Great thanks to Gisele Theriault for offering this discussion thread as a hosted dialogue!

A New Democracy

Public servants are just civil servants that we elect because we are giving them such an important job.

Our current forms of democracy are old and were designed when communication was much more difficult and many people were not well-educated. Modern life has different challenges than in the past. Existing political parties are so well-entrenched and well-funded that for a new party to form is extremely difficult if not impossible.

The direct democracy I experienced in camp, and some versions that developed in other places, seemed to lead to "non-leaders" becoming even more entrenched because there were no elections. The proposal system was unwieldy with some really good suggestions not making it to the head of the line while other much less consequential ones would get debated for a half an hour. Direct democracy does not seem like a viable solution on a larger scale.

Recalling that our elected representative are really our employees, what kind of system could we design that would keep power in the hands of the people? What decisions should be made more directly by the people and which should we designate to public servants?

Is there a means to combine paper ballots and electronic voting systems using one or the other depending on the issue?

Without going too deeply into constitutions, in layperson terms, what kind of rights could protect us from the tyranny of politicians? Should we even have parties? How can we keep money out of politics? Would the Supreme Court decide who was right in cases where someone believes their constitutional rights have been breached? If the people decide in some way how do we prevent the tyranny of the majority? What about police and military? How can they be controlled?

Assuming we want the United States, or in my case Canada, to remain countries, what kind of system can we envision?

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You're not alone, Gisele. My eyes glaze over quickly when I read legalese.

If a strong democracy rests on the constitution then this is really important. Any possible hope for constitution reform lies in the public supporting the need. Nobody is going to support what they don't understand let alone fight for it.

well, Gisele, pleasestp by my TED Conversation r readit and check ut th elinks:


I have only just come to this idea that for a vital engaged democracy to exist in which the iwll of the people is always plugged in and always the ultimate the structure and process must be corrcetly put together.

There must be a constiution that includes more than a list of freedoms and rights ( when I now bring issue sof critical importance back to our's preamble, its original arrtcilce ( the bill of rights) and the 27 amendments it is all of a sudden so obvious that our consitution has gaping holess

It's consitition must have more than a map of the judicial and legisltaive must state and clearly provide for the people having the ultimate power over court, leguslarure and ven consiution..all new modern consitutions have this..ours in the U.S. does not..well  catually we do..the right of petition is there in the original bill of rights but the relationship between citizens, the legislature and the court are not well enough laid out..i they were we wouldn't be in this mess. 

It was never intended that the Supreme court be an interprter of the consituon.  That it have the power to revoke legsilation through its processes as it did with Citizen's united revoking our campign refom laws and ckearly mapping the path through which the plutonony by petition to our courts can wipe out all the legislation that expresses our values.

I believe we cannot reclaim democracy in the US until we start over as the founding fathers themselves did in 1787..they realized their first cut was a bad plan and started over but what they left us with just isn't adequate to deal with the issues before us or to restore our place, we the people in that.

I did go and read the thread and about all I can get from it is the constitution should have something about inequality and the environment in it. From a practical perspective, how would the people interpret the constitution instead of the courts? Both inequality and the environment seem like odd topics for a constitution. You talked about some sort of financial rules. I think most people are familiar with a few of the famous rights in the bill of rights and that's about it. I don't mean to be rude, but this is a long blah blah blah.The iroquois stuff is really cool and poetic and all but whatever. That isn't going to change my life.

So far, the only thing that seems wrong in the constitution was that the Supreme Court was able to say the votes didn't have to be counted. That only happened because the election was a close call. We can just pass a law that the votes have to be counted and we are done. Why should I go read big long constitutions for other countries when I have never even read my own?And then compare them? Seriously? lol, it is just not going to happen. Constitutional reform can be a fun theoretical topic for activists to discuss in a "what if" sort of way, like regular people play with the thought "what if I had a million dollars?".

I'm motivated to understand and reasonably able to read at a college level. I'm willing to read long posts and ask questions. Most people will turn away unless the first three sentences give a reason to keep reading.

 I know that deregulation has something to do with the financial meltdown. I think that it has something with banks being allowed to invest in ways they didn't before, but banks always invested. That's how they make money. We deposit money. They invest it in businesses or lend it to people for morgages and those people pay interest. The bank keeps some and give some to depositors if they have enough money in the bank. In the past couple of years I learned that the bank can loan money it doesn't actually have. I understood how that happened at one point but I forgot. When people say "hedge funds" and "derivatives" I just turn the page because I already know that stuff is way too complicated even when someone tries to explain it "simply". Now you say all that has something to do with the constitution. Basically, you lose me at "hello".

If there is no reasonable way for someone as motivated as I am to understand I don't see much hope for reform.

"Our current forms of democracy are old and were designed when communication was much more difficult and many people were not well-educated. Modern life has different challenges than in the past."

Much understatement there, especially the second sentence.

In the first sentence, it would have been good to mention that our forms of democracy were designed when most people were producers without access to fossil fuels.  Mass consumption and advertising as we know them are only about 90 years old.  The meaning of well-educated is always arguable.  Ever greater specialization via education helped get us to today's messes!

If most of us were generalist producers now, we could walk out of the traps we're in.

You are completely right about education. I know better than most that education and intelligence are not the same thing. If we were thrown back a few hundred years into some indigenous community we would definitely be the idiots that needed educating.

Nevertheless, especially since the advent of the internet, knowledge is much more broadly available and communication over distances has never been so readily available to even the lowest-class of people in the developed world. Just 15-20 years ago Occupy would never have happened. Phoning Europe was ridiculously expensive. We would have hardly heard a thing about Tahir Square assuming it had even happened.

Before, only the wealthy had a world network of connections. They have had centuries, eons, to set things up to suit themselves. However weak our democracies they were created when ordinary people had far less power than we do to challenge their "betters", and yet they did, and they won a lot. Now it is our turn to fight. Prepare for chaos, prepare for things to stay the same, but also prepare for everything in between.

What if chaos doesn't come. What if the powers that be hang-on to enough to keep the current system of government going? What if chaos arrived, and people immediately form themselves into a traditional democracy instead of developing organically? It really is quite likely. Even if we drop practically into a tribal state that doesn't  mean we will reject the type of democracy we are accustomed to.

By imagining a better system, we then have something to compare our current system to.

To return to topic this is the first point that I think is worth saving.

In Oregon a portion of lottery receipts goes to watershed protection. Landowners participate voluntarily.

There are now approximately 90 established watershed councils in Oregon. Each council brings landowners, volunteers, agencies, and interest groups to the table to work together to establish and attain common goals. We are fortunate in the Umpqua Basin to have a wealth of information and local experts available to help assess current situations and work toward reasonable solutions. Join us and learn more about your local watershed, the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds and how you can help.

This is happening under our flawed democracy so imagine what we could do with a better one. Each council works independently reducing red tape. The government only observes so that also reduces red tape. Landowers participate voluntarity so no need for court cases to force them.


Independent councils of citizens and experts convene to address a particular local environmental issue.

They are funded by lottery and donations rather than tax dollars increasing their independence from government.

They are non-coercive, landowners participate voluntarily.

It seems to me this could work on all kinds of issues not just environmental. I don't like the funding method but that could be adjusted.

To add a second point. One of my big pet peeves is how secretive government is. They work for us. We pay their salaries. To me the default should be that everything is public or is made public shortly afterwards is privacy is needed. Negotiations on a project may need to be private until settled. After that it should be public knowledge. With the ease of publishing data on the internet most information should be available without having to request it. Surely if Google can do street view the government can make it's data available to the public, the people who pay for it. It would be like crowd-sourced auditing.

Construction companies would be checking it out to make sure their rivals didn't get a special deal. We could check prices being paid for everything. There are so many experts in a city. Maybe there could be citizens committees with the task of improving and updating building codes. One of my pet peeves is the ridiculous underuse of geo-thermal heating and cooling. It should be a no brainer. All new streets (where possible) should have it built in. It's really economical and it couldn't be greener. I feel like if citizens were tasked with something like that we would find many improvements that could be made. Colleges and universities could use it for hands-on studies in city management. There are all kinds of solutions in "best practices" around the world in everything from traffic management to education.

We could "crowd-source" auditing and recommendations. Youtube automatically has the most popular videos rise to the top. We could do that with ideas. Whichever ideas were most popular would rise to the top. Or it could work like a Wiki with people just naturally collaborating. It could probably even be administered by volunteers. That would be more direct democracy if not actually direct. If after rising to the top it got X number of votes then the city council would have to address the issue.

I am also a fan of abolishing parties. Representatives all run as independents with a strictly limited budget for campaigning.

Occupy also made me realize that "leading" is really a group of varied tasks not suited to one person in our complex world.  It is ridiculous to think that Obama is actually running the US. He would make a good front person. His speeches are fabulous. The rest not so much. Imagine if we could elect multiple leaders for different aspects of administering the country? We could also recall them individually.There would be a separate trade/negotiator "president" and one for the military.

Some things I think really should be absolutely direct democracy. I don't think the country should go to war unless it can convince a good majority of citizens to agree it is the right thing to do. It's the 99% that fight the wars. Also, citizens of a country should wear the responsibility for choosing war and paying for it. It is a double-edged sword. I have always felt uncomfortable with the idea that the people of a country aren't really responsible because the President made the decision and after that everyone just has to follow orders. If that means bombing people, so be it. It's not our fault. But I wonder if that's how bombed people feel. I wonder what they must think of our sense of humanity that we aren't controlling our governments when we live in a democracy and can demonstrate so much more easily.

It's easy to use the cop out that because it's a representative government we have no choice but to meekly accept whatever it does. Whenever citizens march in the hundreds of thousands things change.

So maybe no form of democracy can work unless we are willing to use the power we have rather than bemoaning the power that we don't have.

Citzens marched in the hundreds of thousands to end the Vietnam war and to prevent the Iraq war. And things did change. The US started more wars, but also spent billions of dollars on riot gear and crowd control weapons to suppress civil dissent.

As I understand it, salmon spend a lot of time in the ocean, but go upstream to breed. So what happens when all those salmon protected by Oregon's local councils head back to the ocean and run into another huge oil spill or the debris from Fukushima? If we want to protect salmon, protecting the rivers isn't enough, we also have to protect the oceans.

So if we can't do everything at the same time we should give-up? The salmon populations are increasing. I agree if the ocean dies completely, and it is possible, then all the salmon in the world will die along with everything else. So we are back to "might as well just commit suicide now".

Why do you even bother with the whole vote-boycott thing. Vegan, food-co-opts, writing on this message-board. It's all a total waste of time because we are all dead anyway. There is no point in trying to improve anything so I might as well eat as much meat as I want. Forget about recycling.Occupy is a silly useless movement because we are all going to die anyway.

I am going to go consume consume consume. I might as well have fun before Armageddon arrives. I'm going to vote for whomever puts money in my pocket. Education is a waste of time because the world is doomed anyway. There is no future. It is time to party party party.

Not quite the way I see it, Gisele.

Some years back I went to a seminar given by and I've still got my "End Corporate Rule" button as a souvenir. One of the things that I learned was that we've been putting out brushfires. Tackling each little regulation, treating each symptom, putting a bucket under each hole in the leaky roof, etc., rather than getting a new roof, treating the disease that caused the symptoms, and changing the systems that regulate and deregulate at will.

If we recognize that salmon live much of their lives in the ocean, and we want to protect salmon, we can't just do it by protecting rivers, we also have to protect oceans. But oceans aren't under the jurisdiction of local councils. So we have to get the whole world into a system of direct democracy similar to the local councils that protect the rivers, so that we can protect the oceans.

That won't be easy. First we have to remind people that salmon need oceans too, not just rivers. And that the salmon aren't alone--we need oceans also. That's the message of the Pacific Voyagers who will be setting sail from San Diego today. They're islanders who are closer to the oceans and know how important the oceans are, not just to fish and whales and microorganisms, but to life on earth, which happens to include us. 

Yes, if we keep delegating our power to people who don't protect the oceans, or the air, or the food supply, we're doomed and might as well just shoot ourselves or party until the end. But we don't have to keep doing that. We know we can make better decisions than elected officials can. So we have to stop trusting them and start trusting ourselves. Now we may not be the best people in the world, or the smartest, or the most competent, but we know that too, so we can do things openly instead of behind closed doors, and let everyone have a say, not just the rich and powerful. Every little thing we can do that doesn't support the system that is dooming us, and contributes to new ways of doing things that won't doom us, is worthwhile, even food co-ops, Vegans, and election boycotts. 

If we start taking our power back instead of delegating it to people who abuse it, it will be a lot of work. But working for ourselves isn't as stressful as working for big corporations who could outsource our jobs at any time. We can trust ourselves not to outsource our own jobs because we care about ourselves. If we care about our food, air, and water, we can trust ourselves not to destroy those either. And when we're doing good things with other people who also want to do good things, it isn't just work, it can be fun too, and there's plenty of time to party and much to celebrate.

Before you shoot yourself because we're doomed, couldn't you just consider that we might not be doomed if we stopped doing things the way we have been? If it doesn't work out, you can still always shoot yourself, so what have you got to lose? Why not give it a try? Before I give up and kill myself, I'm going to try everything I possibly can, even if it seems hopeless. If it was just me, maybe I'd kill myself, or just party until doomsday, but I've got grandchildren to think about. Continuing to trust the governments that are destroying their future is irresponsible. I owe it to my grandkids to stop being so trusting, and start protecting their world in ways that governments don't and won't. The world doesn't belong to governments and corporations to destroy for short term profits. It belongs to our grandkids and they're not big enough to protect it themselves, so we have to do it. Now. 

The world doesn't belong to governments and corporations to destroy for short term profits. It belongs to our grandkids and they're not big enough to protect it themselves, so we have to do it. Now.

Indeed we do. So tell me, how long do you expect your approach to protecting the planet to take? Five years? A decade? Of course they will have to survive the chaos and continued devastation of the environment for it to matter. They they have to hope that out of chaos blooms a lovely cooperative society and people don't revert to what they know, forming a representative democracy. And that if they go tribal, they don't start warring like city gangs do.How are you going to transform drug cartels and warlords into peace loving consensus-driven decision-makers?

I don't think sitting around at home telling people "I told you so" is doing much to help your grandkids. I don't think they will inherit a healthier environment or community as a result of your actions. I think that if we fail to rein in our governments and stop the destruction the majority of people on earth are going to die. Some islands are destinied to be underwater in the foreseeable future. We can't really predict how climate change will happen. The projections I see have England in a mini ice-age. Many areas in the south will be unlivable. There will be attempts at mass-migrations but don't worry, we will have the North American Security Perimeter locked down. Canada is lightly inhabited and we have lots of water,oil, trees etc. Areas of Canada are going to become more temperate. Did you know that lots of wealthy people are buying up land in Canada?

There is nothing wrong in promoting what you believe a great solution would be, but to act as though there is no other possible future is just being blind to reality. If you wait long enough there will be no world at all for your grandkids to live in. We don't just need a plan A. The situation is serious enough that we also need a plan B and a plan C and if possible a plan D too. We need to wage battle from every possible perspective not just insist everyone takes the path we choose for them. That is not consensus. Most people do not want the future that it appears you would like to impose on them. I attended GAs. I didn't like it.

GAs are just an experiment in direct democracy by people who have never experienced it. 

Did you know that most drug cartels get their drugs and weapons from, or with the support of the US government? That the US government controls the global drug trade from Afghan opium to Colombian cocaine? Check this site out:

But don't let them sell you any gold or precious gems--those are artificially priced just like currency and you can't eat 'em.

There are a lot of warlords in Africa. Funny thing is that guns don't grow in Africa. They have all sorts of animals and plants, but no gun-trees. When the corporations the US is partnered with want African resources, the US arms, trains, and funds some warlords. 

Can I ask how long voters think their approach, trying to elect a few more good people every few years, would take?

And in the meantime we have to endure the continuing government causing the problems and making them worse. I don't think we can rein in a government by voting for it, or by voting to change a few of the people in it, at least not in time to do any good. But delegitimizing a government can be done quickly--it just takes one election in which people don't vote. What happens then? I can't imagine anything worse than what is happening right now. Just because I'm not the innocent person being tortured or murdered yet, doesn't mean I don't know that innocent people just like me are being tortured and murdered and that my government would have no more mercy on me than it has on them. Just because I still have food doesn't mean I don't know that my government has forced literally billions of people into starvation and would have no qualms about doing the same to me. 

I'm not a survivalist and I have very few survival skills. Those I have, I learned from people in third and fourth world countries. I'm grateful to them. They saved my life many times. If my personal situation has to get worse so that theirs can improve, that's fine with me. Quoting S. Brian Willson again, "We are not worth more, they are not worth less." Until they are free, I am not free.

Just because I don't have the solution doesn't mean I have to support the problem. If I cling to a system that is destroying my grandchildrens' world, I'm the one destroying their world. The very least I can do is stop supporting that system even if I don't know how to create a better one. If I stop supporting the system that is killing me, my grandkids, and millions of innocent kids in other countries, and is destroying the planet, maybe we'll have a chance at surviving. If I keep voting for the problem because I don't know how to solve it, a few may survive, but the ensuing chaos will be as bad or worse than any unknown chaos. I'm sure you're aware that more than 80% of the casualties of modern warfare are women, children, the elderly, and noncombatants. The US is the world's biggest arms dealer, has started the most wars, and has killed the most people. We're the only country that regularly uses nuclear WMDs. 

I've seen many GAs sabotaged by people demanding they make demands, or demanding they have a plan and a process. Life doesn't always have a plan and life is the process. I've been to GAs and I used to be a C-Span junkie and watch sessions of Congress for hours every day. I know which one is more messed up. I'd rather watch a bunch of confused people fail to reach consensus, than watch a bunch of smug and arrogant oligarchs agree to bomb a country none of them have ever been to. 


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