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, March 8, 2008

UK: Update on Petition Process

The following article submitted by Consultation Watch in the UK gives an update on 10 Downing's e-petitions initiative and related moves underway to institute a similar system at the local level. For more information on this subject see our previous related post. CLICK HERE. - Editor

Direct Democracy or Petition Sham?

As part of the Governance of Britain green paper, the Department for Communities and Local Government is now consulting on Local petitions and Calls for Action.

Since November 2006 members of the public have been able to start or sign
online petitions at the 10 Downing Street website, which can run for up to 12 months and receive a Government response if signed by 200 or more people.

Governance of Britain green paper committed the Government to considering means of petitioning Parliament and devising a mechanism which could lead to a debate in the House of Commons – but strangely this is not included within this consultation, with no explanation of why not or whether it will be in the future. To find out you may want to email Hazel Blears (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)

Instead, another issue, not even mentioned in the green paper is being consulted upon: petitions to local government.

consultation document proposes that local authorities would have a duty to respond to petitions in much the same way as the 10 Downing Street system, if they relate to an issue in local government jurisdiction; are organised by a local person; and have a sufficient level of support.

However, as the consultation document admits, "many local authorities already deal with petitions systematically, scrupulously and fairly" – so it is not clear what difference this proposal would make – except for the minority of councils who perhaps do not respond formally to petitions (no examples are cited in the consultation document).

However, the document does mention examples of countries where petitions are a "trigger leading to electoral action, typically in the form of a referendum". One such example of this is
Switzerland whereby any change to Swiss law can be subjected to a referendum if 50,000 people sign a petition opposing it within 100 days. Additionally, a referendum on a constitutional change can be initiated by 100,000 people signing a petition within 18 months.Campaigning organisations such as charities, trade unions and other NGOs may therefore wish to reply to this consultation suggesting the Swiss model.The deadline for responses is 20th March 2008.

posted by Andrew

What is Consultation Watch?

At any one time there are often over 100 active Government consultations, ranging across Government departments and covering all aspects of our daily lives. To improve Government proposals for legislation at the earliest stage we all need to contribute to the policy-making process. Getting involved during the consultation period is an important part of this.

Consultation Watch aims to:
  • Raise public awareness of Government consultations;
  • Encourage people to respond to consultations; and
  • Share the expertise and insight of charities, trade unions and non-profit organisations.
We will do this by:
  • Providing links to active consultations on Government department websites;
  • Featuring prominent consultations and highlighting their most important aspects; and
  • Publishing consultation responses from charities, trade unions and non-profit organisations.

To learn more about Consultation Watch visit their website:

Also see this related link for more information on Downing Street's e-Petitions one year on from it's inception:

No comments: