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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Hell, no.

I think it will be damned difficult to convince enough (not even most) Americans that they don't live in a functioning democracy. It will be even more difficult to convince enough people to rise up, fight back, and make the needed reforms to have a functioning democracy.

To convince people to radically change their form of government? The odds of that are vanishingly small.

I think there are 3 to 5 million people who understand what's at stake.  My oldest sister, retired and in her mid 60's, is mad as hell about what's going on.  A few million well organized people can make a huge difference. I know there is a lot of resistance to building coalitions, but clearly more and more people are seeing the need to unite. The People's Congress is working hard to bring the "left" half of the country together around a progressive agenda....but the People's Congress goes a lot deeper than simply bringing progressives together.  We want to initiate a truly representational form of democracy in America.  This is our goal, and it's complicated and BIG stuff, so no one can expect it to be easy.  It's all about being focused, organized and determined. We'll have to see if enough Americans have had enough or not.  My guess is they have, so I believe a massive convergence is inevitable.  How we articulate our message and what change we make is only a matter of how well we organize.

What process that doesn't involve major change would provide a remedy for the deficiencies of Roman democracy? I don't think that Americans (or Canadians) want anarchy or a police state, either.

 

Good comments and questions.  The "system" has been very badly managed for the past 6 decades, AND, it has never been fully perfected.  In context of historical norms, our Constitution was remarkable, and it remains so today.  We the People need to reinvigorate that document.  Is is a living document, designed to be adapted, changed or rewritten when necessary.  Certainly the advancement of technology alone is a good cause to rethink some of it's structural designs.
There are many great examples around the world for changing the form of government, it's constitution, and our elections.  We can learn a lot from Norway, New Zealand, and Germany for starters.  We could also invite "experts" from these newly formed social democratic countries into the discussion and give their ideas our due considerations. We could use the help and should find ways to get it.

Obviously any meaningful changes to the Constitution, or our electoral system etc., would require majority support from all Americans.  If presented clearly and correctly, I think there might be support for a larger discussion, but I do not see the outpouring for any deeper more meaningful change yet.  That is something that we should all be working on bringing together.  For the next 6 months, we might find the partners and aligned movements to work with.  If we can integrate Occupy with the antiwar groups such as UNAC, and the climate change movements, spearheaded by 350.org and Greenpeace perhaps, as well as reach out to the major peace and social justice groups already working on these issues, we MIGHT be able to assemble a very large and representational body of Americans, one at least which is large enough to capture media attention 24/7 for a few weeks.


That was the intention of the People's Congress, ( http://peoplescongress.org ) which was launched last Jan., 2011.  This proposal was drafted by an all volunteer groups of activists last year.  The Agenda is essentially progressive, and deals with the systemic dysfunction in government.  The core goal is to initiate a truly representational form of democracy in America. A very radical step considering where we are now!  From there, we might evolve on to other forms of self governance.  My feeling is that this would be a first step in achieving real people power.

If Americans are really fed up and if they are ready to accept the full responibility of self determination, then I would have to think that holding our own "Peoples' Congress" would be rather timely.  The BIG question is, are there really a million people out there behind Occupy, or is it just an aberration, something which really does not reflect the core values of most Americans.  If it does, how can Occupy get everyone invloved so that our numbers can be seen and we can actually have an impact?  What will the message be and how can we assure it will be successful?

"We the People need to reinvigorate that document."

Arguments based on need suggest a state of anarchy. 'that which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity': Bracton's maxim

Reason is the life of the law - Edward Coke

 

John,

 

We need to co-support all efforts that are about engaging people in  a permanent way to take charge of our democracy..or we won't have democracy..so hat's off to People's Congress and to its approach of finding partners.

I have been visiting our constitution quite deeply, especially in comparison to the  many new constiutions. I think we need a permanent and radical course correction.

What our constiution lacks and all these modern constitutions have is a clear innerstructure that speaks clearly and unambiguously to income equality, to the environment, to children, to dignity ..that word isn't even in our constitution. There is no mandate in our constitution for freedom from desperate want and need, no mandate to saefguard the earth, no mandate to govern ourselves mindful of future generations.

That our attempts to provide these things through the New Deal, the anti-poverty program, environmental law, child protection law, Worker's comp, social security etc. etc. have been found to be constiutional is not the same.as manadating that law provide these things as all the modern consiutions do. 

 It places this vast body of Law that has emerged since the first big  stock market crash in the political realm..subject to repeal or gutting or non-enforcement with no compelling duty to the contrary comi ng from the constitution.

To me this is the core ..that our constiution does not mandate that law provide these humanitarian and environmental protections as all the modern constitutions do.

Also a total restart , which is what the founding fathers did in 187 when they realized their constiution had become too "unwieldy" and that the issues before the could not be adequately adressed in the freamwork they had set up.  They had to start over.

We have to start over.

The challenge isn't to enliven our constitution .

The challenge is to start over. Not experts writing it for us.

But activated engaged citizens crowd sourcing it as Iceland's people did in such a short time.

 

The English had an advantage in having an unwritten constitution (although parts of it were written down at separate times, eg the "dooms" of King Alfred the Great).

Reason is the life of law, the law changes with changing circumstance, and we are living in a time of change.

 

Hi NDT,

 

What you refer to, I believe is common law which is still the basis for most of our law and still governs even in courts.  Where there is universal understanding of a code of conduct , of rights there is no need of a written law.

In fact, I have to think of and write about  every legsilative act as a social failure, a gap in the social fabric of society .  Would we need written law at all to feed the hungry and house the homeless if this were work that was taken up throughout our culture one to one and by local instiutions?  As our body of law grows into a tangled unconnected mess, (Andrea Grazzini at TED described it quite aptly as  a "Rube Goldberg" structure) we are pointing to places of brokenness in our culture.  We are saying. we the people, that's not our work and yet it is work that needs to be and so it falls to legislative and federal programs.

We have lost what OccuoyCafe steward and modern day shaman, Jitendra Darling,  describes as "our innerstructure".  Where values and commitments are truly shared and lived, where ther is a common "innerstructure" there is no need of written  law.  At its purest and most radical that is the heart of the "anarchist" movement which anarchists AdBusters gave expression to in their "occupy" experiment. ..a culture so bound in an innerstructure that values human dignity, stewardship for one another, stewardship for earth, stewardship for future generations, future earth that our every act as indoviduals expresses and honors that.  Then there is no need of law. 

That is beautiful, but has there ever been a society that didn't have "laws" in some form? That is, "sins" which would be punished by the community? For every wonderful human quality an opposite terrible one seems to exist.

That "innerstructure" does not seem to be something that comes naturally but rather something that human societies develop over centuries.

Ideally our culture should not need such a lot of legislation, if all humanity were being the change. How many folk here have given a home to the homeless, or cared for an elderly or sick neighbour and done their shopping or done their garden for them, or organised activities for other folks children, while they work? Generally most people don't, so we do need some social structure untill each person is coming from a place of love for their neighbour/family. Perhaps we should look among some indiginous tribes for ideas, they seem to manage without complex legislation and courts etc. :)  Also if we do opt for new democratic government then it would be wise for all citizens to have a veto vote on anything they are not in agreement with that could be done over the internet, if over a certain proportion of citizens applies their veto it could nullify a said new law people were not happy with...

I agree with the veto idea but I doubt we will reach a point where all humanity is being the change. It used to be family cared for family not neighbours, which is why people had enormous families. If you have 8+ kids chances are they will look after you in your old age and look after siblings that couldn't look after themselves. But, people were also supposed to be free labor in exchange.

I am concerned that people's ideas all seem to be something that could only happen if there is a massive worldwide catastrophe or in a few hundred years from now.

I'm looking more for ideas that can actually happen within the next 10 to 20 years.

Hi Lindsay,

What I'm referring to are the underlying principles of common law, which are consistent with the laws of nature. Over time English common law was influenced by a system of law with a different philosophical basis which resulted in a conflict of law, as exemplified by the "Nineteen year winter". The conflict can lead to issues of jurisdiction in court. It's arguable as to whether or not common law governs in court; the law of the court is characterised by its practice rather than its formal legal codes.

I agree with your comment on innerstructure; I think the important issue there is that it should be agreeable with the idea of stewardship and balance rather than will-to-power.

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