"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 17, 2008


Healthy Democracy Oregon's Citizens' Initiative Review is aiding the Initiative & Referendum process in that state by giving citizens accurate information and unbiased analysis of measures on the ballot. Read the following from their website for mre information. - Editor

The Citizens' Initiative Review

For reference and review.

The Citizens' Initiative Review is a citizen-based review process for statewide ballot measures. Each Citizens' Initiative Review panel would hear arguments from the campaigns for and against the measure, along with background information and testimony from policy professionals and affected parties. Following this careful multi-day review, the panel would deliberate on the merits of the measure. The Citizens Initiative Review panel would determine if:

• the ballot measure will really do what its supporters claim it will; and

• if the ballot measure provides a good solution to a statewide problem.

The panel would then report their findings directly to every voter in Oregon through the statewide Voters’ Pamphlet. These findings would be highlighted next to the summary information about the ballot measure. By providing a trustworthy, balanced, and citizen-based source of information in the hands of every voter across Oregon, the Citizens Initiative Review has the potential to decrease the influence of political spin in our initiative process.

What happens?

Citizens panels are convened by the Citizens' Initiative Review Commission to review citizens' initiatives that qualify for the general election ballot.
These citizens panels, comprised of 18 - 24 registered voters selected at random, are each tasked with deliberating for 3 - 5 days on one ballot measure. During the deliberation process, panelists hear from pro, con and background witnesses.
Panelists draft a report on the ballot measure outlining their findings and conclusions. The Citizens' Initiative Review report is summarized to one page and published in the Voters Pamphlet, providing the citizens of Oregon with a trustworthy, balanced, and investigative report on each ballot measure.

Who are the panelists?

The 18 - 24 citizen panelists are selected at random through a statewide survey.

They are stratified to be a microcosm of Oregon in terms such as age, education, partisan affiliation, and residence.

They will be paid a fair day’s wage for their participation.

How will this be run?

The CIR will be conducted as an independent state commission.

Overseen by an independent board composed of citizens.
There will be yearly evaluation by citizen panelists and moderators.
Why should I trust this?

  • Allows the viewpoints of a microcosm of the state to be heard.
  • Comes from ordinary citizens, not the proponents and opponents who each have their own agendas.
  • No interest group has control.
  • Process is designed to maintain neutrality and fairness.
  • Based on tested methods.

The Citizens Initiative Review is intended to allow a microcosm of the people of Oregon, meeting in citizens panels, to take a close look at at ballot initiatives. They will spend three to five days doing this and then issue a report with their findings. A one-page summary of this report will be placed in the Voters Pamphlet, with the full report being available online, as well as in libraries around the state.

Each citizens panel consists of 18 to 24 Oregon citizens, 18 years of age or older, who reflect fairly the population of the state as a whole with regard to age, education, political attitude and geographic location. These people are contacted at random according to high standards of scientific random sampling. Several hundred names will be gathered in this way and placed in a “jury pool." Then a final selection of 18 to 24 for each citizens panel will be done to meet the demographic targets to create a microcosm of the state. This can be done in public to enhance trust of the process.

Each panel will review one initiative or referendum that has qualified for the statewide ballot. The review will be conducted over three to five days, during which time proponents and opponents of the initiative will testify about the reasons for and against passing the initiative. The citizen panelists will have an opportunity to question these witnesses, as well as to hear testimony from independent witnesses. On the final day, the panelists will divide up into those who favor the initiative and those who oppose it. They will list the main reasons why they favor or oppose the initiative and indicate information that helped them to make up their minds. They will also indicate how many of them favored and how many opposed the initiative.

The CIR is designed to help Oregon citizens make sound voting decisions and to strengthen the voice of average citizens in the initiative process. The CIR report in the Voters Pamphlet will be brief and clear, yet will provide evaluation and analysis that reflects in-depth consideration from different points of view. The mix of citizens from around the state will help the panelists focus on what is good for Oregon as a whole.

If voters want more information about the panelists' review of an initiative, they will be able to review the testimony and proceedings of the panel through a new CIR Web site established by the board of commissioners. This Web site will bring together, in one place, the summaries of the positions of the opposing sides, independent information such as economic analysis, and the discussions of the panelists. Without having to spend excessive time and money on gathering relevant information and reviewing each initiative in depth, the general public will be able to access easily the reliable information they need to make their evaluations.

Each Oregon voter most likely will continue to use his or her own sources of information in making voting decisions; however, the CIR panel report will alert them to facts and perspectives that they would not have been given otherwise. The pro and con witnesses at the hearings will be forced to go beyond sound bites and to answer the panelists' questions in an honest and clear manner. This is an opportunity which citizens almost never get. The results of this analysis will be presented in a clear and simple way easily accessible to the voters of Oregon.

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