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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Tuesday, 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.

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