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…


Monday, December 15, 2008

Recent Exercises in Swiss Direct Democracy

Swiss approve pioneering legal heroin program

By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS – Nov 30, 2008

GENEVA (AP) — Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved Sunday a move to make permanent the country's pioneering program to give addicts government-authorized heroin.

At the same time, voters rejected a proposal to decriminalize marijuana.

Sixty-eight percent of the 2,264,968 voters casting ballots approved making the heroin program permanent. It has been credited with reducing crime and improving the health and daily lives of addicts since it began in 1994.

Some 63.2 percent of voters voted against the marijuana initiative.

On a separate issue, 52 percent of voters approved an initiative to eliminate the statute of limitations on pornographic crimes against children before the age of puberty.

Olivier Borer, 35, a musician from the northern town of Solothurn, said he welcomed the outcome in part because state action was required to help heroin addicts, but he said legalizing marijuana was a bad idea.

"I think it's very important to help these people, but not to facilitate the using of drugs," Borer said. "You can just see in the Netherlands how it's going. People just go there to smoke."

Parliament approved the heroin measure in a revision of Switzerland's narcotics law in March, but conservatives challenged the decision and forced a national referendum under Switzerland's system of direct democracy.

The heroin program has helped eliminate scenes of large groups of drug users shooting up openly in parks that marred Swiss cities in the 1980s and 1990s, supporters say.

The United States and the U.N. narcotics board have criticized the program as potentially fueling drug abuse, but several other governments have started or are considering their own programs modeled on the system.

The marijuana issue was based on a separate citizens' initiative to decriminalize the consumption of marijuana and growing the plant for personal use.

Jo Lang, a Green Party member of parliament from the central city of Zug, said he was disappointed in the failure of the marijuana measure because it means 600,000 people in Switzerland will be treated as criminals because they use cannabis.

"People have died from alcohol and heroin, but not from cannabis," Lang said.

The government, which opposed the marijuana proposal, said it feared that liberalizing cannabis could cause problems with neighboring countries.

"This could lead to a situation where you have some sort of cannabis tourism in Switzerland because something that is illegal in the EU would be legal in Switzerland," government spokesman Oswald Sigg told The Associated Press.

The heroin program is offered in 23 discreet centers across Switzerland that offer a range of support to nearly 1,300 addicts who haven't been helped by other therapies. Under careful supervision, they inject doses of carefully measured to satisfy their cravings but not enough to cause a big high.

The aim is to help the addicts learn how to function in society, with counseling from psychiatrists and social workers.

Sabina Geissbuehler-Strupler of the right-wing Swiss People's Party, which led the campaign against the heroin program, said she was disappointed in the vote.

"That is only damage limitation," she said. "Ninety-five percent of the addicts are not healed from the addiction."

Health insurance pays for the bulk of the program, which costs 26 million Swiss francs ($22 million) a year. All residents in Switzerland are required to have health insurance, with the government paying insurance premiums for those who cannot afford it.

The current Swiss statute of limitations on prosecuting pedophile pornography is 15 years. The initiative will result in a change in the constitution to remove that time limit.

Previously only genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and terrorist acts were defined under Swiss law has being without a statute of limitations.

The government had argued that it will be difficult to put the change into practice, partly because of the legal problems of determining the onset of puberty, which varies with each child. Also, the government said, it will be very difficult to prove such crimes in trials many years after the crimes are committed.

The proponents said in campaign literature that sometimes it only becomes possible years later to build a case against a pedophile when other victims "also finally find the strength to bring charges."

"It must therefore be only up to the victim to decide whether it should be forgotten or prosecuted," the proponents said.

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