"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 9, 2008


The following article offers a summary of the results for evironmentally related ballot initiatives on state ballots last Tuesday. - Editor

Mixed Bag for State Environmental Ballot Initiatives

Written by Timothy B. Hurst
Published on November 5th, 2008


[Update: I seemed to have overlooked an important constitutional amendment passed in Minnesota that established a funding mechanism for conservation programs. My apologies to our friends in the North Star State. See comments for more.]For many Americans, participatory democracy means choosing between the people who will choose for you. But for voters in 36 states, electoral democracy exists beyond the parameters of representative government. In the states where the tools of direct democracy like referendums and ballot initiatives are employed, preferences of voters are gauged directly on amendments to state constitutions, specific policy questions, budgeting issues and more. Of the 153 measures at stake across the country in yesterday’s election, about a dozen dealt with energy and the environment. Below are the results and analysis of eight of the more notable measures (in no particular order):

Missouri Proposition C: Yes - Passing with a robust 64% of voters in favor, Proposition C will require investor-owned electric utilities to generate or purchase 2 percent of their electricity from clean, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, landfill gas, biomass, and small hydroelectric projects by 2011, ratcheting to 15% by 2021. Supporters of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) initiative, Missourians for Cleaner Cheaper Energy, pointed out that 86% of Missouri’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. The passage of proposition C made Missouri the 27th state to pass a renewable energy standard.

Colorado Referendum 58: No - Strongly supported by Governor Ritter, the referendum would have repealed the $300-plus million tax credit oil and gas companies get for extracting mineral resources from the state. The revenue would have funded college scholarships and renewable energy programs.

Colorado Referendum 52: No - Referendum was competed with and would have superceded 58 had they both passed. constitutional proposal that would have funneled millions of dollars from severance taxes into transportation projects — suggested they might return it to the ballot as a statutory amendment, which would erase a major stumbling block. 52 and 58 faced some very well-funded opposition in the form of $12 million worth of industry attack ads that portrayed the measures as “a tax on us.” The oil and gas industry was able to overwhelm counterclaims that it would be very hard for the industry to simply pass on the tax when oil and natural gas are sold in global markets based on supply and demand.

Florida Amendment 4: Yes - Approved by a margin of 68%-32%, the amendment provides a property tax exemption for perpetual conservation easements or other perpetual conservation protections. Conservation easements allow the development rights of a parcel of land to be separated from the title and put into permanent conservation and provide a tax benefit for it. The conservation mechanism has been successful throughout the U.S., though there have been cases where the tax benefit has been abused.

Washington Proposition 1: Still undecided - A regional transit proposal that would extend light rail service from downtown Seattle into the surrounding suburbs was headed for passage behind solid support in Seattle’s King County.

Ohio Issue 2: Yes - With 69% voting in favor and 31% voting against, Ohio’s Issue 2 was a clear favorite. The measure authorizes the state to borrow $400 million for environmental conservation, preservation and revitalization purposes. The amendment is identical to the bond issue passed by the voters in 2000 and will add funding for The Clean Ohio Program.

California Proposition 1A: Yes - Voters on Tuesday approved the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act by a margin of 52 percent to 47 percent. The proposition permits the selling of about $10 billion in state bonds to fund the planning for a system of high-speed rail linking San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.

California Proposition 2: Yes - Proposition 2 creates a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The proposition passed by a robust 63%-37% majority despite strong opposition was from industry groups (’big ag’ if you will) that argued the measure would drive up the cost of food, specifically eggs.

California Proposition 7: No - The Clean and Solar Energy Act of 2008 would have increased the renewable energy portfolio standard for utilities including government-owned utilities to 20% by 2010. It also would have ratcheted up that standard for all utilities to 40% by 2020 and to 50% by 2025. Leading the opposition were two utility companies, PG&E and California Edison that argued the proposal was poorly written and so complicated that it could hurt the cause of renewable energy in the state. The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the state’s Republican, Democratic and Green parties said the measure would actually hurt the growth of renewables in the state.

California Proposition 10: No - Called for the state to raise $5 billion in bonds to fund rebates for the purchase and retrofitting of vehicles to run on alternative fuels including natural gas. 60% of Californians voted against the measure despite the more than $17 million spent to promote the measure. Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens was a chief supporter of the proposition and is a board member of Clean Energy Fuels Corp., the company which sells natural gas as transportation fuel.

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