For as long as any of us can remember, and going back thousands of years further than that, human society has had politicians in one form or another. Whether they were elected or appointed, they have typically filled the role of administration of the bureaucracy of the State and the Government.
In “representative” democracies, politicians seek elective positions within a government through elections or, at times, temporary appointment to replace politicians who have died, resigned or have been otherwise removed from office.
A representative is a person (such as a politician or administrator who forms legislation and votes on your behalf). This has often led to conflicts of interest between what a representative votes for and what the citizens would vote for in terms of policy.
In non-democratic countries, other means are employed for reaching power through appointment, bribery, revolutions and intrigue. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a “politician” can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.
Historically, there has been a recurring conflict between the long-term goals of politicians vs. the goals of the general public. One example of this conflict is the spoils system.
In politics and government, a spoils system (also known as patronage) is a practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives government civil service jobs to its supporters, friends, and relatives as a reward for working toward victory, and as an incentive to keep working for the party, as opposed to a merit system, in which offices are awarded on the basis of some measure of merit or skill, independent of political activity.
In patronage-based systems, such as the United States and Canada in the 19th century, politicians who won elections would replace the bureaucracy with local politicians who formed their base of support. This lasted in the United States until the Pendleton Act was passed in 1883 due to a civil service reform movement. Civil service reforms were initiated to eliminate the corruption of government services that were involved in this style of governance. However, in many countries, the spoils system is in full-scale operation today.
The real big question though is: Do We Need Them?
In the past, having a representative made more sense. There wasn’t any internet, radio, TV, phones, cars or planes. It would take days or weeks to get a message to the capitol by walking or by horseback. The only option at the time was to send somebody else from your local area who could represent you.
In the 21st century though, the situation has changed. The internet has allowed people from the around the world to communicate with each-other and share information in real time. We now have the technology and the tools to directly represent ourselves.
Nine people on a city/county council out of 300,000 citizens is NOT representative of everyone. One hundred fifty people in state capitols out of 6,000,000 citizens is NOT representative of everyone. 535 people in Washington D.C., out of 320,000,000 citizens is NOT representative of everyone.
We the People now have the opportunity for direct representation, also known as direct democracy, in which citizens can make their voices heard, maintain individual sovereignty, and can have a direct say in policy decisions which affect them, as opposed to leaving it up to a politician and their owners to dictate policy.
Politicians from mainstream political parties in the US and many other nations have consistently let people down. They run a good marketing and PR campaign, citizens believe that a certain politician is going to represent them, and then somehow things always take a wrong turn in the end. Often there are many conflicts of interest between decisions that the citizens would have made and decisions that a politician makes in order to stay in office.
What does Direct Democracy mean?
Direct Democracy is a form of democracy in which people decide on policy initiatives directly. This differs from the majority of most currently established nations, which are “representative” forms of government in which certain individuals are elected to make decisions in place of the people while in office.
With Direct Democracy, Citizens have more power than in a representative democracy. On any political level citizens would be able to propose changes to the constitution and laws through a popular initiative, or ask for an optional referendum to be held on any law voted by the federal, state, and/or municipal legislative body.
A referendum is the principle or practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body, head of state, etc., to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection. An initiative is a procedure by which a specified number of voters through petition and gathering signatures may propose a statute, constitutional amendment, or ordinance, and compel a popular vote on its adoption.
Does this mean that every single policy would have to be voted on?
No, only the policies which are important to the people in general would be voted on. Finding which issues are important to the people in general would happen through an orderly process of gathering signatures to get specific policy proposals on the ballot, or to veto decisions made by the Executive, Legislative, or the Judicial branch.
To use the US as an example, think of it as a 4th branch of government, more powerful than the other 3 branches, which can act as a final check and balance to the other 3 branches. When separation of powers was proposed and implemented, nobody anticipated that all 3 branches would collude against the interests of the general public, as has happened in the modern era in the United States. They were supposed to check and balance eachother. It didn’t work.
If we can acknowledge that checks and balances didn’t work entirely, and if we are looking for ideas to improve the situation, generated by the people, and if we want to include everyone, and not just those within one’s own ideology, without using force, then Direct Democracy or Direct Representation is the only fair way to proceed in terms of all people being able to have a seat at the table in forming policy, while maintaining order and structure which allows for stability and progress.
What is the Process for how this would work in practice?
Communities would have a number of pieces of technology and tools in order to facilitate direct democracy. One important component would be to have a local public broadcast channel (Internet, Radio, TV, Social Media Platform geared toward Direct Democracy) to discuss and debate local issues, and to find the best arguments for or against any particular policy.
Citizens would be able to vote by phone, computer, or paper ballot. A community database run by open source software, independently verified by any citizen, perhaps implementing blockchain technology to make fraud more difficult. Voters would also be able to sign into their own account and look at their own voting history to ensure their vote was counted.
Are there some working examples or concepts of direct democracy in action?
Yes there have been a few working models as well as multiple concept models.
One example includes Switzerland, which has had a form of direct democracy since the 13th century. The Swiss Confederation is a semi-direct democracy (representative democracy with strong instruments of direct democracy embedded). The nature of direct democracy in Switzerland is fundamentally complemented by its federal governmental structures.
The history of direct democracy among non-Native Americans in the United States dates from the 1630’s in the New England Colonies. In the New England region of the United States, towns in areas such as Vermont decide local affairs through the direct democratic process of the town meeting. This is the oldest form of direct democracy in the United States, and predates the founding of the country by at least a century.
Beginning in 1878, millions of American farmers began banding together to break the post-Civil War, small-farmer enslaving crop-lien system with co-operative economics. When they were bested by corrupt and abusive practices of the national financial sector, the mainstream two-party system, and the ruling elite. From 1898 to 1918, the Progressives, supported by tens of millions of citizens, forced direct democracy petition components into the constitutions of twenty-six states.
The constitutional placement of direct democracy petition components was seen by those citizen majorities as necessary. Given the obvious corruption in state governments, the lack of sovereign citizen control over the structure state legislatures was seen as “the fundamental defect” in the nation’s legislative machinery. Nebraska adopted the referendum for municipal governments within its boundaries in 1897. South Dakota was the first state to adopt the referendum, in 1898, patterning its system after that of Switzerland.
Initiative and referendum (I&R) citizen lawmaking spread across the United States because state legislatures were unresponsive in creating laws that the people needed to protect themselves from lobby groups, laissez-faire economics, and the era’s robber barons.
Today over 60% of initiative activity has occurred in Arizona, California, Colorado, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington. This is mostly due to the number of signatures required to get an issue on the ballot in these states, which is lower.
Some states allow for initiatives and referendums, even changes to their state constitutions by popular vote. Other states do not have initiatives or referendums at all. This diagram shows each state and the status of laws regarding initiatives and referendums.
Where do we go from here?
In order to restore power to “We The People” we need to create a network of direct action throughout the United States starting from the local level. We need a platform for direct democracy where we can gather to make it a tangible reality.
Citizens should form their own advocacy groups and non-profit organizations in favor of specific policies they support in their local area, going to city/county council meetings during public comment periods (especially if there’s a video or live-stream of it on the internet).
When you work on a goal (such as homelessness, healthcare, the environment, property rights, or something else entirely) using direct action, other groups devoted to similar goals will also get involved and you will have a larger movement for a specific policy change.
Remember not everybody agrees or disagrees on every issue and the purpose isn’t necessarily to get 100% agreement in frame of mind with those around you. Thinking of all policies being under one ideology has consistently divided and conquered the public as a whole, there are countless examples…However if the focus is on the goals (one goal at a time), there is much more overlap in terms of working with others to get it done. Remember, there is not one majority or one minority. It depends on the issue or policy.