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…


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

COLOMBIA: Upcoming Referendum on Water Rights

Enough signatures have been collected to put a referendum on water rights on the ballot next year in Colombia. This is the result of a strong grassroots effort. The referendum would establish water as a basic right and protect water resources from privatization. Another more contentious initiative that will be put on the ballot next year would amend the country's constitution in order to allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third consecutive term in 2010. When Hugo Chavez of Venezuela attempted to include a similar measure on term limits in a referendum package of constitutional reforms, he was widely criticized by his opponents as being an authoritarian dictator. Some are now levelling the same criticism at Alvaro Uribe of Colombia for his refusal to rule out a third term and denounce the referendum. Stay tuned, for we will be posting more about that referendum in the near future. - Editor

Over Two Million Citizens Supported Water Referendum

Approximately one thousand people marched from the National University of Colombia to the National Registry in Bogota to submitt 2,044,267 signatures supporting the Water Referendum. A colourful bus full of children from different schools of the city, like guardians of their future, closed the march. Colombian music performed by young people in stilts gave it a joyful and carnival atmosphere. At 3 pm aqueduct workers, environmentalists, indigenous people, public service supporters, and men and women of various ages entered, like a water torrent, the National Registry, to submit the signatures to the National Registrar. Without speeches and with little formalities, the diversity of expressions supporting this Referendum were shown, through moving statements of women of various ages; a little girl, an indigenous women.

Rafael Colmenares, spokesperson of the National Committee in Defense of Water and Life read the letter to the Registrar.

This popular initiative started two years ago and has managed to join different local, regional and national initiatives in defense of water and life. The second period of collecting signatures started on March 14, 2008. It was a huge challenge; signatures corresponding to at least 5% of the people authorized to vote needed to be collected in six months, approximately 1.4 million signatures. During this six months it was necessary to go to the streets and rivers to carry out the task.

However, it wasn´t difficult to get the support of the people. How can someone oppose to water being considered a fundamental right? Who doesn´t want to protect strategic ecosystems? How can someone accept the threats of water privatization?

Finally, the task was carried out, the Colombian people answered the call for water. Every day, different people approached the tents located at big cities and the regional comittee in defense of water and life to join the campaign, to collect signatures and submit them. This was a way of stating "here we are and will be, we commit to water, to life and to the future of our children and grandchildren".

The National Registry will rule on this issue next month, so we are still alert to the challenges to the Referendum and the movement in defense of water and life. That small river born on February 14^th , 2007, is a huge river now, impossible to dam.

By Tatiana Roa Avendaño,

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