"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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Friday, October 24, 2008


A debate is raging in Connecticut, ironically known as "The Constitution State," over a measure on the Nov. 4th ballot that would call for a constitutional assembly to propose amendments to the state's constitution. On one side of the debate are those in favor of the convention, such as the Connecticut Constitutional Convention Campaign whose stated reason for being in favor is solely to bring initiative, referendum, and recall to Connecticut by means of the convention. They are joined by, or opposed by, a flurry of special interest groups who, regardless of their stance on the convention, seem to be missing the essential point: that initiative & referendum would allow the entire electorate to decide on legislation relevant to these interests in a truly direct democratic fashion. Whether they are those who favor the convention because they wish to ban gay marriage through referendum , or public employee unions that are opposed to the convention because an initiative process could potentially threaten the power structure and flow of revenues that sustains their organizations, these special interest groups apparently have no reverence for the only meaningful motive for bringing intitiative, referendum, and recall to the state: to entrust legislative power to the people where it belongs through direct democracy. Instead, the opposition has raised nearly a million dollars to launch a "NO" campaign against the "YES" camp's twelve thousand dollar budget, and the special interests on the "YES" side continue to obscure the core argument for direct democracy that is behind the movement. They should all put their interests aside and take the opportunity to grant the people the power to decide. - Editor

Three articles on the subject follow.

Here also are the main opposing websites: http://www.ctvoteno.org/home http://www.ctconcon.com/index.html

Constitutional Convention: False hope or direct democracy?

by Christine Stuart October 22, 2008 11:19 PM
Posted to General News
Source: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/general_news/constitutional_convention_fals.php

Ed Pilkington of Manchester walked into Hartford Public Library Wednesday night not knowing how he would answer November’s ballot question: “Shall there be a Constitutional Convention to amend or revise the Constitution of the State?”

After hearing more than an hour of debate between three panelists against a constitutional convention and two panelists in favor of it, Pilkington walked out of the library thinking he would be voting ‘Yes’ to the question in November.

However, Pilkington didn’t necessarily agree with the motives of constitutional convention proponents.

Proponents of the convention would like to see the constitution amended to include direct initiative or ballot referendum, which would give citizens a way in which to petition public policy issues directly onto a ballot.

Pilkington said he thinks it may be a healthy exercise for the state to open up the constitution every few decades and take a look at it. He said if the question passes he’ll be sure to let his legislators know that’s why he voted in favor of it.

Pilkington said after hearing Matthew Daly, Constitution Convention Campaign chairman, talk about the 1965 convention and how only two of the 259 proposals made it out of the convention, in addition to knowing that the legislature would appoint the delegates to the convention, “made me feel comfortable.”

Frank O’Gorman, of People of Faith, said all you have to do is look at ballot initiatives being proposed in other states, like Colorado where voters will decide this November if a fertilized egg should be given inalienable rights, to see how dangerous voting in favor of a constitutional convention would be. He said proponents of a constitutional convention and direct initiative “are abridging the principles of what makes a constitution, a constitution.”

John Woodcock, Constitution Convention Campaign vice chairman, said the ‘Yes’ campaign is issue neutral. He said thinking its about one issue or another is exactly what the ‘No’ people want and “we refuse.”

Woodcock, a former Democratic state legislator who is credited with authoring the state’s first Lemon Law, said some of the most important laws in this country were passed by direct initiative. He said 13 states gave women suffrage before the 19th Amendment, six states passed public campaign finance laws, eight have approved medical marijuana laws, and six states have used it to increase the minimum wage.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is not in favor of a convention, said “my main worry about the convention is that it raises false hopes.” He said he thinks the people in favor of the convention are picturing a town hall meeting where everyone will attend and have a vote.

“I think a constitutional convention is like an empty vessel and everybody pours into it their hopes,” Blumenthal said. “And I think those hopes would be dashed. I think the idea raises very false expectations. And I think nothing illustrates that point better than the unresponsiveness of the legislature being a reason for the constitutional convention, and then the emphasis on the leadership of the legislature being the ones to choose the delegates.”

As a former legislator, Woodcock said he knows the General Assembly would never amend the constitution itself. He said there’s “institutional hostility by the legislature to giving people the right to ballot petition.”

“It’s never gonna happen,” Woodcock said. “It has to happen now or 20 years from now.”

The constitution says voters must be asked the question about a convention every 20 years. The last convention the state held was in 1965.

Kim Knox, constitutional scholar and lawyer at Horton, Shields, and Knox, said the constitution is a stable continuous body of law, which is succinct and 10,000 words.

Knox said she thinks people need to differentiate between statutes, which “can bend with the wind,” and the constitution. She said amendments are a way the constitution has some flexibility, but the amendment process wasn’t intended to be easy.

Many in the audience Wednesday expressed frustration with unresponsive elected officials.

If people have issues with an unresponsive legislature then “you all have a say in that. Every election you have a say,” Knox said. “Do we need to take the risk of a convention?”

Blumenthal said the state constitution has been amended by the General Assembly 30 times since 1965.


Constitution question creates conflict

By Devon Lash
Staff writer
Article Last Updated: 10/23/2008 11:44:50 PM EDT
Source: http://www.connpost.com/localnews/ci_10800144

STAMFORD -- A simple question on Connecticut's ballot Nov. 4 is polarizing advocacy groups, forcing legislators to choose sides and setting off a debate about the very definition of democracy.

Voters will decide if the state will hold a convention to amend or revise its constitution.

The Connecticut Constitutional Convention Campaign promotes voting yes for a convention to re-examine the constitution and allow appointees to propose amendments.

The group has raised about $12,000, and counts Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the Catholic Conference, the National Taxpayers Union, the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayers and the Green Party among its supporters.

The opposing Vote No Campaign, which raised about $829,350 as of last month, is backed by 45 organizations, 70 clergy members, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, of Bridgeport, and his Democratic challenger Jim Himes, of Greenwich, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Darien First Selectwoman Evonne Klein.

The Vote No Campaign held a 45-minute news conference Thursday at the Stamford Government Center with Mayor Dannel Malloy and representatives from the state League of Women Voters and the United Auto Workers union to urge the public to vote no.

"There is no compelling need for a convention," Peggy Shorey, the campaign manager for Connecticut Vote No, told the 20 people in attendance. "We already have a process in place to amend our constitution -- the legislative process."

Yet the Connecticut Constitutional Convention Campaign said a convention will raise a very compelling need -- a system of direct initiative, enabling voters to petition to get issues on the ballot.

"We're one of only 19 states that doesn't have direct initiative," said John Woodcock, vice chairman for the Connecticut Constitutional Convention Campaign. "There needs to be a mechanism available so people can have their voice heard."

Other groups, such as the Family Institute of Connecticut, have joined the convention campaign in hopes that enacting direct initiative would eventually allow voters to directly weigh in on the group's pet projects, which for the Family Institute is a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, executive director Peter Wolfgang said.

Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court decided 4-3 to overturn the ban on same-sex marriages.

Malloy said a convention is the "worst way" to amend state law.

"The constitution has been amended some 30 times since 1974 -- without a constitutional convention," he said.

In calling for a convention, Shorey said taxpayers won't get to decide who will attend or what will be proposed.

"None of these people will be elected," she said. "The politicians in Hartford will appoint lobbyists, special interest groups and party operatives. Any part of the state constitution is on the table for change."

Woodcock said there is little danger the process won't be responsible because the public votes on all the proposals suggested by convention delegates.

For example, at the last constitutional convention in 1965, 259 proposals were submitted and two were approved, he said.

"This is a rare opportunity for the public to directly say, 'Let's take a look at our constitution,' " said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk.

Bob Madore, regional director of the UAW, said his concern is for the burden such a convention would place on taxpayers.

"Folks can't afford gas, oil and food," he said. "The public is going to be burdened with the cost."

Shorey estimated hearings, staff and meetings would result in a cost of "hundreds of thousands" of dollars.

Both groups said they plan to advocate for their cause through debates and advertisements for the next 12 days.

Scare tactics used to avert convention

By Chris Powell
Published: Thursday, October 23, 2008 10:23 AM EDT
Source: http://www.journalinquirer.com/articles/2008/10/23/chris_powell/doc4900878ec9dc0687500633.txt

More political hysteria has come from the campaign against Connecticut's referendum on calling a state constitutional convention than from all the other campaigns in the state this year combined.

It is said that a constitutional convention would be dominated by special interests; that it would destroy civil liberties; that it would bankrupt the state by allowing too much government spending or choke the state by preventing spending; and that it would create chaos by establishing initiative and referendum, by which the public could make law directly.

So what could have been going through the heads of the supposed crackpots who wrote the state Constitution at the last convention, in 1965, when they included the requirement for asking the people at referendum every 20 years whether they wanted to call another convention? And what could have been going through the heads of the supposed crackpots who then inhabited the state when they voted overwhelmingly for that Constitution? If a convention is so dangerous, why regularly ask the people if they want to call one?

The supposed crackpots at the 1965 convention were actually the foremost members of Connecticut's political establishment, drawn equally from the two major political parties. And the supposed crackpots who enacted the convention's work, the new state Constitution, included the parents and grandparents of many of the people who inhabit the state now. Were they all really that nutty? Or did they just recognize the possibility that government occasionally might get so sclerotic as to need outside prompting for reform?

In fact, by itself a constitutional convention can do none of the scary stuff cited by the propaganda against it. A convention can only propose amendments to the Constitution. The people themselves then would determine at referendum whether to accept such amendments. And while some people are advocating a convention for reasons of specific policy -- like establishing initiative and referendum; changing Connecticut's binding arbitration system for public employee union contracts; and overthrowing same-sex marriage, recently elevated to a constitutional right by the state Supreme Court -- there is little telling what a convention would do.

For it is a long way from calling a convention to getting it even to discuss any particular issue.

Calling a convention is only the first step. Selecting the delegates would be the next, and the manner of selecting delegates would be left to the governor and General Assembly to decide by legislation. For the 1965 convention, summoned mainly to bring legislative districting into compliance with the new federal "one man, one vote" standard, delegates were elected by the people, chosen from statewide slates nominated by the major political parties. But the governor and legislature could legislate for delegates to be chosen in other ways -- even by appointment rather than by election.

And then any constitutional amendments proposed by the convention would be sent to the people for decision at referendum.

The loudest argument being made against calling a convention is also the most bogus: that a convention would be dominated by special interests. Since the method of choosing delegates is not yet known, there is no evidence for such a claim. Meanwhile the main argument in favor of calling a convention is that Connecticut's regular legislative process -- that is, the General Assembly -- is already so dominated by special interests that public-interest legislation has little chance.

The proof of this is in the groups on opposing sides of the convention issue. The supporters of calling a convention are mainly the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organizations and the Family Institute of Connecticut, the latter lately joined by the state's Catholic bishops. These groups have raised only a few thousand dollars for their campaign. Opposed to calling a convention are mainly a bunch of public employee unions, led by the Connecticut Education Association, the state teachers union, which have raised close to a million dollars and thus are sponsoring television commercials.

That is, the public employee unions are happy with state government; taxpayer groups are not. Who is the "special interest"?

Besides, even if a constitutional convention was called, it would be very unlikely for anything to come of it. Dominated by the public-employee unions, the legislature probably would rig the delegate-selection process in favor of them. No, votes to call a convention will be little more than idle protests. And yet these protests will be justified by the hysterical resentment they already have aroused.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer.

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