"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…



WashingtonOregonCaliforniaAlaskaHawaiiIdahoNevadaArizonaMontanaWyomingUtahColoradoNew MexicoNorth DakotaSouth DakotaNebraskaKansasOklahomaTexasMinnesotaIowaMissouriArkansasLouisianaWisconsinIllinoisIndianaMichiganOhioMississippiAlabamaGeorgiaSouth CarolinaNorth CarolinaFloridaTennesseeKentuckyVirginia West VirginiaPennsylvaniaNew YorkMaineVermontNew HampshireRhode IslandConnecticutNew JerseyDelawareDistrict of ColumbiaMassachusetts

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

No comments: