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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Monday, September 29, 2008


Few statewide ballot measures face Nevada voters

By SANDRA CHEREB Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 09/20/2008 12:03:47 AM PDT


RENO, Nev.—Nevada voters will decide only a handful of ballot measures in November after what started out as a dizzying scramble of competing initiatives was reduced by court challenges or behind-the-scenes compromise.

Of the four statewide questions remaining, one deals with eminent domain; two involve tweaking tax law oversight; and a third would remove from the Nevada Constitution a six-month residency rule for voter eligibility—a requirement the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional more than three decades ago.

The bigger, still-simmering issue involves what won't be on the ballot—a dozen or so citizen initiatives that were either withdrawn by their backers or scrapped by the courts for failing to meet tougher new qualifying requirements adopted by the 2005 Legislature.

Legal challenges over Nevada's revamped petition procedures continue and ramifications for this year's ballot remain uncertain. But with time running out before the November election it's unlikely voters will see any of the previously tossed measures on the ballot.

Advocates of the disqualified measures and political observers say they are likely to re-emerge in future elections.

First, a snapshot of what voters will be asked to decide:

— Question 1: Amends the Nevada Constitution to remove an unconstitutional requirement that a person must reside in Nevada for six months before being eligible to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 and later years ruled that lengthy residency requirements for voter registration were unconstitutional. State law already imposes a less restrictive, 30-day residency requirement, which has been deemed reasonable by courts.

— Question 2: A constitutional amendment restricting government use of eminent domain to acquire private property for public use. Voters in 2006 passed the measure 63 percent to 37 percent. It needs final voter approval in November to become part of the Nevada Constitution. But after critics feared it would cripple local governments and public works projects, a compromise law that took effect in October, along with another proposed companion constitutional amendment, was passed by the 2007 Legislature. Lawmakers in 2009 must pass the amendment again before it goes to a public vote in 2010 for final action. It would supersede Question 2.

— Question 3: A constitutional amendment approved by lawmakers in 2005 and 2007 setting parameters that must be satisfied before the Legislature can grant property, sales or use tax exemptions. It requires a finding of specific social or economic benefits and mandates that exemptions have an expiration date.

— Question 4: Amends the state Sales and Use Tax Act of 1955 by authorizing the Legislature to amend or repeal provisions to comply with federal law or interstate agreements. Any tax increase still would require voter approval.

Voters in Nevada's two most populous counties, Clark and Washoe, also will vote on an advisory question backed by the Nevada State Education Association and some Las Vegas casino giants to increase hotel room taxes in those counties by up to 3 percent initially to fund public schools. The cooperative effort was forged in a deal that included teachers dropping an earlier initiative that called for a 44 percent increase in casino taxes.

As of this week, voters were not going to be asked to decide other contentious issues, such as various measures taxing casinos, funding education and capping property taxes. The property tax cap pushed by former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle has failed three times to qualify for the ballot. Though Angle is pursuing an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, Chief Justice Mark Gibbons questioned whether any legal remedy is available, since Nevada's secretary of state already has told local election officials to remove the measure from November ballots.

Supporters of the failed initiatives point to changes made by the 2005 Legislature that they say effectively hog-ties citizen petitions.

Kermitt Waters, a Las Vegas attorney and supporter of several measures removed from the Nov. 4 ballot, on Thursday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, arguing the state law that limits initiatives to one subject and requires a 200-word explanation is unconstitutional.
"The fact they knocked them all off (the ballot) makes our case that much more stronger," Waters said.

Political observers are split over whether the initiative requirements are for the better or worse.

Supporters argue the requirements will bring simplicity and clarity to a process prone to "hijacking" by special interests, and point to the 2004 election as an example of why reforms were needed.

In that election, a group tied to the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association backed two measures that purported to roll back insurance rates but instead sought to prohibit limiting damage awards or attorneys fees in malpractice cases. Both failed.

Fred Lokken, political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, said while initiative backers are generally "well intended," the process is "really subject to abuse."

The only way to preserve the opportunity for citizens to actively push law changes is to "come up with some logical ways to sort of clean it up ... and tighten the language so that everyone can understand it," he said.

Others worry of unintended consequences.

"It's an effort to restrict this aspect of direct democracy," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. "I say you tread there at your own peril.

"We're in this odd kind of anti-initiative backlash, but it's coming from within government, which I think is very dangerous.

"I don't disagree that the initiative process has been hijacked by special-interest groups," he added. "But you're still taking away the right of voters to review that hijacking."

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Direct democracy in the form of initiative & referendum has brought a vote on a constitutional amendment to the ballot in Minnesota. The amendment would raise the state sales tax slightly to fund both the arts and fish and game conservation efforts. The unlikely alliance between hunters and artists that the effort to bring the amendment to the ballot has brought about shows how when people are given legislative power through direct democracy they are able to find common ground in order to benefit all members of society. - Editor

Campaign for constitutional amendment gears up

Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
September 22, 2008

When Minnesotans head to the polls in November, they'll be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that would raise the state sales tax by three-eighths of one percent. If approved, the measure would raise millions of dollars for environmental protection and the arts.

Supporters include an unlikely pairing of hunting and fishing groups with organizations that support arts and culture. Opponents say the state can't afford another tax hike.

Bemidji, Minn. — Thousands of people walk through the Bemidji Community Arts Center each year. The art gallery is popular with locals, and it brings lots of tourist dollars into town.

The organization relies heavily on donations and state-funded grants to stay afloat. Center director Lori Forshee-Donnay says funding the facility can be a nail-biter each year. She says passing the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment will help.

"There's more and more organizations and artists looking for a shrinking pool of money, and whenever there's a deficit, these are the areas that get cut first," said Forshee-Donnay. "So it will be really nice to be able to have a stable, long term source of funding."

If approved, the constitutional amendment could raise nearly $300 million a year. Eighty percent would go toward things like clean water initiatives, wildlife habitat restoration and land conservation efforts. The rest would help fund groups like the Region 2 Arts Council in northwest Minnesota.

Region 2 director Teri Widman says in 2003, state funding for the arts council was cut 32 percent.

She says that hurt their ability to provide music and arts programming grants to school districts. Widman says the council's mission is even more critical now that many schools are slashing their arts budgets.

Widman says raising the sales tax is a good way to meet needs that most Minnesotans agree are important.

"It's only three-eighths of one percent, which means that the average family of four would pay less than $5 a month to invest in their clean water, conserving the wildlife habitats, the outdoors, and providing arts funding," said Widman. "We're talking about future generations. It's a very small amount of money to invest in the future."

The proposed amendment that voters will see in November has been years in the making, and arts weren't part of the mix until now. The initiative was started mostly by groups supporting hunting and fishing.

Scott Anderson, northwest regional director for Ducks Unlimited, says broadening the coalition to include the arts was a smart political move.

"We've been fighting this battle to get it out for a vote for many years," said Anderson. "The organizations fighting for it just had to realize that there's give and take with it. If we absolutely say the arts and culture shouldn't be a part of it, we might not even be this far yet."

Getting the amendment question on the ballot is one thing. Rallying voter support may be a bigger challenge.

A Minnesota Public Radio News/Humphrey Institute poll last month, showed 72 percent of respondents were against raising the sales tax.

Terry Stone lives in International Falls, where he runs a retail electronics business. Stone says Minnesota already has one of the highest sales tax rates in the country.

He worries a hike would hurt his business, and says now is an especially bad time to do it.

"It couldn't be worse," Stone said. "We have a soggy economy and we have extreme budgetary issues. Legislators are saying about a billion dollar deficit just for starters in the next session. To start throwing dedicated, locked in, 25-year-long funding for anything strikes me as bad government."

Some studies show voters tend to approve tax increase questions at about a 50-50 rate, but those that promote things like clean water and conservation tend to do better, says Pat Donnay, a political science professor at Bemidji State University. He's married to the director of the Bemidji Community Arts Center.

Donnay says passage of the amendment may be more difficult because if voters leave the question blank, the ballot is counted as a no vote.

He says it's likely many voters aren't familiar with the issue yet. They'll be big targets of the special interest groups either for or against the measure. He says that's one of the downsides of posing referendum questions to voters.

"People like to think it's direct democracy, but it really plays to the interest groups in much the same way, if not more so, than representative democracy," said Donnay. "It's all about who's got the money to get the airwaves and the billboards. That's what it will become between now and election day, is a battle between the various interests to get their message out."

Supporters of the amendment include a coalition of about 200 organizations. They're funding a multi-million dollar advertising campaign promoting the measure.

Groups like the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce have mounted their own campaigns to defeat the amendment.


In April this editor had the pleasure of seeing Amy Goodman speak at Seattle's Green Festival. Promoting 'Standing Up to the Madness', her latest book co-authored by her brother David, Goodman told the stories of ordinary citizens that acted to profoundly change our society. The following clip provokes people to get involved in "standing up to the madness" and participating, instead of passively allowing the oligarchy to control our daily lives. - Editor

Source link: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=QMfa-qhb0ug

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Propositions to the people, online

9:47 AM, September 17, 2008

It's is a political truism that big donors and special interests (hello, both sides of Indian gambling Propositions 94-97!) drive California's ballot initiative process. But now, taking a Web page from social networking sites like Facebook and Linkedin, Republican political consultant Mike Madrid has launched a site he says will make it easier for the masses to reclaim direct democracy.

The site, Californiapropositions.org , lets people to organize online by forming their own issue and campaign groups and find like-minded groups, just as they do on other social networking sites. But biggest benefits, Madrid says, will be in the two parts of the proposition process that cost the most -- raising cash and getting valid signatures.

An initiative requires 433,971 signatures to qualify for the ballot. (Or 694,354, if it’s a constitutional amendment.) It costs about $2 million to hire specially trained signature gatherers, the ones who annoy you as you enter Rite Aid, trying to remember which prescription you need to get refilled. But Madrid’s site gets around all that by allowing anyone who wants to download and print out a petition, gather a handful of signatures and send the petition in.

Because they are free from finance limits, past initiative campaigns have usually relied on big gifts to run their operations, which means trade groups, unions and rich people get great political clout over how initiatives are written. Madrid also says the site will make it easier to reach thousands of small donors who can give $10 or $20, doing what the Barack Obama campaign has done. He notes that the campaign for a high-speed rail line -- not exactly the sexiest political issue -- has nearly 38,000 members on Facebook.

“I’m a huge proponent of the proposition-industrial complex,” he says. “Most people think it’s a cancer on the body politic. I think it does was it was designed to do, only it hasn’t been as accessible to the masses as it was originally intended.” The main downside of his approach, he predicts: It will make recall campaigns of politicians even more frequent.

-- Jordan Rau


As the following article points out, the empowerment of the people through direct democracy, as is currently manifested in the use of initiative & referendum in 24 states of the U.S., increases the level of political activism and sense of civic duty, as well as increasing voter turnout. This also has the effect of holding elected officials more accountable to the will of the people. - Editor

Legislators’ nod to citizen initiatives may be tied to re-election hopes

Source: http://news.ufl.edu/2008/09/24/citizen-initiatives/

Filed under Research, Politics on Wednesday, September 24, 2008.GAINESVILLE, Fla. —

Citizen-initiated measures, such as gay rights and physician-assisted suicide, are not a uniquely Western U.S. phenomenon as traditionally thought, but have their roots across a wide geographical area that includes the Deep South, a new University of Florida study finds.

“Our study challenges the dominant historical narrative of why citizen initiatives were adopted in some American states a century ago,” said Daniel Smith, a UF political science professor whose study appears in the current issue of American Political Science Review. “The phenomenon may bring to mind places like Oregon, California, Colorado and Washington — states with populist and progressive traditions — but we found that lawmakers in the West were no more likely than those from other states to accede broad powers to voters in this way.”

Smith, who collaborated on the study with Dustin Fridkin, a UF doctoral student in political science, said political considerations — the degree of competition between political parties in a state legislature, party organizational strength and the presence of a third party — are the strongest predictors of whether a legislature gave voters the power to make their own decisions through the initiative process.

In 1898 South Dakota voters became the first to approve a constitutional amendment granting residents the power to decide initiatives and by 1918 voters in 20 states had followed suit, he said.

Southern states were thought to be more apprehensive about the initiative process because of its potential to mobilize African Americans, but the facts do not bear this out, Smith said. The legislatures of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Texas were among the early states to place referendums on the ballot-granting residents the opportunity to adopt direct democracy reforms, he said.

Minnesota and Wisconsin, two progressive states, have never implemented this form of direct democracy because voters ultimately did not approve it; and the supposed populist explanation does little to explain why Missouri adopted the initiative, Smith said, but not neighboring Kansas, a hotbed of populist sentiment a century ago.

“Lawmakers inherently don’t like the initiative process because it takes power away from them, so it raises the question of why they would give up their institutional authority in order to allow citizens to pass laws,” Smith said.

The study found that legislative competition between political parties played a key role in lawmakers’ decision to give citizens a direct role in shaping public policy. On average, the majority party’s surplus of seats was 22.5 percent among the 20 early state legislatures that referred the initiative process to the ballot compared with 26.7 percent for those state legislatures that did not, Smith said.

“A minority party might be willing to sell out the institutional powers of the legislature and allowing citizens to gain political power, in order to curry favor with the people and hopefully become the majority party,” he said. “And the majority party is put in the position of not wanting to be anti-populist.”

Also more receptive to citizen initiatives were states with weaker political parties — possibly because they achieved statehood later and had fewer established political traditions — and states with third parties, which further diluted majority power, he said.

In place in 24 states today, the initiative process is arguably the most important political institution available to citizens, but it has repercussions, Smith said. By allowing citizens to pass laws and constitutional amendments that can impinge upon the legislature’s ability to raise money, restrict certain taxes or direct types of expenditures, state legislatures become inherently weaker, he said.

“I think there are some aspects to it that are clearly troubling when you have votes taking place that are not fully informed and there’s no iterative decision-making — it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on a particular policy with no chance to amend it,” he said. “On the flip side, there are a lot of positive ‘educative effects’ about the initiative process.”

States with initiatives over time have higher turnout in midterm and presidential elections, drawing voters to ballot measures and presenting candidates with substantive issues that can help set the campaign agenda, Smith said.

“People who live in initiative states are more likely to talk about politics and contribute money to interest group,” he said. “It makes sense because they are more engaged in the process, which is something the Progressives argued in its favor back in the early 1900s.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


The following article highlights the importance of improving our educational system as a precursor to establishing a well functioning participatory democratic system. If college graduates are lacking in knowledge of basic issues and the fundamentals of government structure and the constitution as this article claims, it is unlikely that we will acheive that aim. A well educated and informed voting public is a politically empowered public, and this may explain why those who now hold power, and would prefer to not to relinquish that power to the people, are reluctant to ensure that quality education is available to all. We, the public, must demand that our right to that education be respected and provided for so that we can build upon it a participatory democracy that is truly expressive of the will of a well informed electorate. - Editor

Will the Nation's College Students Be Ready, Willing and Able to Cast an Informed Vote this November 4?

Study Data Released in Advance of Constitution Day (Citizenship Day) Raises Questions about Students' Civic Preparedness

WILMINGTON, Del., Sept. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- When the nation's founding fathers signed the original U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787 they changed the course of history. As we prepare to commemorate the 221st anniversary of the founding document and officially enter the stretch run of a landmark presidential election, new data from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) suggests college students are not staying on course when it comes to learning about the nation's history and founding. According to the data, college seniors scored an average of just 48.88 percent correct on a series of questions that referred to the U.S. Constitution. Considering that 72 percent of college seniors surveyed have in fact registered and voted at least once in their lives, this lack of civic knowledge poses a potential crisis in citizenship that could have a major impact on the country's choice for president on November 4.

"The issue of citizenship and civic engagement is one both presidential candidates agree is critical as evidenced by the recent A Nation of Service Presidential Forum," says Dr. Richard Brake, ISI's Director of University Stewardship. "So, the presidential hopefuls might find it encouraging that more than 70 percent of surveyed seniors are registered and have voted. But the lack of knowledge about our founding and the Constitution, which is the document that forms the basis for our citizenship, has to be a concern for both the presidential candidates--who are trying to reach youth voters--as well as the general voting public."

The questions focusing on the U.S. Constitution were part of a 60-question multiple-choice test about our nation's history and institutions that was administered by the University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy on behalf of ISI. Approximately 14,000 randomly selected seniors and freshmen on 50 campuses across the country were given the exam.

Measuring Constitutional Knowledge

Freshmen from three schools achieved average scores of less than 30 percent on the questions related to the Constitution: St. Thomas University (Florida) - 27.25 percent; Oakwood College (Alabama) - 28.48 percent; Eastern Connecticut State University - 29.55 percent. Seniors at St. Thomas scored only slightly better than freshmen with an average of 29.67 percent. The college with the highest constitutional knowledge gain from freshman to senior was Murray State University (Kentucky), which achieved a 7.88 percent gain. The overall scores for Murray State, however, still were quite low, with freshmen achieving an average of 35.72 percent while seniors averaged 43.61 percent. Surprisingly, the school with the lowest overall gain in constitutional knowledge (-9.54 percent) was prestigious Cornell University.

Following are some other intriguing results based on the responses given by students:

-- 42.6 percent of students (41.5 percent of freshmen; 43.8 percent of seniors) thought the famous phrase "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ." was from the Preamble to the Constitution and not its actual source, The Declaration of Independence.

-- 56 percent of students (54.2 percent of freshmen; 58 percent of seniors) knew the Constitution of the United States established indirect democracy. 39.4 percent of students (40.9 percent of freshmen; 37.8 percent of seniors) thought it led to direct democracy.

-- The largest proportion of students (43.7 percent; 43.2 percent of freshmen and 44.2 percent of seniors) thought the idea "that in America there should be a wall of separation between church and state" appears in the Constitution, while only 28.1 percent of freshmen and 31.8 percent of seniors correctly identified as the source a personal letter of Thomas Jefferson.

-- The role of women in society and politics has received considerable notice this election cycle, but when asked during which period the American Constitution was amended to guarantee women the right to vote, only 57.1 percent of students (56 percent of freshmen; 58.2 percent of seniors) correctly answered 1901 - 1925. More than 22 percent (21.8 percent of freshmen; 22.9 percent of seniors) thought the time period was 1926 - 1950.

-- The Federalist Papers played a crucial role in elucidating the proposed U.S. Constitution and garnering public support for ratification, yet only 52.3 percent of students correctly answered that the Papers were written for that purpose -- and seniors actually knew less about this topic than freshmen (54.6 percent of freshmen were correct in comparison to 49.9 percent of seniors).

What's in a Vote

While the data does indicate that votes cast by the nation's college students might be lacking a strong foundation, students from many campuses can still be counted on to vote. Of the fifty schools that participated in the study, the University of Wisconsin (Madison) topped the list with the highest number of students that registered and have voted at least once (87.9 percent). Mount Vernon Nazarene University (Ohio)--87.1 percent--was second, followed by the University of North Carolina - 86.4 percent; Iowa State University - 85.1 percent; and Murray State University (Kentucky) - 83.9 percent.

The five colleges with the lowest proportion of students who are registered and have voted are: Illinois State University - 58 percent; Oakwood College (Alabama) - 51.3 percent; St. John's University (New York) - 48.5 percent; Princeton University (New Jersey) - 46 percent; and St. Thomas University (Florida) - 29.6 percent.

The full results of ISI's American civic literacy study and the complete survey questions can be found at www.americancivicliteracy.org, where you can also take the exam for yourself.

About the Intercollegiate Studies Institute

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) was founded in 1953 to further in successive generations of American college youth a better understanding of the economic, political, and ethical values that sustain a free and humane society. With ISI's volunteer representatives at over 900 colleges, and with more than 50,000 ISI student and faculty members on virtually every campus in the country, ISI directs tens of thousands of young people each year to a wide array of educational programs that deepen their understanding of the American ideal of ordered liberty.

Contact: Doug Novarro
G.S. Schwartz & Co. Inc.
(212) 725-4500 ext. 315
(631) 357-4390 (cell)

SOURCE The Intercollegiate Studies Institute


It was evangelical bogeyman and 700 Club host Pat Robertson who in response to the perceived 'threat to the empire' posed by the rise of Hugo Chavez and participatory democracy in Venezuela mused in reference to Chavez: "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability." Here is a humorous reflection on Robertson's public plea for Chavez' assassination which he issued on a 700 club television broadcast. - Editor

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Another in a series of articles we have posted on the L.A. niegborhood councils and the evolution of the participatory governance they hope to bring to the City of Los Angeles. - Editor

Planning the Congress: A Different Perspective

By Guy Leemhuis

I have been involved in this wonderful experience in participatory democracy:-neighborhood councils for the past seven years.

I remember the first Congress of Neighborhoods. It was very exciting to have an opportunity to meet and network with fellow volunteer stakeholders with their hearts and minds focused on making a better Los Angeles and ensuring that the voice of its people was heard. The framework for the neighborhood council system is one from which Angelenos can draw pride.

However, the work it has taken, and continues to take, in making this bold experience a continuing reality takes, time, effort and assertiveness and a healthy dose of public relations skills.

It is no easy task soliciting input from 90 diverse neighborhood councils with a stakeholder base with even more diversity of perspectives. That may be why there is not one General Manager of Department of Neighborhood Empowerment that has had an easy time wrangling with how to ensure the Congress of Neighborhoods is neighborhood council driven.

Although many of us at various times over the past years have requested, or even demanded, more control in the planning of the Congress, there has always been controversy over the transparency of its planning and more importantly its purpose.

To date, there is not consensus among the 90 neighborhood councils on what the purpose of the Congress of Neighborhoods is. I certainly have given my input over the years and have not always been pleased with the result. However, I have learned that we must continue to remain at the table and bring forth ideas and work with the City, DONE and the Mayor's office if we are to yield a working solution.

Most of the good people within the neighborhood council system are talented, energetic, and hard working. They are also volunteers, many of whom have a day job or two. It is imperative that DONE play a significant role in assisting neighborhood councils in making Congress of Neighborhoods a reality.

I recently had the opportunity to partner in the planning and development of the first ever regional Congress of Neighborhoods which focused on issues in South Los Angeles. I found the process in working with DONE's new General Manager and staff to be one that was truly collaborative. They learned a lot from those of us from neighborhood councils.

I also realized that pulling off a successful Congress takes consistency of effort from beginning to end.

The feedback from neighborhood council members attending that event was that for many it was the best congress they have ever attended. I believe it was due to the fact that it was issue and outcome oriented. I hope that this will be something to replicate in other regions and city-wide congresses.

At the recent planning meeting for the city-wide Congress coming in October, much time and energy was spent by a few individuals giving some constructive feedback on planning of the Congress. Those in attendance were encouraged to react to a draft framework for the Congress. I did not feel like it was written in stone and I encourage folks to continue to give input.

Although I agree time and place was not decided by the group, I don't ever recall that being left to neighborhood councils before. In fact the Los Angeles Convention center has been used almost exclusively in prior years.

The biggest challenge was reaching consensus. A planning group was formed per the recommendations from the group that very night. Many folks liked the idea of tackling issues important to various regions throughout the city. Much of the agenda of the Congress has yet to be formed.

I hope that neighborhood council members will not boycott (as has been suggested) a process that quite frankly is currently ours to design in more ways than ever before. At the end of the day, the challenge is how do neighborhood councils work together and reach consensus on these important issues.

Empowerment of our communities is an awesome responsibility. I hope we can create positive energy to make this Congress and future ones something meaningful for all neighborhood councils. I plan to stay engaged in the process and hope others will do the same.

(Guy Leemhius is an attorney, neighborhood council activist and served on the NC Review Commission. Leemhius is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) ◘

Vol 6 Issue 64
Pub: Aug 8, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008


Ask For Internet Freedom On Third OneWebDay

Special to the Tribune
Published: September 20, 2008

Source: http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/sep/20/na-ask-for-internet-freedom-on-third-onewebday/

Seven months ago I needed my teenage son to explain YouTube to me. Now I'm not only appearing on YouTube but also writing proposals for others to do so.

So it is with a sense of bemusement that I anticipate the third annual OneWebDay on Monday, touted by Internet activists as akin to an Earth Day celebration focusing on the impact the Web has had on participatory democracy.

Much like the advent of cable TV in the 1980s brought us public, educational and government stations, the Internet is vastly expanding the amount of public information available to ordinary citizens.

As a former newsman, I find the way digital technology is eroding some of the revenue base for traditional journalism alarming.

However, it's hard to argue with millions using e-mail to contact Congress, activists using social network sites like Facebook to organize rallies and raise money for causes, and 175,000 new blogs being created daily.

It's new media, not news media, provided the public can get it.

For example, the Federal Communications Commission recently sanctioned Comcast for blocking traffic sent over its network via a program frequently used to share video.

Meantime, telecom companies make no secret of their plans to create fast and slow lanes on the Internet, steering the public towards their preferred Web sites. Likely left behind will be those on low incomes, rural communities and the elderly.

So mark OneWebDay by e-mailing Congress and the FCC to bridge the digital divide and ensure Internet freedom.

Mark A. Hart is statewide organizer for the Florida Media Coalition. The pro-media advocacy group is based in Tampa.

For more on OneWebDay: http://onewebday.org/

Saturday, September 20, 2008


As a plan is being formulated behind closed doors in Washington D.C. this weekend which will use as much as a trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayer's money to bail out failed corporations in the financial sector and absorb all of the bad debt that has resulted from corruption and irresponsable business practices motivated solely by corporate greed and excess, this editor feels the need to ask: how much more injustice and corruption will the people swallow before they rise up and demand direct democratic control over their own destiny? This proposal, which will see the average U.S. citizen who is struggling for survival amid rising food prices, vanishing social services and health care pay for the excesses of the very same corporate elite that have enslaved them with 'free market capitalism,' is an absolute outrage. It is nothing more than a modern day fuedal system of corporate overlords and citizen serfs. It is painfully obvious that this so called 'free market capitalist' system is in reality more a form of corporate socialism where the people are the guarantors of corporate welfare, providing for the basic needs and safety net for the corporate elite, while in return the people are denied the basic necessities for their own welfare. Apparently in this 'free market capitalist' system, socialism is quite alright when it comes to corporations, but when it comes to using taxpayer dollars to provide health care, education, infrastructure and other basic social services to every citizen, that would of course be beyond the pale. - Editor

Watch the following video for more information:


In light of the outrage of the proposed federal bailout of failed and corrupted financial institutions in the U.S. which will utilize 800 Billion or more of citizen's tax dollars, should we not be asking ourselves a couple of questions? Why do corporations seem to have more rights than persons in the U.S.A.? Why is socialism OK when it comes to corporations but not for every citizen when it comes to providing a safety net for their basic needs? We need more direct democracy so that the people themselves have the tools to legislate a return of rights and benefits to the citizens themselves and regulation to abolish corporate greed and corruption. - Editor

Friday, September 19, 2008


Technology and democracy: combating distortions

By Reilly Capps, staff writer
Daily Planet
Thu Jul 31, 2008, 08:02 PM MDT


Telluride, Colo. -

Cynics say we’re living in a time of unprecedented lies and spin. After all, five years ago, a president distorted the facts and led us into a war. Not enough people questioned the administration’s “facts” about WMD and aluminum tubes, not to mention the idea of “pre-emptive war” during its “War on Terror.”

But is all that true?

If you look strictly at the numbers, we’re living in a world where more documents, histories, and general facts are available than ever before. There exists on the World Wide Web an archive of virtually everything ever said by virtually every top official in the Bush administration, and anyone determined enough can go through and sift out the fudges (someone counted 935 lies about Iraq).

It might, in fact, be getting harder to lie. Journalistic plagiarizer Jayson Blair got tripped up by LexisNexis. A Google search here revealed a town manager candidate’s alleged criminal past.

One of the Web sites aiming at opening the floodgates of information and letting information flow freely is Archive.org.

The founder of that Web site, Brewster Kahle, will speak at the Telluride Tech Fest at 3 p.m. Saturday. The Tech Fest is a gathering of technology-minded researchers and entrepreneurs, and the theme this year is “Democracy and Technology.”

One of the best ways to help democracy with technology is by giving voters the best access to the most information.

“We want universal access to all knowledge,” Kahle said Thursday, by telephone, from his office in San Francisco. “We believe that’s the opportunity of our generation.”

Archive.org has a library that all but a few bricks and mortar libraries would be jealous of. You can read 450,000 scanned-in books, and his 200-person army of workers is busily scanning in 1,000 more every day, he said. Works of philosophy, history, government, novels.

“It’s the Enlightenment idea that this country was sort of founded on,” Kahle said. “The idea that the individual is worth investing in — universal education and the modern library system came out of that. We see ourselves in that tradition.”

Sarah McClain, who runs the Tech Fest, brought in Dan Pearlman to talk about “Democracy at the Supreme Court,” and will be showing a movie by Keya Lea Horiuchi called “Considering Democracy.” Kahle and Archive.org could be part of the backbone of participatory democracy in the future.

“That’s a large part of what democracy should be,” McClain said, “is access to knowledge and be able to make your own decision.”

Kahle gives this example:

Archive.org has old press releases from the Bush Administration on file. There’s one from 2003, issued at the time of the “Mission Accomplished” speech on the aircraft carrier in San Diego. It read “President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.” After it became clear combat hadn’t ended, the White House went back into its own press release and quietly added a word: “President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.”

But thanks to Archive.org’s archiving, watchdogs caught that change, and stopped a little bit of historical airbrushing.

It’s not all seriousness at Archive.org. There’s every concert ever played by the Grateful Dead, and video of Final Fantasy and “Sex Madness.”

Still, Kahle sees his mission as very serious, and echoes the late Peter Lyman, one of the great thinkers about the internet.

“Now knowledge has an address,” Lyman said. “You can go and build on it.”

While kids used to learn from secondary sources, from textbooks and such, now kids and adults can go to the primary source.

“That’s very exciting to see the actual things,” Kahle said. “Lets go find out what Nike is saying.”

Along with all this democracy talk the Tech Fest is bringing back the Tesla Coil, that crazy Frankensteinian electricity generator, on main street Friday and Saturday nights.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Though none have passed in recent years, North Dakota has a strong history of Initiative & Referendum. Read the following article for the latest intitiative and visit the link below for more background on Initiative & Referendum in North Dakota. - Editor

In the mail: Measure 2: A rare chance to cut your own taxes

Herald staff report

Published Sunday, September 07, 2008

Source: http://www.grandforksherald.com/articles/index.cfm?id=85976&section=Opinion

MANDAN, N.D. — Recently, Measure 2 officially was certified for the Nov. 4 ballot. Voters will have a historic opportunity to vote on guaranteed tax relief, thanks to the work of 65 North Dakotans who helped put Measure 2 on the ballot.

Every month, we hear new estimates of just how big the surplus will be. The latest number by the Office of Management and Budget pegs the projected surplus just less than $1.3 billion, with more than $450 million of that excess revenue occurring outside of the oil-tax windfall the state has enjoyed.

Many people would like to debate which tax is the “right tax to cut,” but the simple fact is that the overall burden is the real issue. The income tax is drawn from every paycheck, and the property tax is paid in one lump sum each year. Yes, the property tax is a real problem, but the 2007 Legislature spent 78 days debating the property tax and came up with an income-tax credit.

Measure 2 at its core is a very simple question for voters: Do you want guaranteed tax relief starting in January, or are you willing to roll the dice to give the Legislature another chance to get it right?

North Dakota is widely thought to have the most citizen-friendly initiative and referendum system in the nation. North Dakota voters have a better chance than do voters in any other state of directly influencing the laws and political climate of our state. This chance for direct democracy was in large part obtained by the reforms of the Non-Partisan League during the 20th century’s teens and ’20s.

We have to be careful about how we use initiative and referendum, but it is completely appropriate in times such as these to go to the people and ask them if they like the way things are going in government. Beyond cutting taxes, Measure 2 certainly performs the task of taking the pulse of the people, which is something most lawmakers will appreciate, whether they admit it in public or not.

Dustin Gawrylow

Gawrylow is the state policy director at Americans for Prosperity of North Dakota.

For more on I&R in North Dakota see: http://www.iandrinstitute.org/North%20Dakota.htm

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador is calling upon US citizens to participate in protesting the unjust actions that the US government has taken against democracy in El Salvador. The pledge below is an opportunity for concerned citizens to participate in a grassroots response to the misguided and anti-democratic policies of US elected representatives regarding the upcoming elections in El Salvador. Please read the pledge below and visit the CISPES website - (CLICK HERE) to sign. -Editor

People’s Pledge to Defend Free & Fair Elections in El Salvador

Given that:

* The peoples of every nation have the right to political self-determination and autonomy.

* The U.S. government has a long history of outright manipulation of political, social & economic conditions in El Salvador to its own financial and political gain AND without concern for the wellbeing of the Salvadoran people.

* The U.S. government regularly channels funds—through United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—to destabilize popularly supported leftist governments across the globe, and particularly in Latin America, where countries are humanely rebuilding their nations to generate prosperity for all and to escape the stranglehold of US hegemony.

* The U.S. government has consistently and systematically interfered in the Salvadoran electoral process since the end of the civil war in 1992, through a premeditated combination of lies, malicious manipulation and diplomatic threats. One example: before the 2004 Presidential election, members of the U.S. Congress threatened to deport Salvadoran immigrants and cut off money being sent home to families if the ruling right wing party were not re-elected.

* The President of El Salvador openly called for U.S intervention in the upcoming elections during his November 2007 visit to Washington, DC, in a public event where he received the 2007 “Freedom Award” from the International Republican Institute.

* The Bush Administration has already begun to intervene in the 2009 elections in El Salvador through federal harassment of CISPES—limiting the support that concerned people in the US can give for free and fair elections in El Salvador.

As such, it is our duty as conscientious people—imbued with our own political strength—to curtail this profound abuse of power and influence. We pledge to take decisive action in the event of any statement or action made by elected or appointed U.S. officials, including members of the United States Congress, State Department, foreign embassies, and the White House, that intend to control the outcome of the 2009 presidential, municipal or legislative elections in El Salvador.

By pledging, we place ourselves on “active alert,” poised to hold protest actions and to call on U.S. government officials as part of a direct, national response to U.S. intervention in the 2009 Salvadoran elections.

In the name of true justice and true democracy we will raise our voices and take action in defense of the Salvadoran people’s right to determine their own fate.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Connecticut does not have initiative & referendum, however the Constitution of the state of Connecticut provides for citizens to convene a Constitutional Convention to revise or amend the constitution by voting for a ballot provision that appears every 20 years. Direct democracy advocates are taking advantage of this rare opportunity in the hopes of bringing initiative & referendum o the state through constitutional amendment. We wish them success In the endeavor - Editor

State Voters Can Give Themselves Stronger Voice

September 10, 2008

Source: http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/op_ed/hc-daly0910.artsep10,0,7404644.story

Nov. 4 will be a seminal day. We the people will be able to gain a stronger voice by voting yes on a ballot question, "Shall the state Constitution Convention be convened to revise or amend the state Constitution?" This question appears every 20 years as provided for in our state constitution.

The coalition supporting the yes vote has proposed a constitutional amendment to provide for direct initiative rights for Connecticut citizens. Today, 31 states have direct democracy laws, which include initiatives, referendums and recall. Sadly, Connecticut is one of only 19 states to not have these citizen empowerment laws.

The first state to allow popular referendums was South Dakota in 1898. The last was Mississippi in 1992. The evidence to date suggests that the Constitution State would benefit greatly from having this mechanism at our disposal.

John Matsusaka, a professor of finance and business economics at the University of Southern California, recently wrote a book called, "For the Many or the Few." Examining over a century of tax and spending data from all 50 states and 4,700 cities, he found some intriguing differences between states that allow citizen-initiated referendums and those that do not.

For example, Matsusaka found that states with the initiative mechanism had significantly lower taxes and spending. From 1960 to 1990, per capita spending was about $83 lower in an initiative state than a non-initiative state — or a $332 savings for the average family of four. He also found that 70 percent to 80 percent of voters are glad to have initiative and referendums in their state.

Another benefit of allowing citizen-sponsored referendums seems to be a greater interest in politics as a whole. Indeed, recent studies by Mark Smith, a political scientist at the University of Washington, show that when there is an initiative on the ballot during mid-term elections, voter turnout climbs.

Many of the Founding Fathers had an intuitive faith in the initiative process. George Washington was very clear when he stated, "With Initiative and Referenda there will be no need for further Constitution Conventions. People will be able to revise the Constitution when necessary. The basis of our political systems is the right of people to make and alter their Constitutions of government."

The initiative-referendum mechanism could further arm Connecticut voters by providing them with an opportunity to speak loudly and clearly on issues such as property tax caps, the repeal of the state income tax, a three-strikes law, medical marijuana and term limits, to name a few. The proponents of the campaign are Democrats, Republicans, independents, liberals, moderates and conservatives. Their goal, in addition to citizen empowerment rights, is to help facilitate what brings us together rather than constantly focusing on what tears us apart.

We believe that Connecticut voters would regret not following the wisdom of yesteryear's founders and today's scholars. Looking to November, we should consider listening to that wisdom and vote yes for a Constitution Convention.

Matthew M. Daly is chairman of the Constitution Convention Campaign. John J. Woodcock III, a lawyer, is an adjunct political science professor at Central Connecticut State University and a former Democratic state representative.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Sunday, September 14, 2008


This article demonstrates the demands of many American people to have more of an influence in questions of politics, economy, and social disintegration. From the right to the left, people everywhere are finding new ways to participate and they are actually making a difference. -Editor

Seeing Red, Feeling Blue in Purple America

by David Sirota
Dispatches from the Nation's Populist Uprising

By all measures, those of us Americans not in the top 1 percent of income earners are under enormous economic pressure and most of us feel powerless to influence those who act in our name. Public attitudes toward Washington are reaching record levels of animosity. A Scripps Howard News Service poll in 2006 found a majority of Americans saying they “personally are more angry” at the government than they used to be. And there’s a growing backlash against the hostile takeover of our government by Big Money interests.

It’s the natural reaction from a country that is watching its pocket get picked. Wages are stagnating, health-care costs are skyrocketing, pensions are being looted, personal debt climbs—all as corporate profits keep rising, politicians pass more tax breaks for the superwealthy, and CEOs pay themselves tens of millions of dollars a year.

“There’s class warfare, all right,” billionaire Warren Buffet recently told the New York Times. “It’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

But that may not be true for much longer.


In a year of travel to report for my new book, The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington, I found those who are fighting back: shareholders running resolutions against corporate boards, third parties shattering the two-party duopoly, legislators kicking down lobbyists in state capitals, bloggers orchestrating primary challenges to entrenched lawmakers, or—on the darker side—armed, enraged suburbanites forming vigilante bands at our southern border. What connects these disparate uprisings is both the sense that America is out of control, and an anger at the government for creating the crises we now face.

In Helena, Montana, I watched Kirk Hammerquist testify before the state legislature in opposition to a tax measure designed to give more breaks to wealthy, out-of-state property owners. Hammerquist owns a construction company in Kalispell, and has got the whole cowboy look going—jeans, boots, and a mustache.

“I was driving down last night on an ice skating rink,” he says, recounting his journey through the snowstorm that just hit. “And I said, ‘why the heck am I doing this?’

“This state is really becoming a playground of the wealthy—we know it, we can’t deny it,” he says. “And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against wealthy people—I’m trying my hardest to be one. … But to sit there and work on a three- to five-million-dollar home for an owner that is going to be there for a couple of months in the summer … and to think the guy that’s working with me [putting] all this pride and sweat into that house is going to get less [of a tax refund] than that person who is going to come play here for a few months—I tell ya, it made me drive all night. I speak for a lot of people, the guys that work with their hands. I had to come down and represent them.”

This is a populist uprising—a “politics that champions issues that have a broad base of popular support but receive short shrift from the political elite… It explains why today’s uprising defies the clichéd red and blue states that flash across our television screens every night.”

In Seattle, I talked to the founder of an unlikely high-tech labor union about the way a fundamental sense of unfairness is driving a growing number of high-tech workers to put aside the libertarianism that has in the past led them to vote Republican and dislike unions, as issues like wages and health care pull them in a populist direction. They are reacting to working conditions that keep them on a permanent “temporary” employment status. They have watched as 221,000 American tech jobs were eliminated by offshore outsourcing between 2000 and 2004. As one Microsoft employee told me, every tech worker now fears coming in to work to find their entire division outsourced to India.

In New York, I met with the grassroots organizers and campaign volunteers of the Working Families Party, which has used the state’s fusion voting laws to bring together voters across the political spectrum under the banner of higher wages, fair taxes, affordable housing, civil rights, and campaign finance reform—issues too often ignored in modern politics.

This is a populist uprising—a “politics that champions issues that have a broad base of popular support but receive short shrift from the political elite,” as the Atlantic Monthly’s Ross Douthat says. “This explains why you can have left-populists and right-populists,” he adds. And it explains why today’s uprising defies the clichéd red and blue states that flash across our television screens every night.

Those in the uprising are sick and tired of a political system that ignores them. Without inspiration, whatever uprising sympathies people may have are easily quashed under a sense of helplessness. But as the stories in my book show, when that inspiration exists, the uprising intensifies.

More than any time in recent history, people are ready to take action in response to the emergency that is the state of the world today.

Fear, Frustration, and Simple Answers
The Minutemen are gun-toting guys who patrol border areas looking for people trying to sneak into the United States from Mexico. They’ve been labeled everything from patriots, to vigilantes, to racists. Though they see different enemies and are plagued by paranoia, they too exhibit the pure, unadulterated frustration prevalent throughout the rest of the uprising.

As the world has gotten increasingly complex over the last thirty years, America’s public discussion about the world has gotten simpler. Issues like foreign policy, globalization, and immigration have added all sorts of gray shades to the political landscape. But with so much complexity and so many conduits of propaganda, the only messages that break through are the most crisp sound bites and the most simple explanations.

For someone like Rick, who spent 20 years developing a landscaping business in southern California, this has created a terrifying fog—one that eliminates any sense of security or control. He sees complex demographic shifts make whites a minority in his town. He watches global economic forces stress his business. He got involved with the Minutemen because he got sick and tired of trying to battle it out with other businesses that employ low-wage illegal immigrants.

“They don’t gotta pay workman’s compensation, no liability insurance,” he says. “I just can’t compete with them.”

But he, like all of us, has become addicted to simple answers—so addicted, in fact, that he barely notices when those answers conflict with each other.

When we talk about the environment, he says, “This country is being destroyed from within by its own government.” He says environmental regulations “are running business out of this country faster than you’ll ever know.” Yet he complains that smog is destroying Los Angeles.

When we talk about his time at Douglas, the California defense contractor now owned by Boeing, he says the company moved many of its operations from Long Beach to China.

“We’re losing our jobs, and these are good-paying union jobs,” laments the same guy who was just ripping on unions.

Right after saying it’s time to arrest corporate executives who hire illegal immigrants, he’s railing on “these politicians who’re banging on large industry, saying big business is bad.”

Joining the Minutemen is his way of taking some action in response to the emergency that is the state of the world today.

Right-wing politics has thrived by using fear and resentment to divide socioeconomic classes along racial, cultural, and geographic lines. The big problem for working-class whites, Ronald Reagan basically said, was black “welfare queens” stealing their tax dollars and inner-city gangs threatening mayhem. The big problem for yuppie Midwesterners, George W. Bush says, is middle-class East Coasters who want to legislate secular hedonism and take away their guns. The themes and the villains change, but the story line stays the same: a set of people in the economic class just below you is taking your stuff and threatening your way of life—and if those people are dealt with harshly, your troubles are over.

Joining the Minutemen allows participants to immediately behold the illusion of results in a society whose problems are so seemingly immense and immovable that activism can feel like a waste of time. It also locks them into warfare against their natural socioeconomic allies.

The Working Families Party
But in most places the uprising takes a positive form. In the bustling streets beneath New York’s skyscrapers, and in upstate towns far away from Manhattan, the Working Families Party (WFP) has become the uprising model with the most potential to convert all the populist anger and frustration into functioning political and legislative authority.

When I was reporting on the WFP, the party was channeling that anger into Craig Johnson’s state senate challenge in heavily Republican Nassau County, a key race in a strategy to create the first Democratic-majority senate in New York state’s recent history. When I visited the Johnson headquarters, it had the energy of a presidential campaign, and was the entire rainbow of races, colors, and ages. Though a Sunday, the office was packed with people running around making phone calls, preparing for door-knocking runs, and doing all the unglamorous tasks of local organizing. They were there because the WFP promises to champion their issues—and it delivers.

That scene is the WFP at its core: a somewhat chaotic, somewhat ragtag squad of political ground troops in the uprising. Need a crowd for a rally? Call the WFP. Need an expert field staff to help increase turnout in a contested election? Call the WFP. You ask Democratic politicians in New York what the WFP truly brings them, and they’ll all say one thing: people.

The WFP has created a space on every New York ballot for working people to organize around. It does this by taking advantage of New York’s election laws, which allow a minor party to cross-endorse another party’s candidate and effectively “fuse” with that party on the ballot.

On New York general election ballots in 2006, for instance, you could vote for Hillary Clinton on the Democratic Party line or the Working Families Party line, and either way your vote counted for Clinton.

Fusion’s benefits revolve around its ability to bring together culturally disparate constituencies under a unifying economic agenda, without risking a self-defeating spoiler phenomenon where a stand-alone third party candidate like Nader or Perot throws an election to the very candidates they most oppose.

A century ago, the culturally conservative, sometimes anti-immigrant Populist Party (or People’s Party) would often use its ballot line to cross-endorse Democratic candidates. The Democratic Party tended to be more urban-based and immigrant-dominated. But both parties were progressive on core economic issues like jobs and wages. Fusion voting helped make class solidarity more important than cultural division at the ballot box.

In a presidential election, a farmer could support progressive economic issues by voting for a Democratic candidate on the Populist line and not feel like he was betraying his feelings on, say, temperance. Meanwhile, an urban immigrant could vote for the same candidate on the Democratic line and not feel like he was endorsing the anti-immigrant views of rural America. By fusing their votes, they were more likely to get people elected who would serve their shared interest.

Fast forward to 1998, when New Party organizers—including Dan Cantor—joined with New York’s big labor unions and grassroots groups to try to use New York’s fusion laws to secure a ballot line for a new third party—one with a very narrow platform focusing on higher wages, fair taxes, affordable housing, civil rights, and campaign finance reform. The calculation was that the narrower and more populist the agenda, the more sharply the Working Families Party could define itself in voters’ minds, and the more clout it could have on its chosen issues.

“We want to stand for issues that often don’t get heard over the din of money,” Cantor told Long Island’s largest newspaper. Newsday reported that Cantor said he wanted residents to hear the name “Working Families Party” and remember: “That’s the party that thinks wages should be higher.”

The party began delivering the votes. In 2000, 102,000 WFP members voted for Hillary Clinton, including a significant number from demographics where support for Clinton was otherwise low. In 2001, the WFP provided the margin of victory for a Democrat in a tight race for a seat in the Republican-controlled Suffolk County legislature.

These and other victories have led to the WFP establishing a unique public image. A 2005 Pace University poll showed that the single most influential endorsement in New York City mayoral elections is the WFP’s—more important than the state’s major newspapers, current or former officeholders, or other advocacy groups.

The WFP’s work for Craig Johnson paid off. WFP canvassers knocked on 45,000 doors and roughly half of the 3,600 votes that provided Johnson his margin of victory were cast on the WFP’s ballot line. The New York press credited the WFP with playing a decisive role in the election.

The Future
The belief that people—not dictators, not elites, not a group of gurus—should be empowered to organize and decide their destiny for themselves seems so simple, and yet is far and away the most radical idea in human history. “Denial of the opportunity for participation is the denial of human dignity and democracy,” legendary organizer Saul Alinsky wrote.

Putting that principle into action requires genuine courage and selflessness, because participants in the uprising must make their own personal power a lower priority than popular control.

The activism and energy frothing today is disconnected and atomized. The odds against connecting it all into a true populist movement are daunting, but these stories and the others in my book show the opportunity. If more people become part of this uprising, we will not only transcend the partisan divide that gridlocks our politics, but reshape the very concept of what is possible.

Dan Cantor told me, “We have to go to people where they are on the issues they care about.” For the first time in many years, they are ready to put aside partisanship and work for shared goals. The question is whether or not we seize this fleeting moment and make it one of exponential change.

David Sirota wrote this article as part of
Purple America, the Fall 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. David is a political organizer, nationally syndicated columnist, a senior fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, and founder of the Progressive States Network, both nonpartisan research institutions.www.davidsirota.com

This article was adapted from The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington. Copyright © 2008 by David Sirota. Published by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.Buy The Uprising.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Friday, September 12, 2008


The following article, aside from explaining how a recent exercise in direct democracy in Michigan was squelched by a court ruling, also gives insight into the historical movement for direct democracy led by William Jennngs Bryan around the turn of the century. - Editor

Despite breadth, Reform Michigan Government Now! ballot proposal isn't too difficult to comprehend

PUBLISHED: Sunday, August 31, 2008
Of The Oakland Press


It's too bad Michigan taxpayers apparently won't have a chance to vote on the Reform Michigan Government Now! proposal to change the way business is conducted in our state capital.

Critics claim that the group's proposal was a stealth effort to change the way redistricting occurred in Michigan so as to benefit Democrats. It would have been a great experiment in direct democracy.

At the turn of the century, there was a politician by the name of William Jennings Bryan. He was called the Great Commoner because he claimed to represent that era's person on the street --or in those days, it was just as likely to be the person on the farm.

He must have been popular, because three times the Democratic Party nominated him for president: in 1896, in 1900 and again in 1908. He was a forerunner of the later Progressive movement and pioneered reforms such as the referendum, recall and initiative.

It is through such devices that people in our form of governance can take matters into their own hands when their elected representatives fail.

Our system is designed as representative democracy, not direct democracy. Yet Bryan's slogan was "let the people rule," and he believed the public fully capable of making critical decisions.

"To Bryan, truth and virtue were determined by the popular will," wrote Ray Ginger. "He resented the experts in government as much as he resented the plutocrats in business. He insisted that ordinary people are fully competent 'to sit in judgment on every question which has arisen or which will arise, no matter how long our government will endure.' And so Bryan advocated all measures that would extend direct democracy in government: the initiative, the referendum, direct primaries."

In barring the reform proposal from the ballot -- despite the fact that some 400,000 Michiganians signed petitions to put it there -- the three judges of the Michigan Court of Appeals stressed that "we do not act to prevent the citizen from voting on a proposal simply because that proposal is allegedly too complex or confusing. Nor do we seek to substitute our own preferences as to governmental form, structure or functioning for those of the electorate."

But you have to wonder. Among other things, the proposal, billed as an amendment to the state constitution, would have reduced the number of appellate judges and cut the salaries of those who remain --among other things.

Be that as it may, the reason the court gave for striking down the proposal was that judges said it constituted a general revision of the constitution because it dealt with more than one subject. They pointed out that the proposal affected four articles of the constitution, seeking to modify 24 sections and add four others.

But as Andrew Nickelhoff, attorney for Reform Michigan Government Now! pointed out, there is no such specific language in the constitution restricting the amendment process.

Oddly, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizations seeking to invalidate reform group's petitions, itself proposed a ballot plan last year seeking to change multiple sections and articles of the constitution.

"Talk to the person on the street," said the reform group's spokeswoman, Dianne Byrum. She said they appeared to understand the proposal as they jumped at the chance to sign the petition.

If true, would the people have been smart enough to figure that out?

What do you think? The proposal as it would have appeared is printed alongside today's column.

Do you understand it? How would you have voted: yes or no?

Let us know -- and why.

Glenn Gilbert is executive editor of The Oakland Press. Contact him (248) 745-4587 or glenn.gilbert@oakpress.com.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The following article provides some backround information about Illinois lieutenant governor Pat Quinn's advocacy of direct/participatory democracy and initiative & referendum. We salute his efforts in this regard and call for more elected officials to join him in calling for the expansion of direct democracy at all levels of government. - Editor

Quinn: Climate of friction in Assembly obstructs taxpayer rights

by Rob Heidrick
Aug 26, 2008

Source: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=97987

When he talks about his track record of striking nerves in Springfield, Pat Quinn comes off as more than slightly amused.

Illinois’ lieutenant governor of five years, Quinn has become increasingly vocal in calling out the General Assembly, the Cook County Board and his own boss, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, for what he perceives as intrusions into taxpayer rights.

Most recently he took issue with the Assembly’s plan to give themselves pay raises as Cook County taxes steadily creep upward.

“A lot of people today feel that the office holders too often ignore the public point of view,” Quinn says. “Indeed there may be some that are even contemptuous of the public point of view.”

Last week Quinn picketed one of the governor’s speeches, urging the public to sign a petition dissuading lawmakers from allowing the automatic 7.5 percent pay raise to take effect. Blagojevich dodged the crowd by entering the building through a back door, and Senate President Emil Jones refused to shake Quinn’s outstretched hand as he brushed past him.

“When he walked in, he said, ‘What’s your name?’ to me,” Quinn says. “Not very complimentary, I guess.”

Despite the cold reception, the stunt worked. The lieutenant governor collected more than 17,000 signatures in 48 hours, putting enough pressure on the Assembly to call a vote and cancel the raises.

Quinn takes pride in his ability to move the masses, referring to his grassroots campaigns as the unstoppable force to Springfield’s immovable object. He has built his political career around his support of initiatives, public referendums and recall of public officials, all of which he regards as vital components of participatory government.

“I believe in direct democracy,” Quinn says. “It’s a good safety valve to have when things go askew in government.”

Quinn has fought for his concept of direct democracy since the '70s, when he led a series of petition drives asking legislators to reform the state tax system and grant Illinois citizens the power to vote directly in referendums. His best-known effort to enact such referendums, the Illinois Initiative, received widespread public support before failing in the state Supreme Court in the late '70s.

The ultimate line of defense, in Quinn’s opinion, would be an amended state constitution that gives Illinois residents a louder voice in the political process and limits the government’s ability to overburden taxpayers. “The people are the boss,” Quinn said at a recent conference while proposing an amendment to strengthen the power of the state’s Compensation Review Board.

Quinn says taxpayers should have the power to vote directly on constitutional amendments, which will only become possible if there is sufficient support for a constitutional convention in November’s election.

A constitutional convention, or “con con,” as it’s called by insiders, is a meeting of specially elected delegates who propose and vote on new amendments to the state constitution—which could include new regulations on campaign ethics, school funding, pay raises or a number of other possibilities. The proposals would then be sent back to Illinois voters, who would approve or reject each amendment in an up or down vote.

Convention delegates, as Quinn is quick to point out, do not have to be career politicians, nor do they have to be affiliated with any political party. This distinction, the lieutenant governor says, makes them more independent of the Springfield mentality and thus more capable of representing the true perspective of the citizens of Illinois. Many delegates attending a 1970 con con had had no prior political experience, and many never returned to politics after the meetings concluded, according to Quinn.

“They were there to do a job,” Quinn says. “And I think that attitude is why a convention is superior to just relying on the same old people in Springfield that we have today.”

Quinn’s ongoing quest to amend the constitution has given him a sort of notoriety among his peers—some see him as a man staunchly devoted to ensuring a formal guarantee of taxpayers’ rights, while others regard his actions as a threat to the stability of the state’s most important document.

“There’s just not agreement that a constitutional convention would be productive or constructive, given the political climate that we currently have,” says Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable and member of the Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution.

Mays and the alliance believe that there are other avenues to bring about the types of reforms Quinn is pursuing. Most importantly, Mays says, politicians themselves have to stand for public election, holding them directly accountable to their constituents.

“This is a constitution you’re talking about changing. It’s not just a statutory compendium. So maybe it should take a little more time,” Mays says. “I would not want to expose our constitution to the current political winds that are blowing right now.”

Quinn says his odds of success are relatively slim, but he believes he’s got enough public support to pass the con con vote.

“There’s no question that we’re the underdog,” says Quinn, referring to a $3 million advertising campaign soon to be rolled out by the anti-con con coalition.

“The opponents of a con con, to me, they’ve got to trust democracy. They basically make an argument that the status quo is acceptable. And I think that’s where their weakest position is.”

The well-documented climate of “friction and gridlock” between every branch of Illinois government must subside, Quinn says, before the issue of amending the constitution can even be reached.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


This video describes the way that two important North American activists have struggled and succeeded in bringing about change in our society. As leading figures in various social movements, the two discuss pivotal moments in history that provoked them to take action, as well as the obstacles that face activists today. Activism is one of the fundamental building blocks of participatory democracy because there can be no participatory democracy without a well informed and politically active electorate. Naomi Klein and Tom Hayden leave viewers feeling hopeful for change through further participation by people who are inspired to act rather than retreat in to cynicism and apathy in the face of the monumental problems facing our society today. -Editor


Source: http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?id=2800&utm_source=sep08&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=41_Naomi

Naomi Klein & Tom Hayden by Naomi Klein and Tom Hayden

This series, co-produced by The Nation magazine and Brave New Foundation, brings together inspiring activists from different movements and generations, to discuss their ideas, ideals, and approaches to changing the world.

Naomi Klein and Tom Hayden converse on This Brave Nation.
This Brave Nation :: Naomi Klein & Tom Hayden

Author, Activist and Former California State Senator Tom Hayden talks in depth with the author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein, about the state of the fourth branch of government: journalists.

Both Hayden and Klein became serious journalists in college, and it was during that time that both experienced their defining moment.

When Tom Hayden interviewed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr at the 1960 DNC in Los Angeles, he asked questions while imagining the headline, “Tom Hayden Interviews MLK,” but by the time he wrote the article he knew there were more important things in the world than personal glory.

Naomi Klein rebelled from her liberal, feminist mother until Mark Lepine gunned down fourteen women in what became known as the Montreal Massacre. It was then she realized people were dying for the beliefs her mother fought for, and that realization awakened the activist within her.
After both events, Hayden and Klein dedicated their lives to telling the truth about the world, and doing everything in their power to not use subjects like “they,” but use “we” instead. It is that distinction that defines their journalism to this day.

Monday, September 8, 2008


The Palin Pick, and Alaska's Direct Democracy

Joe Mathews -
August 29, 2008 - 1:00pm


Get ready, America, for a lesson in one of our country's strangest states. What makes Alaska so different? It's not just the cold and the empty landscape. (CORRECTED 9/4): Alaska is one of a few states to have had direct democracy since its founding. Arizona has had the initiative and referendum since statehood, and Oklahoma since shortly after it joined the union.

So it's fair to say that Alaska has been shaped more profoundly by direct democracy than almost any other state in the union. As every bit of Gov. Sarah Palin's life is scrutinized, you'll hear lots of odd things for which direct democracy is part of the answer. (Here's my strongest prediction about this choice: once Americans learn how Alaska works, Leno and Letterman will start making jokes -- and it'll be years before they stop). For example, she'll have to admit -- as she has done in the past -- that she smoked marijuna. But she'll have an explanation that may surprise people. Marijuana was LEGAL in Alaska until 1990, and not just for medicinal purposes. Thank the voters for the right. The voters also took the right away.

You'll also hear about her love of hunting and fishing, and her husband's work as a commercial fisherman and in the oil fields. You'll hear a lot from environmentalists about state management of public land. Alaska law in all these matters has been profoundly shaped by the ballot. And you also should expect to see her attacked by good government types as "not a real reformer" for her decision not to back a ballot initiative establishing public finance in Alaska. The measure was defeated in Tuesday's primary elections there.

For an overview of Alaska's initiative and referenda history, check out the state page on ballotpedia.