"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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Sunday, November 30, 2008


Wealthy interests alter Calif's initiative process

By STEVE LAWRENCE – Oct 29, 2008

Source: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5j2VeEkncwhV-7wabJ49pS5Zok41AD9441E600

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — When Hiram Johnson championed an initiative system for California nearly a century ago, he sold it as a grassroots way to "arm the people to protect themselves."

California's 23rd governor foresaw citizen campaigns putting propositions on the ballot when the Legislature failed to address a pressing need.

But 97 years after Californians voted to allow themselves to put measures on the ballot, Johnson's experiment in direct democracy has changed dramatically.

He certainly could not have envisioned the multimillion-dollar campaigns for several measures on California's Nov. 4 ballot, some of which critics say will benefit their wealthy sponsors at the expense of California taxpayers.

Paid petition circulators, not armies of volunteers, typically gather initiative signatures these days. Corporations, wealthy individuals, labor unions, Indian tribes and other monied interests frequently spend millions to battle over the proposals.

The Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles think tank, reported in May that there had not been a successful initiative signature-gathering drive conducted almost exclusively by volunteers in California since 1982.

This year, volunteers collected most of the signatures to put Proposition 2 on the ballot, said spokeswoman Robin Swanson. The measure, one of 12 statewide propositions on California's ballot, would set enclosure standards for farm animals.

Former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, a Los Angeles Democrat who formed a commission in 2000 to consider ways to reform the initiative process, said the system has been undermined by big-money campaigns.

"The whole thinking behind the initiative was it comes from the people, not the few people that have a checkbook," he said.

To its critics, one proposition on the ballot this year could be the perfect example of the flawed initiative process.

Proposition 10 was placed on the ballot by oilman T. Boone Pickens, a Texas billionaire, whose natural gas company stands to gain financially if it's approved.

The proposal would set up a rebate program for alternative-fuel vehicles and authorize the state to borrow $5 billion to fund it — at a time when the state is struggling with multibillion dollar budget deficits.

Half the money would be used to provide rebates of up to $50,000 to consumers who buy vehicles that run on natural gas and other non-petroleum fuels. Critics say that would mostly benefit companies that have large vehicle fleets, not average consumers.

There also would be $340 million to fund rebates for buying fuel-saving vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and money for research and development of alternative energy technologies.

"This is going to do a lot to help consumers in California who want to buy cars that run on something other than gasoline," said Marty Wilson, a consultant to the Yes-on-10 campaign. He also said Proposition 10 would help clean the air and reduce the state's dependence on foreign oil.

But opponents suggest the measure is mainly about promoting natural gas-powered vehicles and enriching one firm: Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a Seal Beach company started by Pickens.

Clean Energy, which bills itself as the "largest provider of natural gas for transportation in North America," has given more than 80 percent of the $22.5 million raised so far to pass the proposal. Two other natural gas companies have contributed most of the rest.

"This is the most naked money grab that I have ever seen in terms of using the ballot, using the voters to advance a business proposition," said Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California.

Proposition 10 isn't the only California ballot measure that's attracting million-dollar donations this year. Nearly half of the more than $175 million raised so far for November initiative campaigns has come from individuals, corporations or groups that gave at least $1 million.

Several studies over the years have recommended changes in the initiative system, but bills to alter it tend to die in committee or on the governor's desk.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation in 2006 that would have prohibited initiative campaigns from paying petition circulators on a per-signature basis, a step the bill's supporters said would remove an incentive for circulators to mislead potential signers.

Schwarzenegger also rejected a bill in 2005 that would have required initiative petitions to disclose if they were being circulated by volunteers or paid workers and to list the five biggest contributors to the initiative campaign.

Schwarzenegger said both measures would have made it harder to qualify initiatives, something he opposes.

The Center for Governmental Studies' report earlier this year recommended 17 changes, including giving initiative proponents up to a year to gather signatures, a step it said would aid volunteer campaigns. Currently, the limit is 150 days.

It also suggested trying to impose a $100,000 limit on donations to initiative campaigns, although that could run afoul of a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that shot down a $250 donation limit adopted by the city of Berkeley.

Having a lot of money won't guarantee approval, but sometimes the public sees only one side of an initiative debate — "the side that has the money," said Robert Stern, the center's president.

"Bottom line, money talks," he said. "At some point, it really does corrupt the system."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When old Hiram said the ballot initiative process was to protect the people he was correct. The people voted two times for the protection of heterosexual marriage and in California we passed a redistricting law that should protect the populace from careerist politicians.
As a paid petitioner I realize most people simply don't care if you are paid or not. I tell them I have the best job in the world.
(I tell them I have the best job in the world,I talk politics all day, help people participate in their democracy,and someone pays me money to do so!)
There were paid petitioners in the first ballot initiatives. It was never the intention of the early progressives to exclude them.
Except in rare cases,volunteers could never do the job. The work is to demanding (I was attacked twice in the push on Prop. 8., once, I had 3 ribs broken and a brain concussion because I dared to petition in front of a Wal-Mart store and in the last four years have had the police called on me 148 times and not once was I found out of compliance)!! Volunteers average 12 valid signatures a day- a professional-100 signatures and with amillion signatures needed for a California statewide iniative you can see the problem.
Yes,there is dishonesty in the movement, something I deal with on my blog PublicPetitioner.Info, but the answer is not in limiting freedom or methods of payment, but, in the voter taking responsibility for what he is signing. Although, I certainly would not mind an increase in penalities for deliberate misrepresentation.
In final anaylysis direct demomocracy is much less corrupt than our politicians.