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…


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Switzerland: A Model Democracy

The following recent article dispels some of the myths about Switzerland, and highlights it's longstanding tradition of direct democracy. - Editor

A Model Democracy

By not joining the EU and by standing up to the US, Switzerland has been able to follow its own successful path. We could learn a lot

By Neil Clark

March 31, 2008 1:00 PM


It's a country where both of its leading supermarkets are cooperatives inspired by leftwing philosophy. The state-owned postal service runs the buses, which connect even the most remote village- in this country public transport is still run as a public service. It hasn't been involved in a war for almost 200 years and is easily the most democratic country in Europe - with the regular use of referendums. It has taken a strong line on climate change: in the most recent general election the Greens polled almost 10%. And its unofficial national motto is "One for all, all for one". Yet, the country in question is one that progressives often sneer at- and label reactionary.

I'm talking of Switzerland, which, though it lies at the heart of Europe, is one of continent's countries about which there is most ignorance.

The first myth about Switzerland is that it operates an ultra-capitalist, dogmatically free-market economic system.

Although much of the economy is in private hands, if there is a conflict of interest in Switzerland between community and capital, community always comes first. Agriculture is highly protected - receiving twice the amount of subsidy than the EU average. Swiss Federal Railways in still in public ownership. Most shops close on Saturday afternoons and all day on Sunday. In Switzerland, unlike Britain, there are still areas where commerce is not allowed to go.

A second myth is that Switzerland is a boringly bourgeois and ultra-sanitised place where no self-respecting radical would feel at home. What surprises many who visit for the first time is the country's gritty and decidedly retro feel. Switzerland is dated - but in the best possible way. You can still smoke in wonderfully atmospheric railway station restaurant/cafes (I can heartily recommend the one at
Thun) - and imagine it's still 1968. For someone coming from Britain, Swiss streets have a refreshingly un-globalised look. Away from the biggest cities, big international fast food and coffee shop chains, which have made British high streets such bland, uniform places, are conspicuous by their absence. Swiss cities still have a bohemian feel: there is a thriving cultural and artistic scene.

Another myth about Switzerland is that its people are narrow-minded xenophobes. The racist anti-immigration
election poster of the Swiss People's party (SVP), which showed three white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag, quite rightly led to condemnation from around the world. But less well publicised were the protests the poster sparked in Switzerland and the gains made in last year's election by the unequivocally anti-racist Green party.

Switzerland's model of direct democracy is one the left should study extremely closely. Swiss citizens may challenge a law that has been passed by parliament if they can gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. In addition, citizens can put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, provided they get 100,000 voters to sign the proposed amendment within 18 months. Binding referendums also take place at cantonal and local level.

It's no coincidence that
George Lansbury, the most socialist of all British Labour party leaders, spoke favourably of the Swiss model-and called for a similar system to be introduced in Britain.

Switzerland's commitment to democracy runs deep and explains the reluctance to hand over decision-making power to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. By maintaining its independence, Switzerland is able to follow its own path, and not be dictated to by those who act as if they rule the world. Despite warnings from the US embassy in Bern, Switzerland's energy trading company EGL earlier this month signed a 25-year-old natural gas contract with the state-owned National Iranian Gas Export Company. The Swiss president and foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, defended the deal, saying, "Switzerland is an independent country that has its own strategic interests to defend". If only other European nations could show such spirit when dealing with US bullying.

Forget the jibes about cuckoo clocks and the gnomes of Zurich: Switzerland has a lot more going for it from a progressive viewpoint than many on the left realise.

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