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Common Dreams

The Power and Potential of DIY Democracy

Issue-based and people-led campaigns are winning victories on issues that elected officials won't touch with a ten-foot pole. Let's have more of that. (Photo via Family Farms Coalition/ Facebook)

A seismic shift in the American political landscape has gone largely unnoticed.  Yet, the implication of this political earthquake knows no bounds.

On Tuesday, voters in two Oregon counties—one of them rural and conservative—voted to ban GMO’s.  In 2012, voters in five states legalized gay marriage and the recreational use of cannabis.  What is so remarkable about these victories is not just the incredible, rapidly shifting attitude of the electorate, but the fact that these successes came from voter-led initiatives.  In other words, these independent grassroots victories do not owe their success to any politician or political party. 

In fact, for years, activists who have pushed for marriage equality and cannabis legalization have been operating at the fringe of the political establishment.  Certainly, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats—the country’s dominant political forces—have embraced these two issues.  Perhaps nothing else better demonstrates both the shortcomings of the U.S. “representative democracy” and the potential of DIY Direct Democracy.

"If the people lead, the people will follow.  And that’s what’s important."Our so-called representative democracy is neither representative nor democratic.  It is a hoax, a paradox, a cruel joke.  It’s an open secret that money buys elections; that Congress panders to their contributors and that popular support for issues generally fails to translate into political support inside of the Capitol.  But now, the joke may be on our elected representatives.

Remember the old bumper-sticker “If the people lead, the leaders will follow”?  Now it doesn’t really matter if the leaders follow.  If the people lead, the people will follow.  And that’s what’s important.

If such seemingly radical change as banning GMO’s, ending cannabis prohibition and ushering in an era of equality can be achieved at the ballot box, what else can be accomplished through citizen-led initiatives?  The answer:  just about anything.  In fact, citizen initiatives have already produced publicly funded local elections and, in cities from Minneapolis to San Francisco, major democratic improvements in the way in which local officials are elected. The initiative process can be used for virtually anything that could be legislated—subject only to the limitations of your imagination and your state’s constitution.

The success of activists in these three areas demonstrates the power of an alignment of an unrecognized majority of voters.  A majority of voters in jurisdictions from coast to coast have shown their support for issues that their elected representatives won’t touch with a 10 foot pole—or on which they’ve been slowing…“evolving.”  The beauty of DIY Direct Democracy is that it is issue-based and transcends political parties, political affiliation or no affiliation at all.  
Elected “representatives” won’t reflect the views of the public until we have serious political and electoral reform which addresses our winner-take-all elections, lack of public funding for political campaigns and the corporate domination of the election process.  However, the success of the DIY ballot initiatives proves that the American People are more open-minded, future-focused and solution-oriented than their “democratically elected” representatives.  Our government is out-of-touch and the methods we use to elect it are corrupt and mired in the past.

DIY Direct Democracy is the future of American democracy.  And it's here now. 

Blair Bobier

Blair Bobier is an attorney and author who has spent several decades advocating for democracy in the U.S.  You can follow him on Twitter @BlairBobier.

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