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…


Friday, September 12, 2008

UK: More Possibilities for Referendum

The following outlines a proposal by the Liberal Democrats in the U.K. that would expand direct democracy in that country somewhat by allowing people more say in some legislation. - Editor

Let the people have a say over bills in the Commons

If 1 million voters rejected an act within 60 days of its being passed, a referendum would be held, under a Lib Dem proposal

Bridget Fox Thursday August 28 2008 11:27 BST

August bank holiday week, and it must be the quietest of the year for British politics. And one of the most exciting in the US. Whether you support Barack Obama or not, whether he wins in November or not, this week we are witnessing history in the making, a revived American dream.

Obama and Joe Biden may embody the dream, but they're well aware, as Bill Clinton told the convention, that, for many Americans, their dream is "under siege", with rising inequality and poverty in the land of the free market.

We like to think we do better here. But after 10 years of Labour we still have a postcode lottery affecting people's lives from the start: health, childcare, exam results.

Across Islington, there are improved exam results this year. Good news, especially given that the best-connected parents still tend to send their kids out of the borough (our local Labour MP included). Meanwhile Lord Adonis (Islington resident and unrepentant Blairite), is calling for a massive expansion of the academies programme.

Under Tony Blair it was made very clear to councils that academies were an offer they couldn't refuse. Now it looks as if that will continue under Gordon Brown. But Islington's best-performing schools aren't academies. So do academies really make a difference? Especially since the Building Schools for the Future programme means secondaries don't have to become academies to get better buildings.

If the government really believes its own rhetoric on localism, and believes that local communities should have choices around schools, that must include the choice to reject the academy model.

Next month I'm off to Bournemouth for Lib Dem party conference, where one of the issues for debate is improving direct democracy in the UK. Two of the most interesting proposals are for "people's bills" and a "people's veto".

With people's bills, the six bills that got the most petition signatures each year would be guaranteed a second reading debate in the House of Commons. It wouldn't mean the law would get passed - that responsibility would still sit with MPs - but it would mean that citizens could set the agenda.

With a people's veto, if 1 million registered voters petitioned against an act within 60 days of its being passed, a referendum would be held on whether to repeal it. That could give us a real national debate on nuclear power, ID cards, or a third runway at Heathrow.

The impact of having people - and politicians - aware that voters can really influence the agenda between elections could be revolutionary. A similar process already works in the US state of Maine. Their state motto is Dirigo (I lead). Where they lead, perhaps we should follow.

Party conferences are memorable for all sorts of reasons. I'll always associate the Harrogate conference of September 1992 with Black Wednesday. The day interest rates went through the roof, I was worried about losing mine. A group of us abandoned plans for a restaurant meal and contemplated life in negative equity over jacket potatoes instead. There was a chill in the air that had nothing to do with the north Yorkshire weather.

Now with falling house prices, but rising housing costs, it's happening again. Last year repossessions hit a 15-year high. More families are facing the horror of losing their homes – and joining the long queue for affordable rented housing.

So it's good to see that at this year's Lib Dem conference, Vince Cable will be setting out our plans for people who are getting left behind.

It's not about subsidising mortgages, but practical measures to help people stay in their homes with help from housing associations, and to help councils get more social housing too.

Once again Vince is providing excellent free advice to the government: but is Labour listening? Unlikely given the complacency of Ministers reported by the FT.

1 comment:

INIREF I&R said...

More substantial proposals for the introduction of citizens' direct democracy in Great Britain and N. Ireland may be found at
I&R ~ GB Citizens' Initiative and Referendum
Campaign for direct democracy in Britain