"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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Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Educating the Revolution

Asset B21970 Posted By Szamko
Source: http://www.gnn.tv/threads/23773/Educating_the_Revolution

Democracy is supposed to be a central goal for radical movements, from anarchism – which seeks to work towards a democracy free of hierarchy and evolving from the bottom up, with no role for the state – to mainstream conservatism – which seeks a regulated democracy and a strong state which can ensure social and economic stability. Even the Peoples’ Republics of the Eastern Bloc maintained a constant democratic facade, even as in practice, they developed systems of control which we tend to reject as authoritarian. In his own world view too, Hitler was a democrat, ruling with the people, for the people (or the Volk) as a conduit for the general will.

So Democracy is a contested idea. Despite its centrality to the rhetoric of state systems across the political spectrum, however, the practice of democracy is usually shallow when it is not an illusion. Democracy restricted to periodic representative elections is much less than the rule of the people, which the concept presupposes.

So how can we move towards ruling ourselves, as the most radical democrats demand, while still allowing for the pooling of our sovereignty within larger social units, as practicality requires?

One of the most crucal aspects of building a democratic society is also one of the most overlooked. Few people have argued in favor of the radical democratization of education, but there can be no adult democracy without the development of self rule and the confidence to participate in democratic structures at an early age. We emerge from school, all too often, adults in the economy, but children in democracy. It’s not surprising that public participation in policy formulation and implementation, along with social movements and anti-war activism are so far from the mainstream.

But we require popular participation in order to effect social change. So democratic schooling is an essential element of future democracy. Well directed public policy intended to create the conditions of democracy at a high-school (or secondary school) level could act as a “non-reformist reform” – a reform intended to help generate the conditions for revolutionary change. It is so palatable to the professed ideals of many societies that a slightly left of center government could put it into place.

What do I mean by the democratization of education? Obviously it is a massive subject, and because it is a little studied one, we have to proceed somewhat in the dark, but some outlines might be drawn to begin.

Firstly, the strengthening of student bodies, school parliaments, debating societies, even to the extent of creating participatory budgeting for sections of school life are options to bring young people into the process. That process I would suggest, is not the process of entering the “political system” but gaining the confidence and skills to rework that system, while encouraging self rule.

Secondly, and perhaps more radically, I propose the introduction of “pupil shares” – in which each member of the school (teachers included) receives a share of the funding set aside for the school by government. The level of this funding would then be linked to factors like academic performance, participation in political events, cultural production, level of participation in sport.

It could even be linked into efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the school. Schools which work to install solar panels or grow food on permaculture plots within school grounds, or institute recycling programs, would receive credits for doing so.

So each pupil would benefit from the collective actions of the school. At the end of the education of each pupil, they could qualify to withdraw a set amount from the annual funding (say, five percent of their share) and this amount could be negotiated within the school through democratic means. Naturally bright high-fliers would still have the strong incentive to perform well in the form of good grades and university admission. Everybody would have an incentive to help with tutoring in order to raise the general “share price” of the school.

The ownership of “one share” in the school itself, if formulated on a basis of equality between staff and pupils (the share could amount to quite a large amount of money) would give pupils far more bargaining power with staff and even with the school board and wider community. Class presidents would become meaningful positions, able to lead their electorate into strike action, go slows, or into more positive actions like organizing political debates.

If teachers depend upon the share price (to an extent) for bonuses, and the pupils for future gain (or maybe some sort of social credit system to help them access university or employment) then a system of trade offs would operate. At times, the pupils would consider taking collective action to influence school policy. At other times, they would reject it as counter-productive. Teachers would have an incentive to work with students, rather than “above” them.

At the moment, pupils are taught down to by necessity. Education is almost uniformly an experience of being given facts and tasks in which the pupil has little negotiating power or creative input. It’s a poor schooling for the give and take, group bargaining and collective action needed to generate democratic change outside the school.

There are some obvious objections to be made from a radical perspective (and many for conservatives). The linking of democracy to monetary gain, even if this gain is related to socially beneficial production and sustainability, might be seen as a schooling in speculative capitalism and personal accumulation rather than in solidarity and mutual aid. I would agree, but suggest that in any pathway towards genuine social change there are trade-offs and stepping stones. The benefits from promoting collective action and responsibility outweigh the potentially insidious effects of “monetarising democracy.”

Secondly, you might argue that linking individual political development into the collective fate of the school, promotes the kind of allegiance to nation and state that non-reformist reforms would seek to weaken. Having a nation of democratic schools competing against each other for prestige, would change little from the local patriotism shown by many schools right now. But if student democracy develops as I believe it might, then it will overflow the boundaries of the school and enter the wider community. Beyond that even, delegates could be elected to regional student bodies to coordinate cultural or political events.

There is no telling precisely what the effect of creating such a virtuous cycle would be. However, any move towards brining participatory democracy into the mainstream is welcome and, increasingly, essential.

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