"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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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.

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