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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Thanks for the thoughtful exchange.  I agree with you on several of your points and would hope that when we convene a representational body of Americans to rewrite the constitution, several of your ideas are included.

Our forum has a folder for Constitutional and Structural Reforms because we feel these things are essential if not fundamental changes to effect.  The nagging question is how do we get a vast number of Americans involved in the dialog.

The current proposed "People's Congress" is designed to be as accessible as possible.  If we can achieve a truly representational form of democracy in the country, something which I believe most Americans know they no longer have, we might entice a wide swath of Americans to be engaged in their own self determination and governance.

We have built a very strong relationship with Kelly Gerling, who has been advocating for a thorough revision of our Constitution and system of governance.  He's been in discussion with several constitutional scholars on the subject for years, and is well versed in the legal basis for constitutional reforms.  I've asked Kelly to join the TED discussion and I am sure he'll make some good contributions to your discussion there.

Meanwhile, it is my job to build participation and support for the People's Congress.  It's an exciting role and I am really looking forward to greater participation from folks around the country.  YOU are the People's Congress, so please advocate strongly for your convictions. You should post some thoughts in the forum when possible, even create your own board there.  If you need help I will be glad to walk you through the registration process.

Dear John,

Thank you.. I shall look forward to Kelly's input on our constitutional crisis at  the conversation I am moderating at TED. I am also excited to be part of the People's Congress..part of drafting some empowering legilslation that speaks for the voice of truth and justice in America, that speaks from the heart of every American, that awakens the heart of every American. Somehow, I hope to be in the mall with you and to witness the hand carrying of the People's Congress bills to a Congress that has abandoned us.

This quote from Occupy Cafe Member Victoria Collier who has been posting in depth at Mark Smiths excellent conversation hereon when the governed don't consent is our call to stay alert , stay awake, keep working:

"Occupy is part of an unstoppable transformation - the contractions of a new world desperate to be born, based on a renewal of community, tolerance, justice and deep respect for all life. A sane, resilient world capable of withstanding the ecological, climatic and economic upheavals we can no longer avoid" ( An Op_ed in yesterday's Truth Out co-authrored by Victoria and Robert Cummins".

I see there some pollination from our work here at Occupy Cafe...We are perhaps the cocoon where the caterpillar dissolves into a mystical juice that contains each of us distilled and purified where we emerge a unique nourished butterfly in the world.  Victoria has been doing this work and speaking powerfully about it for a very long time armed with truth and facts.  She has carrried part of us back out into the world to continue her work as we are all doing. 

 I feel it in my own listening, my speaking, even my innermost language of thought contains this mystical juice uniquely distilled and purified to nourish and transform my own work. 

we are the blessed continual stutter of the Word being made into Flesh

Godspeed us. 

Thank you Victoria for this wonderful editorial.


Hi John, I'm Canadian so not directly implicated in your attempts to build support for the People's Congress. I did visit the site and from my perspective it is aimed at academics not ordinary people.

There is no simple explanation of what the problem is or how the "People's Congress" intends to address the problem whatever it is. 

"Corporate control of government" is not a problem unless it impacts me negatively. After all, businesses have to be efficient to make money. I want government to be efficient so I can pay lower taxes. Corporations create jobs so I want corporations to flourish. Corporations can help the government be more efficient.

(I don't actually think this stuff, I'm just saying that is the way many people do think and I used to think)

Instead, say:

Corporations pressured the government to be lax enforcing environmental protections which resulted in the ____ oil spill which cost taxpayers_____.

Or: taxpayers are sending X billions of dollars to Pakistan and Israel to subsidize buying weapons from US manufacturers.

Why do you want to change the US constitution? How will it affect me? (not me because I'm Canadian but that is the question you have to answer in plain English not acaspeech.)

Thanks for the feedback Gisele.  Are you an academic or the a person who is for lack of a better word, ordinary? :-))

We have not had a lot of comments like the ones you are making here, but it's always good to hear a different perspective.  My first reaction is to say that someone will always find an exception or fault, a better way to express the core idea etc...and we can always struggle to include these revisions, and will.  I think you have a valid point, although the many people putting it together felt at the time that the message was pretty clear.  Things change though, and there is always room for improvement, just not always enough time.

Our constitution is a living document.  It was understood by the founding fathers that it would be changed and improved with time and as society changed.  Americans have become blind to this aspect of the constitution, which is a large part of the reason why we have so many problems to deal with.  Thats a very short answer, but I hope it helps further the discussion.

I think Occupy had a lot of support but lost it through lack of direction and tendency towards extremism.

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.

I think a major failure of occupy and the left in general is an inability to communicate concisely and simply.

For example:

Libertarian/Conservative: "People have a right to keep the money they earn"

Short, to the point, logical. and easily supported.

Left: big long explanation of the needs of poverty stricken people.

What the left should say:

People have a right to save money by paying for services collectively.

Or on democractic rights:

People should have a right to decide if the country should go to war or not when we are not under direct attack.

I think that there are other reasons why Occupy! has lost momentum.  As in every sport - momentum ebbs and flows depending on the need of the people and the perception of inclusion.  After a successful start, we became known for taking pepper spray in the face - not a real good recruiting tool.  We achieved success with surprise and then endurance - staying after we made the point allowed more nits to be picked at by the MSM. Notice the difference in approach to the tea party, which was allowed to protest unharassed and the brutal attacks that happened this fall.  Then we joined the unions for the port fiasco and lost some hard earned cred, with people who didn't understand the connection.

Occupy! 2.0 is on the drawing table, but so should be Occupy! 4.0 and Occupy! 8.0 - and every fractal to follow.  Truthout has been covering us relentlessly - kudos to this new media outlet.  When we rebroadcast their articles, they reach more folks.  But to really reach folks, we need to re-educate ourselves and break away from some of our more controlling patterns.  Our voices are a chorus, we sing on key and it resonates; but we all come from different dialects and there is no right way to do this.  There is a wrong way, and thinking we have the answers when we can't really even define the problem is a tough reality.

A simple slogan - like ' transparency in action ' needs to be followed with the discussion of what transparency costs when absent - how what the grubbermint does that we don't even know exceeds the capacity of our beings to rationalize.  As institutions fail, and fail they must, we cannot build new institutions in their image. The cafe here is a construct that allows us to sip our joe and relate our war stories.  Let's create a world of peace and stop participating in a republic that is really a secret society run by less than 1%.

No miracles - we just hitch up our collective punches and roll out something new, something different - a two way media that informs and acts, and then re-acts again and while reacting demonstrates something different, something unique, something simple that we can grasp for our own collective good.  Victoria's article (referred to above) was awesome - the Organic Consumer Association and their Millions against Monsanto is another early fractal in the game of change - if we can detect a GMO during a market visit, it would be a tool that can be understood and used by all immediately. Perhaps we can have a day where everybody comes to the town square with their GMO agricultural products and burns them.  Or we make two dinners - one all GMO and one all non-GMO and we have a taste test - in every city at the same time.

Creativity is called for - the rules have changed to the point where we cannot recognize the game from the other perspective.  It is like chess, except that you cannot see your opponents moves, and her pieces don't start in their normal positions.  Then, you find you can put a piece that you have taken back on the board instead of a move.  The game is difficult, but the opposition is creating their own different rules also - which apply to all.  What if we arrest the entire congress (although i wonder how many are not aligned with the 1%, but just co-opted by circumstance and the current rules of that game).

Democracy assumes informed participants and the current mock form demands the public not know what is going on.  The war party will not win, but they can be expected to scorch the earth when they lose.  We can work together, but we should also work alone.  Each of us is a natural leader in areas that we know and understand - but we do not make good followers, especially when herded by the PTUB powers that usta be or by ourselves.  There are other dramatic events coming into play - an organized splash for spring that introduces individuals as heroes of the movement from a future perspective might be a different rally point - one that provides recognition for the trench form of 'peaceful warfare'.  I think we can change the world, else-while i wouldn't be here now.  Resources are the key - let's be collectively resourceful.

Hi Giselle,

The early support for Occupy was due to recognition of real grievances regarding the financial system and government in general. IMO the lack of direction is due to a lack of understanding of the history of the financial system an its relationship with government. Since people in general don't understand the relationship, they assume that the government has the power to fix the problem, demand that the government do something about it, and then act all suprised when the action taken by the government is simply to evict them.

The problem with identifying the relationship is that it leads straight into the conspiracy theory heartland, and an objective and rational assessment of the issues may lead to consequences that are more extensive than people are comfortable with.

I agree with both Giselle and NDT.

Other than "the banks got bailed out, we got sold out" and "We are the 99%" there hasn't been a coherent, easily accessible message coming from the movement.

The problem is, once you get past that, things start to get complicated. Attempting communication with simple slogans like Giselle has suggested is essentially deceptive. You cannot capture the truth of what's going on with a tagline or two. What you'll get is a war of Madison Avenue slogans, which will accomplish absolutely nothing.

The key is to actually talk to the public. And again, Giselle is right. Preaching at people isn't going to work. Non-threatening forums held in public places like libraries with non-didactic people and canvassing by nonthreatening types are a couple of ways to spread the word. Twittering and online forums, although they may be of some help, are not going to be sufficient.

It's true, NDT, if you give people the unvarnished truth, they will probably go into a corner and suck their thumbs. Sometimes, that's what I feel like doing.

Giselle, any honest discussion of the ruling class would have to include the fact that they are willing to cause unfathomable suffering and death in order to concentrate wealth into the hands of a few people. You would have to talk about how it's been done in the past and how it is in the process of being done now in the so-called 1st world. If people really understood the reality, it would most likely paralyze them with fear.

I think a better strategy, rather than confront people with the true nature of the enemy, is to ask yourself (and the movement should be doing this collectively, too) what is the LEAST that we can accomplish and actually change anything? My answer to that is to have a functioning democracy. So, that's where the conversation has to go. How does Occupy relate to the idea of democracy? What is democracy? Do you want to live in a democracy? What are the essential elements of a functioning democracy? Do we have those? How can we get them?

Many would say that's too big a chunk to bite off. I say (at least in the United States) we're headed for Chile and Argentina in the 1970s or Indonesia in the 1960s unless we create a functioning democracy. Waiting or being patient aren't viable choices.

Hi Mr Blue,

"Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote." ~Marvin Simkin

The rights recognised in the Declaration of Independence are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Blackstone calls the rights to life and liberty natural rights, and he describes happiness as being the consequence of just action. Blackstone calls this consequence the foundation of ethics.

Democracy is about what is fair, or equity. A maxim of common law is: "equity follows the law". If the people of a democracy aim to recognise the rights of the Declaration of Independence, then it follows that the law of those people should be ethical and result in justice being done. The problem is that a conflict exists in the current systems of law due to these systems have a different philosophical basis, one basis being the law of nature and the other being will-to-power.

@NDT: are you saying that the ideas in "the conspiracy theory heartland" are correct, or that it's hard to stay out of them once the critique reaches a certain degree of depth and vigor? It seems to me that those who are drawn to Occupy fall on both sides of the line here, so learning to play together without getting stuck in a debate about whether or not the CIA killed JFK, the Twin Towers were felled by the US government, etc., would be very useful. I don't think we have time to devote to those internal battles. Also, it becomes hard to trust and respect one another when these issues come to the fore.

I guess the key question is whether or not we can align around the nature of the systemic changes we stand for even if we disagree about the historical antecedents of our current plight.

Hi Ben,

There is a substantial body of evidence in support of the central ideas. The subject can be quite divisive, which is why I'm not addressing those ideas directly. I agree that there is no point in bringing up issues which do not shed any light on the underlying reasons for the problem or on a reasonable course of action.

In response to your question, I would suggest that a model could be used based on human cognitive physiology. Inside a human skull the brain exists within three distinct structures, and it can be said that we each have three brains, with the outermost one surrounding the inner two, and the innermost one located at the top of the spinal column. Each of these three brains has a specific function, and each has an independent set of memories. The innermost brain is called the reptilian brain and governs survival traits. The middle brain is called the limbic system and governs social traits as emotional responses. The outer brain is called the neocortex and governs individual traits like reasoning and language. 

The relevance of all of this is that the systemic changes available for consideration by Occupy can be described as a transition in behaviour from that which is governed primarily by the reptilian brain to behaviour in which the triune brain operates in synergy. My preferred description of the problem as a conflict of law can be mapped directly into the physiological model by describing will-to-power as a social pattern in which the reptilian brain is dominant, and the expression of natural law as a social pattern in which synergy of the three parts exists.

This leads directly to the issue of organisational structure within Occupy or society in general, with emphasis on removing or minimising heirarchical structures in favour of structures where power resides with those who are competent in all aspects of human behaviour.


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