"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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Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Various organizations practice participatory democracy as part of their internal program, but those of us not directly involved in these organizations rarely get a window into how it works. This editorial analyzes the participatory nature of Progressive Democrats of America in comparison to the DNC. -Editor

Bottom Up Democracy at PDA, Top-Down at DNC

Original Content at http://www.opednews.com/articles/Bottom-Up-Democracy-at-PDA-by-Rob-Kall-080803-345.html

By Rob Kall
August 3, 2008

I'm still at the PDA (Progressive Democrats of America) conference. It's been very refreshing to see how bottom-up the meeting has been with extraordinary efforts to include ALL the participants in attendance.

In the first session, each of the close to 50 participants was asked to introduce themselves and tell about what they hoped to get out of the meeting. I thought that was unusual, with a national organization, with so many attendees.

As the meeting went on, the same process occurred again and again, in breakout and single track sessions. Each person was asked for reports on progress locally, ideas on how to do things better, on flaws or problems with the organization. These reports were recorded and summarized then fed back to the group-- feedback and feedforward.

We got a report last night from Norman Solomon and Donna Smith, who was in Michael Moore's Sicko. They each attended the DNC's platform planning discussions in Cleveland. From their reports, it would seem that rather than discussions, they were planned, pre-written presentations-- totally top-down-- very disappointing, but not surprising.

Bottom-up is becoming a value. Failure to include bottom-up is becoming something that is identified as a liability, and associated with antipathy to democracy and even associated with failure and backwardness. Hierarchical thinking, leadership and organizational policy are on their way out and for good reason. They don't tap the wisdom of the crowds and they are based on archaic conclusions that it is not feasible to include the "we," the "many," in participating in discussions and decision making.

We live in a new world, enabled by the internet, cell-phones, instant messaging and texting that allows organizations to open up the discussion and decision-making process. Failure to tap the capabilities is diagnostic of inflexibility and being stuck in what has become obsolete top-down leadership. Don't get me wrong. Leadership is still needed, but leadership within a bottom-up model is different and very much involves facilitation and collaborative delegation which also includes bottom-up participation.

At PDA, leadership is very much about facilitating, encouraging and helping energize the bottom-up participation. Just imagine that-- seeking, supporting, and reaching out to get feedback, input-- what a concept-- empowering, energizing tapping the full power and passion of the grassroots.

bottom-up leadership with Tim Carpenter

Getting up this bottom-up mindset, becoming part of the bottom-up revolution is something the Democratic Party is failing at now. Howard Dean deserves credit for his 50 state plan, but I've seen too many examples where a handful of senators or Rahm Emanuel and his DCCC bullies come into states where grassroots action has identified strong local candidates, only to ignore the grassroots, and with a lot of corporate or DCCC or DSCC money shove a compliant, more right wing candidate down their throats-- a candidate, like Tammy Duckworth, who replaced Christine Cegelis-- who filled a slot that could have been filled with a more progressive legislator-- someone who is actually a real democrat, not a bluedog DINO.

PDA could do better. At the Personal Democracy Forum, which I attended a few weeks earlier, they used a digital projector to display a website which collected comments by meeting participants as the speaker presented-- all in real time. PDA was streaming the conference. So it could be possible to have a similar screen displayed at the conference, on which members of PDA from all over the country, who were unable to attend the convention in person, could post comments on the ongoing discussions. Maybe next year. Maybe at YOUR next conference. With the cost of travel skyrocketing, this kind of technology, which is really not at all difficult to do, can enable people who can't afford the time or monetary cost of travelling to still participate.

Like I said earlier, bottom-up is becoming a value, like fairness, justice, democracy, balance-- and failure to take a bottom-up approach is becoming as offensive as failure to include these latter listed values. It's just the wrong way to go. Obama's campaign has done well using some bottom-up approaches to fundraising and campaigning. As the new leader of the Democratic Party, Obama would be wise to apply bottom-up principles, and that includes transparency, to the way the Democratic Party makes decisions. The lockout of so many voices at the Party Platform discussions was offensive and suggests an archaic (as in Neanderthal) mentality that MUST go.

There's a reason the congress has such dismal ratings. The Democrats are feeling optimistic about November. But with their shameful failure to protect the vote and so many aspects of elections, they shouldn't be so smug. Electronic, paperless voting has been sold as a top-down, faster and more efficient way to count votes. But this approach sacrifices the verifiability and reliability of properly printed paper ballots. The Obama campaign promises a health insurance plan of dubious value, that is far less than the universal single payer plan that every other developed nation has. The Dems should not settle for anything less than the real deal-- universal single payer, private provider, selected by the consumer.

Then, there are those other things that the huge mass of Americans want-- ending the war, defending the constitution and democracy. Somehow, some way, the 111th congress ought to figure out how to make those wants real. That's democracy and we shouldn't be settling for anything less.

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