"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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Monday, December 29, 2008


Change.gov Content Now Under Creative Commons License

Commentary by Richard Esguerra
December 1st, 2008

Source: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2008/12/change-gov-content-now-under-creative-commons-lice

In the last few days, President-elect Obama's transition team took a significant stride towards a more open government by licensing the content of Change.gov under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Using that license essentially means that the transition team is allowing others to freely share and remix what's posted there, provided that reposts are attributed to Change.gov. The move is a victory for the public and the many advocates for a more wired, participatory democracy.

It's also another reminder of the importance of Creative Commons, which affords creators an opportunity to opt for something less than Disney-style copyright restrictions. By embracing a CC license, the Obama team sets a valuable example for others in government, many of whom may have defaulted to "all rights reserved" without considering other options.

While Change.gov has experienced some growing pains, the transition team appears to be making a real effort to use the website as a legitimate location for its conversation with the American public. The preview post of the President-elect's planned weekly address (posted on Thanksgiving Day) includes links to multiple sources — an embedded YouTube video, a link to the same video posted to Yahoo! Video, and a high-resolution .mov file — with the Creative Commons license guaranteeing that the public can freely share, remix, comment, and report on the President-elect's statement.

The switch to Creative Commons licensing is encouraging and we hope that it is a herald of more pro-open government changes to come.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Commentary: Internet can strengthen democracy

August 26, 2008 -- Updated 0117 GMT (0917 HKT)
By Craig NewmarkSpecial to CNN

Editor's Note: Craig Newmark was working as a San Francisco-based computer programmer in the 1990s when he started e-mailing friends about local events. His simple Web site has grown into
Craigslist, which provides classified ads and forums for more than 500 cities in over 50 countries. This commentary by Newmark, a Barack Obama supporter, is one of a series from McCain and Obama supporters attending party conventions.

"How do we build what some call 'participatory democracy'?" asks Craig Newmark.

SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- Like most people, I really don't want to be bothered with politics. On a gut level, it seems to be the province of the popular kids, and I'm a nerd. (Plastic pocket protector, thick black glasses taped together, that was me in school.)

Now, my day job is customer service for a Web site I founded, helping tens of millions of people. I'm in touch with a lot of everyday human concerns, that's the gig. Every day, I connect with people across America who want to make things better, a new generation committed to civic engagement.

To that end, people are using the Internet as the platform for tools for elections and governance. Speaking as a nerd, I love the technology, but what really matters is the means by which we all can use the Net to strengthen democracy in the USA. We can address practical problems and also better realize the vision of the Founding Fathers.

Nationally, the Howard Dean presidential campaign pioneered the use of the Net for grassroots campaigning, involving ordinary people in the election process. The Net proved to be an effective tool for organization and fundraising. However, this campaign didn't quite reach critical mass, perhaps because there weren't enough Americans with high-speed
Internet connections at the time.

In this electoral cycle, we see campaigns like the
Barack Obama campaign using the Net for organizing and fundraising very successfully. Additionally, we're seeing the Obama campaign use the Net to battle disinformation campaigns. For example, rumors that he's a Muslim or wants to raise taxes for ordinary Americans.

The key is that the campaigns manage to get ordinary people involved, including people like me who'd rather not be bothered with politics.

After the participatory campaign, how do we build what some call "participatory democracy" or "networked democracy?"

Here are several areas where people are starting to make that real:

311: Customer service for government -- In New York and San Francisco, California, people can call 311 for city services. For example, you can get a pothole fixed, or find out how to get a license. In the future, it will be possible to make direct use of 311 systems over the Net. I feel all levels and departments of
U.S. government should provide customer service this way.

New York and San Francisco have made a good start, and interestingly enough, the Transportation Security Administration is doing a good job with its
blog. Transparency and accountability -- Money plays a much larger role in government than a democracy can survive. Some companies find it's easier to lobby for privileges than to compete in a free market. A notorious example of that involves "no-bid contracts." Sunlight Foundation is the hub of a network that allows people to blog about how lobbyists and others use cash in ways that might not survive public scrutiny.
Take a look at MapLight.org
, Pass223.com, and Congresspedia.org, for examples. I feel all government action should be made visible to the public, probably including all contributions by lobbyists.

Supporting the troops -- There are small things we can do, like supporting the new
GI Bill and helping get adequate medical care for veterans and their families and the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of America. The Net helps veterans in obvious ways, like awareness and fundraising. Even better, it connects citizens with the soldiers and military families who need a hand, like the Yellow Ribbon Fund, Adopt A Platoon and Any Solider. The theme is to get help directly to the people who need it, with the least middlemen possible. The focus of much of this is the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who helped pass the new GI Bill.

The Permanent Town Hall -- Americans overall are pretty smart and we know how to run things, providing we can overcome the privileged trying for more privileges. The problem involves too many voices providing a wide range of ideas of varying quality. We need Internet-based platforms that people can use to voice needs and suggestions, with means by which the participants can rate the priority and usefulness of those statements.

Such systems exist in their infancy, like the ratings on Amazon.com and the filtering provided in Slashdot.org
. The first of these is already happening and we need to recognize their importance and accelerate their adoption.

The last requires more work, but is more important. American leaders are surrounded by people who filter input and who can isolate the leader in a bubble of disinformation. (Symptoms include low approval ratings or not knowing how many houses one owns.)

iReport.com: Watch Newmark's iReport endorsing Obama

However, if you know how Americans use the Net to talk, you can easily stay in touch with real people.

Speaking as a customer service rep, that's the real deal.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


The U.S. Media Reform Movement
Going Forward

Robert W. McChesney


All social scholarship ultimately is about understanding the world to change it, even if the change we want is to preserve that which we most treasure in the status quo. This is especially and immediately true for political economy of media as a field of study, where research has a direct and important relationship with policies and structures that shape media and communication and influence the course of society. Because of this, too, the political economy of communication has had a direct relationship with policy makers and citizens outside the academy. The work, more than most other areas, cannot survive if it is “academic.” That is why the burgeoning media reform movement in the United States is so important for the field. This is a movement, astonishingly, based almost directly upon core political economic research.

The political economy of media is dedicated to understanding the role of media in societies—e.g., whether the media system on balance encourages or discourages social justice, open governance, and effective participatory democracy. The field also examines how market structures, policies and subsidies, and organizational structures shape and determine the nature of the media system and media content. The entire field is based on the explicit understanding that media systems are not natural or inevitable, but they result from crucial political decisions. These political decisions are not made on a blank slate or a level playing field; they are strongly shaped by the historical and political economic context of any given society at any point in time. We make our own media history, to paraphrase Marx, but not exactly as we please. We do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

For much of the past century there has been a decided split in the political economy of media between U.S. scholars and those based in almost every other nation in the world. In the United States it generally has been assumed, even by critical scholars devoted to social change, that a profit-driven, advertising-supported corporate media system was the only possible system. The media system reflected the nature of the U.S. political economy, and any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist political economy. Since that was considered unrealistic, even preposterous, the structure of the media system was regarded as inviolable. The circumstances existing and transmitted from the past allowed for no alternative.

Elsewhere in the world, capitalism was seen as having a less solid grasp on any given society, and the political economy was seen as more susceptible to radical reform. Every bit as important, media systems were regarded as the results of policies, and subject to dramatic variation even within a capitalist political economy. In such a context it was more readily grasped that the nature of the media system would influence the broader political decisions about what sort of economy a society might have. In other words, the political economy not only shaped the nature of the media system, the nature of the media system shaped the broader political economy. Scholars and activists were more likely to understand that winning battles to reconstruct the media system were a necessary part of a broader process to create a more just society, even if the exact reforms being fought for were not especially revolutionary in their own right

Click here to continue reading.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Another article in a series that we have posted tracking the progress of the Neighborhood Councils experiment in participatory democracy in in Los Angeles. - Editor

Private Memoirs of an IEA

By Stephen Box
Source: http://www.citywatchla.com/content/view/1732/

(Note: Neighborhood Council elections are now managed and overseen by the City Clerk. Independent Election Administrators are no longer a part of the NC election process.)

This past Saturday marked the end of my tour of duty as an Independent Election Administrator charged with supervising Neighborhood Council elections throughout the City of Los Angeles. My final election was held in Chatsworth, where stakeholders have traditionally been identified as those who "Live, work, own property or board a horse." The week prior, I was in Coastal San Pedro where stakeholders have traditionally been identified as those who "Live, work, own property or dock a boat." Such is the diversity of Los Angeles. Of course all of that changed when our City Council imposed the new "Live, work, own property or whatever" stakeholder status on Neighborhood Councils and it was then that I knew the end was nigh.

Through it all, I learned a great deal from those I've worked with, encountering along the way a multitude of people with unique talents and perspectives who challenged me to be innovative in making the election process relevant to the needs of their local community.

I've also been humbled as I watched newly immigrated senior citizens listen patiently as a translator explained how to use a ballot, all as they prepared to vote for the first time in their lives. I listened to a candidate explain to a Forum audience that he came from a country that held no elections. Now that he was here, he felt that it was his duty to run. These experiences served to remind me that Neighborhood Council elections are a significant and important step into the world of participatory democracy.

As an IEA, I've been run ragged and overwhelmed with voters. I've sat in an empty room, bored and holding an empty ballot box, waiting for the day to end. I've been yelled at and cursed and I've been hugged and thanked and made to feel like family.

I've conducted elections in museums, churches, community centers, schools, a train station and even the Farmer's Market. I've even held meetings in parking garages and I’ve held two elections on the sidewalk after getting locked out by LAUSD. Along the way, I was perpetually reminded that it was never the comfort of the facility but it was always the spirit of the people that made for a successful election.

In spite of the fact that Los Angeles is the second largest city in the country, I now think of LA as a collection of small towns, NC sized, complete with unique character, personality, needs and desires. It's my experience that it was the ability of NC's to make unique the Neighborhood Council experience, tailoring the bylaws and election procedures to their needs and philosophy, that was key to creating ownership and responsibility.

While critics claim that the old system of elections allowed for too much variation, deviation and even failure, I counter with this: True democracy is a guarantee of process, not of result. Granted, it allows for failure but it also allows for success. Either way, the results belong to the participants and that is the essence of participatory democracy.

For all of the pontificating and posturing as the City Council weighed in on the Neighborhood Councils and revised the DNA of the system, I never encountered a City Councilmember at an NC election. Perhaps they think it inappropriate to meddle in NC politics and they might have a point, a good point.

Still, it would have been nice to see them drive by, drop off a box of Krispy Kremes and thank the volunteers. After all, this is where the business of the people takes place.

As this era fades, I'm optimistic for the Neighborhood Council system, not because of the recent changes in process but because of the people I've met, the friends I've made and the passion and enthusiasm I've encountered along the way.

To the neighborhood councils I've worked with, thanks for the ride!

(Stephen Box served as an Independent Election Administrator for a number of years. Box writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.netThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it ) ◘

Vol 6 Issue 90
Pub: Nov 8, 2008