We as citizens of the United States 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. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. 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, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. 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.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. 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.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

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…


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Plan 'D' for Democracy: The Path to a True Citizen's E.U.

[Comment] Debate Europe!

02.04.2008 - 15:41 CET
By Margot


EUOBSERVER / DEBATE - "Associating citizens to the European construction is more than ever a fundamental issue. If we do not want the citizens to desert once more the European elections in 2009, political leaders need to regain citizens' trust and confidence in the European project and show they care about citizens' involvement in the decision-making machine."

These are the words of 250 EU citizens in an open letter to the EU Heads of State and government, the national parliaments, the EU institutions and the European political parties after a conference in Brussels in December last year.In the same letter, they called on the European political parties to address 27 recommendations made by them, ranging from social issues to climate change and the EU's role in the world, and to discuss them in view of the elections to the European Parliament in 2009.

I attended this conference, the purpose of which was to draw conclusions from six EU-wide participatory democracy projects that the European Commission co-funded in 2006 and 2007, as a part of its 'Plan D', for democracy, dialogue and debate.Indeed, as Vice-President of the Commission I was one of the 'decision-makers' to whom the conclusions were addressed.

The Plan D projects experimented with different approaches to trans-national deliberative consultation and polling, as well as ways of organising face to face and on-line debating events and collecting feed-back from the participants.

Altogether, 40.000 randomly selected EU citizens participated in the six projects and hundreds of thousands were estimated to have participated virtually via the Internet.

Plan D confirmed for me what I already felt to be true: That when they are consulted on complex political issues citizens will not only respond but they will demand more.

It showed clearly and concretely the importance of empowering citizens by giving them access to information so that they are in a position to hold an informed debate on EU affairs. It showed that European democracy should and could be founded on an active European citizenship.

Follow-up actions to Plan D

The European Commission has now decided on the follow-up actions to Plan D. We call these next steps "Debate Europe", because we want trans-national consultation of citizens to become a permanent feature of EU democracy. With "Debate Europe" we want to change the perception that EU matters are too abstract and disconnected from the national public debate to be of interest to citizens. And we want to break the often artificial divide between national and European issues. The policies of the EU affect everyone's lives, whether through its Regulations on subjects such as mobile phone roaming charges or through the free movement of people or goods or any other of the EU's many achievements.

EU policies therefore need to be fully anchored in the political parties, in the national democratic traditions, and in the daily political dialogue. They need to be discussed and debated, whether in the town hall, in regional assemblies, national parliaments, on television shows or on the internet. Politicians have to make EU policies understandable and relevant to citizens. We have to listen and to deliver. We have to make the EU institutions accountable and reliable to those they serve. We need to debate and discuss together what initiatives and decisions the EU should take.Only then can we achieve good and sustainable political results. Public support for the EU will come only through a lively and open debate, and by getting citizens actively involved in designing the European project. And remember, the EU is not "Brussels" – it is 27 Member States with 500 million citizens, their governments and elected representatives at all levels. If politicians are serious about making change happen, then all politicians have to play their part!

The challenge

It is only by standing on the solid ground of knowledge that you can form rational opinions and take a stand.That is a necessary condition for a well functioning and stable democracy. So it automatically also becomes a necessary condition for the future of the EU and the European model: delivering prosperity while protecting the environment and preserving social justice and inclusiveness – embracing globalisation within a framework of solidarity and sustainable development that ensures the security of Europe's citizens, including future generations.

The challenge now is to act on what we hear – to ensure that citizens' views are fed into the policy-making process.The results of what the European Commission has done since it launched Plan D in October 2005 confirms that there is clear demand for measures to strengthen and expand political dialogue on European issues.

And it has been made clear that deliberative and participatory democracy can usefully supplement representative democracy. A true citizens' EU is perhaps not just around the corner, but the process has started and there is no turning back.

Margot Wallström is Vice President of the European Commission, responsible for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy

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