parties with the money needed to see a petition through from beginning to end. And how much is that? He estimated a group that sought (unsuccessfully) to have a "taxpayer bill of rights” placed on the ballot spent $3 million.

It's a three-part process: draft a petition, circulate it, then get the signatures approved. Step 1 is simple enough. The troubles start in Step 2, when groups have 90 days to secure the required number of signatures from registered voters. That number varies depending on the purpose of the initiative. Amending the constitution, for example, requires gathering signatures totaling 15 percent of the votes cast in the biggest race in the previous statewide election. Two years ago that was the governor's race, in which 926,000 votes were cast. Fifteen percent of that is roughly 139,000 — a lot of signatures to get in 90 days. Paid circulators are a must, because even the most zealous volunteers bow out sooner or later.

Getting through Step 2 can require half a million dollars, give or take. Step 3 costs money, too, as groups defend challenges made to the validity of signatures or the legality of the petition. Meyers advises clients to gather 125 percent of the number of signatures needed. Why? "During signature challenge, you will save $15 for every dollar you spend getting 25 percent more than you need.”

Reducing the number of signatures needed would help fix things. But that would require amending the constitution, which would take a petition drive — fat chance — or the Legislature letting the people vote on the idea. Maybe it'll happen someday. Certainly, two out of 23 petitions getting to the ballot is striking. As Meyers put it, the status quo is simply "beyond the reach of any reasonable sized group of citizens.” Direct democracy? Hardly.

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