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…


Saturday, August 23, 2008

EU: France and Other States Experiment with Direct Democracy

France and Other States Experiment with Direct Democracy


Paris recently moved to give its citizens the right to decide on major European Union issues like expansion. The move is just the latest in European experimentation with direct democracy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy narrowly pushed through a reform to France's constitution last week that creates the prospect of more referendums in the future on the key European Union issue of expansion. The fact that the French now have the right to directly vote on one of the EU's most important issues could mean that the union's core project, expansion, will become unpredictable. Under the newly reformed constitution, narrowly approved on July 21, French voters will be allowed to have their say on issues such as future Turkish EU membership.

There are conditions on the new reform, though: Parliament, for example, can put the brakes on any EU referendum. In order to do so, members of parliament in both the lower and upper chambers -- the French National Assembly and the Senate -- must vote with a three-fifths majority either for or against a country's accession. Sarkozy sought to secure the power to decide whether voters should be able to hold a referendum or not for himself; but parliament refused to back down.

Following Ireland's referendum in June -- which saw voters there reject the Lisbon Treaty, the legaleze-filled document that replaced the draft EU constitution (which had in turn been rejected by French and Dutch voters) -- Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer also demanded that future EU treaty changes be decided by referendum. "We think any future changes to the treaty that affect Austrian interests must be decided in Austria by referendum," he said. His remarks, though, did little to save his wobbling government, which collapsed soon thereafter.

In Germany, the federal constitution, or Basic Law, doesn't envision referenda at the national level, but opportunities are increasing for direct democracy at the local level (more...). In Berlin, for example, voters recently rejected a referendum that called for Tempelhof Airport (more...), the historic site of the Berlin Airlift, to be kept open despite the city government's plan to close it.

SPIEGEL has compiled a map on the varying degrees of direct democracy in EU member states. You can click on the graphic above for more details.


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