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…


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SWITZERLAND: Direct Democracy Fuels Controversy

The right wing SVP in Switzerland has again launched yet another effort to use Swiss direct democracy to forward their radical views on cultural and immigration issues. All of their recent efforts have been defeated at the polls, showing that direct democracy serves well to strike a balance between factional radicalism and the general will of the majority. (click here to see our previous Switzerland posts for information on recent similar referenda). - Editor

Direct Democracy Against Dada

In Switzerland, a right-wing party is using local referenda to try to de-fund the avant-garde.


ZURICH—More than half the word’s referenda are said to take place in Switzerland, where voters are invited to weigh in on national, cantonal, and local matters up to four times annually. In large part this is because Swiss citizens can easily petition for a referendum; all they have to do is collect 100,000 signatures in 18 months and the item will be added to the national voting agenda. Generally the issues that get people most riled up are civic matters relating to the military, urban planning, health, and immigration, but several recent referenda have touched on the cultural landscape, and on the ballots this September are two votes that threaten arts venues, both initiated by the right-wing party Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP).

While the SVP views culture, and in particular traditional culture, as an important factor in the well-being of the country, the party campaigns against excessive arts funding and has taken a cynical position regarding contemporary art. Its first target this fall is Zurich’s publicly funded Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of Dada in 1916. Founded by artists and intellectuals Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara, and Marcel Janco during World War I as a place where any form or tradition of artistic enterprise was welcome, the cabaret reopened in 2004, with significant funding from the Swatch group and the city, as a center for artistic experimentation. Having proved neither commercially viable nor entirely avant-garde, today it occupies a place outside the mainstream art world. The catalyst for the referendum was a controversial casting by sex therapist Maggie Tapert for sex “slaves” to meet the needs of her female clients; the event was moved to another venue and turned out to be a tame affair, but not before the vote was set in motion to determine whether the city should continue the center’s “wasteful” funding. Tapert has decried the vote, saying, “Those who are financing the Dada house want it to be a museum where nothing actually happens. The very things that honor the Dada tradition are frightening to those in power.” The SVP said in a statement, “The people of Zurich are already jaded about the waste of money [on cultural subsidies].”

The second referendum is to take place in the town of Uster, about 10 miles east of Zurich, where the Villa am Aabach faces a similar challenge. Initiated by the SVP along with the Schweizer Demokraten (SD), a conservative party with isolationist tendencies, this vote attempts to revoke funding for the local contemporary art space, allegedly for cost-saving reasons — and despite the fact that the SVP was represented on the jury that recently selected the center’s new artistic directors, Monika Bühler and Michael Gutscher. Bühler and Gutscher’s program was to start in September, but in light of the vote the Villa will remain empty until a decision is made, after which it might reopen in 2009. Since its inception as an art space in 2002, the Villa has hosted the local creative community but also emerging international artists including Ferit Kuyas, Johanna Näf, Rory Macbeth, Paul Harper, and Bettina Carl, and its incumbent directors have proposed a program that would create further links with the local community while maintaining the space’s international perspective. The September 28 referendum will either guarantee funding for three

No comments: