Our Choice: Election-Theft Tyranny or Healthy Democracy? (Part 2 of 2)
But is genuine (vs. “Astroturf”) grassroots-based democracy by fair elections even possible now?
That Question Again
As mentioned at the beginning of Part 1, reading and considering of this article so far likely brings us to a basic question:
“In the face of all that’s presented here, and with so many of us behaviorally conditioned, how can truly healthy democracy even begin, let alone maintain itself over the long term?”
Again, the answer is that it is indeed possible to co-create healthy democracy today, as well as maintain it over time. It can be done — and long has been done — by practicing some form of mutually beneficial collective decisionmaking together. Skillful use of these techniques is a key practice in democratic self-government.
Consider the ongoing historical example of long-term democratic self-governance by the Iroquois Confederation of North America. This indigenous Confederation has been a working democracy for centuries, and greatly influenced key colonists’ political ideas. Many of these same colonists later went into open rebellion against British rule and for an independent and democratic confederation — the United States of America. Yet our country — the United States — existed for barely a decade as a confederation before a Constitutional coup d’etat was organized and executed from 1787–1789 by the wealthy power elite of the day. This coup quickly ushered in the highly centralized federation we know as the United States today.
So before we today can go out and co-create our own healthy democracy, we must first:
(a) Learn some very basic democratic concepts; and
(b) Learn about the current context in which a healthy democracy must operate today.
That context is already outlined in Part 1 of this article.
Some basic democratic concepts to learn about include: the definitions of various types of ‘democracies,” the ways in which group decisionmaking can be conducted, and what these different styles of decisionmaking require of participants.
Then, by starting small with trustworthy others, gather at the local/neighborhood level and learning through experience how to skillfully use ancient as well as recently invented group-process techniques (e.g., consensus decisionmaking, Dynamic Facilitation).
The ultimate goal is for ‘We the People’ to truly and democratically decide our own destiny, and put as much collective will as possible into deciding and implementing basic governmental policies at local through national governmental levels. Such applications of collective can be socially transformative by healthfully connecting to at least some of our current electoral structures.
Always to be kept foremost in mind, however, is that such electoral connecting must also be done using genuine election integrity (i.e., each of our votes being counted as it had been originally cast by its voter). Election integrity requires paper, secure-chain-of-custody, and hand-counted ballots, each component of which being under public observation at every stage.
As to a longer nuts-and-bolts answer, Part 2 below presents the basic types of ‘democracy,’ plus reviews of groups that claim to be oriented in the direction of grassroots democracy. Which of these might hold a key toward that end?
What Is Democracy?
Democracy simply means “rule by the people.” The healthiest democracies strive to empower all sincere participants, not just a simple majority (who may or may not be sincere). These democracies must also have good ‘immune systems’ for appropriately handling toxic individuals/ organizations/ situations with which they will inevitably be faced.
In Robert A. Dahl’s seminal book, On Democracy (Yale UP, 2000; pp. 37–38), five criteria are presented that must be met in order for a genuine democracy to exist:
- Effective participation: Before a democratic organization adopts a policy, all of its members must have equal and effective opportunities for making their views known to the other members as to what that policy should be.
- Equality in voting by all citizens: When a decision about policy is to be made, every member must have an equal and effective opportunity to vote, and all votes must be counted as equal.
- Gaining enlightened understanding: Each member must have equal and effective opportunities for learning — within reasonable amounts of time — about the relevant alternative policies and their likely consequences.
- Exercising final control over the agenda: Members must have opportunities to decide what and how matters are to be placed on the agenda. The organization’s policies will thus always be open to change by its members.
- Inclusion of all adult citizens: All (or at least most) adult permanent residents must have the full rights of citizens that are implied by the first four criteria, unless it can be conclusively proven that a particular adult is mentally incapable of caring for him or herself.
To that otherwise exemplary list, I would also add a sixth criterion:
6. Wisdom-generating group processes: All members must have opportunities to participate in various group-process techniques that tend to engender the inherent wisdom potential of the group (e.g., genuine consensus decisionmaking, Dynamic Facilitation, ‘brain-storming,’ ‘world-café,’ etc.), thus leading to greater collective wisdom and resultant wise actions (including wisely expressed ‘immune-system’ activities).
One well-known form of unhealthy democracy is “mob rule.” In mob rule, group decisionmaking has been reduced to participants acting en masse according to their “brainstem emotions” (such as fear and rage), either with or without a leader-of-the-moment (possibly deliberately emplaced there by outside elements) who manipulates the group’s baser emotions and behaviors. Individual concerns become submerged by the group’s collective ‘id’ as a whole. As far as time for decisionmaking, almost is none needed — the mob simply feels (and/or is directed/manipulated to feel), then physically acts on those feelings, often in ways that individual members would not ordinarily do, such as beating or murdering other people, looting, destroying, etc.
Another relatively unhealthy form of democracy — and the one that we usually mean when we refer to “democracy” here in the U.S. — is a two-party-dominated, majority-rule, representative democracy. In this kind of indirectly democratic system, almost all such representatives are members of one of two political parties, one usually seen as more “conservative” and the other as more “liberal” (in the U.S., the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively). These representatives are supposed to reflect the general will of ‘we the people’ through regularly held local, state, and national elections. Within this system, decisions are made by means of simple-majority voting (a motion will pass when at least 50%+1 or more of the group’s members vote for it). While, in theory, this allows the will of at least most of the representatives to be expressed in legislative decisions, it also usually leaves out minority views from having much (if any) impact on the final decisions.
While certainly better than “mob rule,” a two-party-dominated, majority-rule, representative democracy is usually highly adversarial in nature (yet more ‘us-versus-them’). It is also often dependent on convoluted parliamentary rules in order to operate (for example, Robert’s Rules of Order has been the primary rulebook for parliamentary proceedings for over 100 years and is still used today — in modified form — by the U.S. House of Representatives). Such complex rules can be mastered, but such mastery often is used by individual members or sub-groups to manipulate the entire legislative decisionmaking process.
Those democratic forms that could be termed “healthy democracy,” on the other hand, are much more beneficial for the group as a whole and to its surrounding society than most other forms. Such forms of healthy democracy not only have the group’s decisionmaking expanded to include all members of that group, but their decisionmaking processes themselves help to encourage wiser decisions that are (ideally) reached by the previously mentioned wisdom-generating group processes.
One such group decisionmaking technique is genuine consensus process. Consensus process, however, should be reserved only for vitally important issues that (a) need wide group support in order to be effectively implemented and/or (b) will have long lasting effects. Also, be aware that consensus process usually will not produce unanimous decisions. Members who are not fully in favor of a proposed measure can: (1) accept it with recorded reservations; (2) stand aside (meaning they will not attempt to block a measure but also will not help to implement it); or (3) — in extreme circumstances — a small group can even block the decision from moving forward, if that group’s members genuinely believe that implementing that proposal would severely harm the entire group. However, please note that blocking requires that those who would block must also offer an alternative proposal. (A very helpful, one-page flow-chart of consensus group process can be seen at www.consensus.net .)
Yes, the practice of healthy democracy often takes more time than ‘mob rule,’ simple majority-rule voting, or even maneuvering through complex parliamentary procedures, for truly healthy democracy depends on the creation and maintenance of an atmosphere conducive to making wise decisions. Such an atmosphere can be engendered by mutual respect, trust based on trustworthiness, members’ ability to speak for reasonable periods of time without interruption, thorough deliberation of proposals, co-creating alternative proposals that take new perspectives/ideas into account, and then further deliberation. (Again, for a good, visually-oriented flowchart of consensus process, see www.consensus.net. For an excellent in-depth description, please see On Conflict and Consensus: A Handbook on Formal Consensus Decisionmaking.)
Another such group process is “Dynamic Facilitation” (DF), a cutting edge group decisionmaking technique that holds great promise for breaking though divisions within groups, even during highly stressful conditions. DF participants express themselves fully: their ideas and concerns are heard by the entire group, and then they are summarized by writing down the essence of what they said on large posters that all can easily read. Debates that emerge between participants are redirected by the facilitator toward that same facilitator, who then reflects back to the group — verbally and in writing — the issues as they are raised. After all members have spoken their minds, and obvious impasses are recognized, an ‘empty’ stage begins, during which participants reflect on ways that the impasses could be overcome. One participant will offer up a possible solution, which will trigger ideas from others who voice them, and then the group as a whole begins to collaborate in finding creative solutions. In the end, a solution about which all are enthusiastic about is often (though not always) arrived at, which makes its implementation relatively quick and easy.
Although such efforts tend to take longer than simple majority votes — or mob-rule ‘decisions’ — it is time more than well spent. The practices of healthy democracy give almost any activist group a better-than-average chance of getting through to — and eventually helping to transform for the better — the larger societies in which it is a part. This is because the group members mutual trust, respect, wisdom co-generation, thorough deliberation, and high quality of resulting decisions inspire more whole-hearted commitment to implementing those decisions. Positive results from such implementation will — in turn — tend to attract more members to the healthy democracy group, and so it will expand and become increasingly influential.
Even large-scale healthy democracy is possible and can be seen in its successful use within various national and transnational activist organizations, such as Seeds of Change in the UK and allied organizations, plus the various national Green parties around the world, including in the U.S. (e.g., see entry below for the “Green Party of the U.S. (GPUS)”). For detailed descriptions of how large organizations can and do use consensus decision making, see the section “Consensus in Large Groups” in the document “Consensus Decision Making,” available for free viewing and .pdf downloading from the Seeds of Change website.
Current Movements toward Healthier Democracy
Today, many movements and activists assume that they are working toward some form of grassroots democracy that would be far healthier for our society than is the currently dominant majority-rule variety. The examples below include:
- Two national Green political parties (“the Greens/Green Party of the US” and “the Green Party of the USA”);
- Several Murray-Bookchin-inspired organizations advocating Communalism and libertarian municipalism (e.g., the Institute for Social Ecology);
- A Neighborhood Council/Precinct Assembly (NC/PA) movement;
- Efforts taken and inspired by the authors of the 2003 book Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisation and People Power by Roy Madron and John Jopling; and
- The Alliance for Democracy (AfD), a nationwide populist movement seeking “to free all people from corporate domination of politics, economics, the environment, culture, and information.”
Many pro-democracy activists and movements today believe that they engage with current geo-political realities. In practice, however, many do not, because they:
1. Require one or more fundamental socio-political changes be made to a society, including its fundamental legal structure (e.g., amending the U.S. Constitution) before the proposed reforms could actually be instituted;
2. Fail to provide concrete action steps that an average member of a society can take to co-create a large-scale, population-wide, genuinely grassroots democracy;
3. Fail to adequately address the key obstructing issue of election manipulations and thefts, especially those conducted via computerized voting and ballot-tabulating machines.
For most of these groups, threats and attacks on U.S. democracy — especially via the alteration of public voting totals — have not even been acknowledged, let alone taken on as a campaign issue.
The national Alliance for Democracy (AfD) has only very recently made election integrity a primary campaign issue. Prior to 2016, AfD websites had posted online only several items/media-links (especially at the local chapter level) on election-theft issues.
Another group — the Neighborhood Councils/Precinct Assembly (NC/PA) movement — has been directly addressing these threats in detail, plus outlined a credible system of grassroots self-governance to effect the necessary changes. While NC/PA currently seems more limited to plans/ideas than actual groups of people participating in its system, if it could be implemented widely enough, it could become a significant platform for positive social transformation.
SEVERAL GROUPS/ORGANIZATIONS PROMOTING GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY
- The Alliance for Democracy (AfD)
- Gaian Democracy
- U.S. Green Political Parties (GPUS; G/GPUSA)
- Libertarian Municipalism
- Neighborhood Councils/Precinct Assemblies (NC/PA)
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
*Alliance for Democracy (AfD)
The Alliance for Democracy (AfD) declares its mission “is to free all people from corporate domination of politics, economics, the environment, culture, and information; to establish true democracy; and to create a just society with a sustainable, equitable economy”. To attain those goals, AfD lobbies officials and agencies, assists in drafting local ordinances and ballot measures, and works to inform others about and persuade them to vote for candidates and ballot measures seen as most amenable to AfD’s stances on the relevant subjects.
The AfD was initiated in 1995 and primarily co-founded in November 1996 by Ronnie Dugger, a long-time civil-rights activist and investigative reporter. AfD’s founding occurred about one year after Dugger had published an immensely popular ‘wake-up-call’ article (“A Call to Citizens: Will Real Populists Please Stand Up”) in the August 14–21, 1995 issue of The Nation magazine. In that article, Mr. Dugger plainly stated the truth: “We are ruled by Big Business and Big Government as its paid hireling, and we know it.” He explained how crimes by large corporations and the economic destruction of the majority of U.S. citizens is increasing over time, especially since corporations legally have become “persons” — complete with Constitutional protections — primarily by way of the now infamous 1886 Supreme Court case (in-depth background of that case is available here and here).
To counter this corporate domination and resultant economic and ecologic destruction, Mr. Dugger proposed a new mass democratic organization — a truly grassroots-driven alliance — in order “to reclaim and reinvent democracy.” Such an alliance would reorganize — into a broad, coordinated, national coalition — the highly splintered subgroups of populists, unionized and non-unionized workers (employed or unemployed), progressives, liberals, civil libertarians, environmentalists, peace and antinuclear activists, feminists, radical Democrats, and even some libertarian-leaning Republicans. During the 1996 conference in Chicago designed to start such an alliance, the Alliance for Democracy (AfD) was formed to begin this task.
In November 2004, Mr. Dugger published another popular article — “No Appeal” — in Harper’s Magazine (subscription required). In it, he exposed the fatal inherent flaws in computerized voting systems, as well as how ballot audits and recounts under many states’ election laws can only be triggered by extremely narrow criteria (and that are still in effect today). For example, before an election recount/audit can be triggered by law, many states still continue to require that the difference between vote totals for opposing candidates or ballot-measure ‘yes/no’ counts be no greater than a small fraction of one percent. This ensures that an automatic audit/recount will always be extremely unlikely, and thus effectively only requires that those who might be manipulating elections to increase the vote-count totals difference above that triggering percentage. Yet, even when such election-result prerequisites are met, the audit/recount will merely basically reprint duplicates of the original machine-based results, for there are usually no (or relatively few) paper ballots to recount. Dugger also exposed how the entire voting-machine industry has been dominated by a handful of corporations, with the leadership of at least two of the biggest of these — Diebold (later to be renamed Premier Election Solutions and eventually sold to Dominion Voting Systems) and ES&S — revealing well-documented strong partisan ties.
In December 2004, Scoop.co.nz published “Validity of 2004 Election in Question,” a post-2004-Presidential-election interview with Dugger focusing on how that election lacked real credibility upon serious analysis.
Today, Mr. Dugger apparently no longer plays a direct role in AfD’s operations or leadership. Though occasionally offering advise (if advice is sought), he no longer works in an official capacity with AfD. In 2014, he said that his views on the dangers posed by computerized election systems are well known to AfD’s leadership, yet he was apparently rarely asked to advise AfD about that issue.
In 2014, one AfD spokesperson wrote, “Election security is on the back burner”, and “We don’t have a formal AfD campaign centered on it.”
Another then wrote, “This issue of privately owned voting machines continues to be of great importance, but we have been focused on other issues.” This spokesperson also explained that, although there had at one time been one AfD staffer who had focused on elections-machine-enabled, election-theft-related issues, that individual had “moved on to other issues, and we have had no one focused there.”
Prior to summer 2016, few official references about election manipulation and theft via election machines could be found on AfD’s national website, other than:
(a) The ever relevant “Peering Through Chinks in the Armor of High-Tech Elections” (2007) which makes a very convincing case for replacing voting machines with vote-casting based only on what is genuinely necessary for a fair election:
* Only paper ballots used,
* Hand-counts of the total votes (with additional partial-to-full machine comparison count(s) being optional)
* A truly secure chain-of-custody for ballots at all stages of the vote-counting/announcing process.
* All stages being publicly observed at all times with complete transparency (excepting `the identity of the voters).
- AfD calling on its members in 2007 to demand their representatives (who themselves had been ‘elected’ in dubious elections) to pass H.R. 811, the “Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007” (related info is here). HR 811 would have amended HAVA and required a voter-verified paper receipt be given to each voter after creating their ballot on the voting machine. (However, those highly manipulable computerized machines would still have done all the ‘counting’ of those ballots. Had the bill passed Congress (it didn’t), the only times such paper receipts might have proved useful would have been during election audits or recounts, and even then voters using touch-screen voting machines would have had to have turned over their paper receipts to their county’s Elections Division! For many years now, most state laws require truly razor-thin differences in election outcomes before any audit or recount is automatically done, and those manipulating the machines are very careful to not allow such margins to occur in the first place.)
- A short article (“Hacking our Elections”) by Michael Collins and Sheila Parks in the Summer 2011 AfD newsletter, Justice Rising;
- Some relevant AfD blog posts (up to 2011). (Prior to 2016, only in 2004 was election manipulation via machines briefly a topic on AfD’s website. Another 2½ years would pass before another piece on that was published, and then little to none.)
All this was begging the question, “Why did AfD put election-machine-enabled election-theft ‘on the back burner’ for so long?” For not only does the success of literally every issue AfD is working for ultimately depend on the election systems that genuinely count the votes as they were cast by the voters, but AfD’s own initiator and co-founder — Ronnie Dugger — for decades has been a highly vocal and publicized critic of voting-machine-based election systems.
Ultimately, AfD’s national council apparently realized that — as well-intentioned as the other four campaign issues are — they ultimately depend on genuinely fair elections of ballot measures and of sympathetic candidates for local/state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. Thus, the success of AfD’s other campaigns are inherently dependent on highly manipulable vote-counting processes, via state-mandated, computerized voting- and ballot-tabulating machines [(again, see the ‘Regularly Occurring Election Thefts’ section near the beginning of Part 1 of this article].
The summer 2016 issue of AfD’s national Justice Rising newsletter ushered in AfD’s new primary campaign: “The People’s Voice Must Count: Reclaim Elections, Restore Voting Rights, Protect Our Ballots.” The newsletter features short but highly informative articles on the subject by — among other authors — computer scientist Ethan Scarl, NY county election commissioner Virginia Martin, and election-integrity activist-writers Victoria Collier, Mimi Kennedy, Jonathan Simon, and Beverly Harris.
Yet even amongst these authors, basic views on how we should actually count our votes vary wildly. Some (including Mimi Kennedy and Victoria Collier) argue for the continued use of voting machines but only when using transparent ‘open-source’ vote-counting programs. (Beverly Harris has also indicated this preference on her website and in her book, Black Box Voting.) Other authors emphasize that ensuring genuinely secure computerized election machines is far too complex and expensive than simply using the non-mechanized process of hand counting secure-chain-of-custody, publicly observed, paper ballots.
Ironically, AfD’s primary campaign — “The People’s Voice Must Count” to establish election integrity from the local to national levels — is unlisted on the “Alliance Campaigns” page, which continues to list the same four primary issue campaigns that were there prior to the “The People’s Voice Must Count” campaign:
- “Defending Water for Life,” for restoring the integrity of public water resources,
- “Ending Corporate Rule,” especially via the “Move to Amend” campaign to end corporate legal personhood via a Constitutional amendment,
- Corporate Globalization/Positive Alternatives,” for halting harmful international trade agreements (such as the TTIP and TPP) and developing positive alternatives, and
- “Alternative Media: Projects and Resources,” for developing alternative media resources.
AfD’s prescription has been launching a “People’s Voice Must Count” campaign. A key step in this campaign has been to encourage readers to advocate for hand-counted paper ballots and “introduce legislation or an initiative calling for hand-counted public ballots.” But this effort begs this question: “Considering the ever-growing evidence, shouldn’t it be assumed that many of the legislators — who are to be encouraged to introduce this legislation — have themselves been elected in fraudulent elections via compromised computerized voting machines?” Asking these folks to change the election system to one using hand-counted paper-ballots and other election-integrity components would be like asking the fox to please stop guarding the henhouse. Even if one did introduce such legislation, it would either be not allowed to see a vote via ‘tabling’ the bill indefinitely in committee, or it would be so watered down as to be virtually meaningless. How likely would these (s)elected legislators genuinely try to reform our electoral system, if their jobs are genuinely dependent on those who are behind the election frauds?
Finally, some of the newsletter article authors (the front editorial authors and Mimi Kennedy) continue to reinforce the false meme that the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) has been mandating states to change their election systems to include using only electronic voting machines. In fact, as any reader of HAVA can tell you, HAVA explicitly states that it is voluntary for a state to adopt different voting systems. However, adopting different election methods does allow a state to then receive millions of dollars in Federal funding with which to procure the different-voting-system technology. Although computerized voting systems are not mandated by HAVA, computerized election-data-base systems (such as computerized voter-registration-record-keeping machines) are, but these are two very different types of systems.
At the local AfD level, there have been some other references to election-machine-enabled fraud over the years:
- Two voting-machine-based election-fraud videos from 2012 are linked at the New England AfD site.
- “Corporations and Democracy” (a radio program originating from Mendocino County, CA public-broadcasting station KZYX-FM hosted by two local AfD members) broadcast two very revealing interviews in October and December 2014 with Jonathan Simon, author of CODE RED, and another interview (“Stripping and Flipping”) with election-integrity activist Harvey Wasserman in February 2016. (There had also been a November 2015 interview with Christopher Famighetti of the Brennan Center for Justice (“Obsolete Technology Threatens Our Elections”) stemming from the Brennan report on the election “crisis” facing American democracy. This “crisis,” however, seems more a red-herring issue, as it is allegedly not due to the use of election-machines, but rather the nation’s “immediate need” for new election machines! In the light of the wealth of evidence (such as presented above), this seems a diversion from the actual issue needing attention: stolen elections via machines.)
- AfD-Oregon’s “Populist Dialogues” series (now defunct) included a 2015 online video program “Election Theft in the 21st Century with Dr. Jonathan Simon,” which featured an interview with election-integrity activist Jonathan Simon (see the reference to Simon’s important book, CODE RED: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century, further above in this article under the section ‘Regularly Occurring Election Thefts’). Interestingly, just after that program was posted, AfD-Portland announced on its website it would “no longer produce The Populist Dialogues on a bi-monthly basis. Instead Populist Dialogues will be produced … from time to time.” Yet no programs have been made at all since the Simon interview, which has been the only Populist Dialogue program produced since 2014.
- AfD-Oregon’s ‘Campaigns’ page leads with “Election Reform,” which consists of six sub-campaigns: Campaign Finance Reform; Electoral College; Election Integrity; Gerrymandering; Right to Vote; and Voter Suppression. The links in their Election Integrity page lead to AfD’s national “The People’s Voice Must Count” page (see above).
As far as building grassroots geo-political power that directly connects ‘we the people’ with the practices of healthy, face-to-face democracy, AfD does not seem to have attempted this much beyond encouraging people to vote for certain candidates and ballot measures in (often stolen) elections.
* Gaian Democracies
In their insightful, inspiring, and systemically oriented book — Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisation and People-Power (Green Books, 2003) — authors Roy Madron and John Jopling clearly outline what’s wrong with our current “monetocracy”-based (or government-by-moneyed-interests-based) economic/political system. The monetocracy’s defining characteristic is that a relative few pursue profit at all costs, regardless of resulting suffering by the rest of humanity and/or destruction of Earth’s (“Gaia’s”) biosphere.
Yet Madron and Jopling also mention the inherently undemocratic nature of the decisions and ensuing actions of a small minority of the population (for example, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations) that — in the name of aiding the Earth and humanity — pre-frame the issues before they can even begin to be addressed by the general population, instead of having that general population decide what issues should be addressed and how.
The authors state that immediate and fundamental healthful democratic changes must take place soon, as “the only chance of averting disaster that a Gaian system shift will spell for the human family [for example, severe and abrupt climate changes, dead oceans, etc.] is a global system shift in our democracies.”
“In that sense,” they continue, “we are in a race to reconfigure our democratic systems BEFORE Gaia launches her own systems shift. All we can hope is that Gaia will not get there first. … When it does come, it will happen quickly, in a matter of decades. At that time, if the human family has reconfigured its societies into ‘Gaian Democracies,’ their chances of adapting speedily and creatively to the new Gaian environment will be vastly improved. But if today’s global monetocracy still holds sway, the consequences are likely to be horrific.”
“All over Earth, rising levels of dissatisfaction with the Global Monetocracy present… a historic opportunity. Yet, so far, the conventional forms of opposition have not made… [much] impact. Where there should be a strategy for change, there is a vacuum. That is why… the vision of a global network of Gaian democracies would enable global disaffection to be focused on effective political action for change at the local, national, and global levels.”
“Gaian democracies will… become just and sustainable if their citizens understand, are committed to, and share a set of purposes and moral and ecological principles.” Without such shared purposes and principles, “communities steadily disintegrate, and organizations progressively become instruments of tyranny. …. It’s only when that community has solid agreement on purposes and principles that… the concept and structure of organizations can be developed. …. [Yet these] purposes and principles cannot be handed down from above. They must be developed through intensive, participatory processes.”
Although the authors do not refer to consensus decisionmaking process as such, they do present the need for mutually empowering decisionmaking techniques:
“In a Gaian democracy, citizens will arrive at and regularly review their purposes and principles using highly participatory group processes. By doing so, they will generate a shared sense of understanding of the relevance of these purposes and principles to every aspect of their societies.”
Madron and Jopling assert that networked governments will enable Gaian democracies to act as ‘holons’ at whatever their level of organization: local, regional, or national. ‘Holons’ in this sense would be self-governing political units that act as the individual building blocks of the next higher level of ‘holons.’ As examples: the basic holon level after the individual would be that of a group of neighboring individuals — the neighborhood,; the next level up from that would consist of multiple neighborhoods — the local area/town/city; the next level up from that would consist of multiple areas/towns/cities — the surrounding county; the next level up from that would consist of multiple counties — the state/province; etc.
What is lacking now is not the know-how but the participatory political processes through which the citizens themselves design and implement their own social transformation. So the authors describe in detail how instituting a network of human- and Earth-friendly “Gaian democracies” can co-create just and ecologically sustainable societies all over the planet and ultimately replace the “monetocracy.” Such an effort would require the self-recognition and participation of “liberating political leaders,” as well as of “new political parties that will encourage citizens’ active participation in co-creating a global network of just and sustainable societies.”
Unfortunately, while all of the above are truly excellent ideas, the Gaian Democracies concept remains sorely lacking in key respects. For example, the authors do not actually define key terms, such as “liberating political leaders” and “highly participatory group processes;” they do not offer any basic concrete steps that an average adult should/could take to get us closer to living within a healthful, genuinely democratic, global Gaian democracy; they give no suggestions as to how to engage with the inevitable attempts by the “monetocracy” to co-opt and/or sabotage the development of any Gaian democracy; and they never even hint at — let alone address — the issue of manipulated elections — especially via computerized election machines — in many of today’s nominally democratic nations.
Finally, Roy Madron’s website (at www.gaiandemocracy.net; Mr. Jopling apparently does not maintain one) has remained virtually unchanged since 2005. In effect, the Gaian democracy movement currently appears moribund.
Nevertheless, there is much extremely useful and inspiring source material in Gaian Democracies for aiding the co-creation of similar healthy democracy movements.
* The Two U.S. ‘Green’ Political Parties
In the U.S. today, there are two primary national ‘Green’ parties: the Green Party of the United States (GPUS) and the Greens/Green Party U.S.A (G/GPUSA). These two groups are the result of a 1991 split that occurred within an organization named the Green Committees of Correspondence. The split occurred over disagreements about:
(a) The degree to which Green Party members should integrate into the existing U.S. electoral system, and
(b) The means of organizational funding.
Both Green parties, however, still profess a common guidance called “The Ten Key Values”:
1) Grassroots Democracy
2) Social Justice
3) Ecological Wisdom
6) Community-based Economics
7) Feminism and Gender Equity
8) Respect for Diversity
9) Personal and Global Responsibility
10) Future Focus and Sustainability
Consensus-oriented decisionmaking is often used — even in large groups of delegates from various local/regional regions — though not always attained (large-majority rule does occur).
Green Party of the U.S. (GPUS)
GPUS — by far the largest and more active of the two national Green parties — states in its Green National Committee (GNC) Delegate: Introductory Manual, “The GPUS is a federation made up of State Green Parties, not much different from State Parties that are federations of local and municipal/county parties.”
In its most recent Platform (2016) — virtually identical to its 2014 Platform — GPUS again proposes “a vision of our common good that is advanced through an independent politics free from the control of corporations and big money, and through a democratic structure and process that empowers and reaches across lines of division to bring together our strength as a people.” Fundamental to this proposal is “participatory democracy, rooted in community practice at the grassroots level, and informing every level — from the local to the international.”
In GPUS’s Platform, the first of the Greens’ 10 Key Values (‘Grassroots Democracy’) includes the intention to “work to… expand the process of participatory democracy by directly including citizens in the decisionmaking process.” Indeed, GPUS’s Platform’s first chapter is entitled “Democracy” and that chapter’s first section is entitled “Political Reform.” Yet the Platform’s ‘Preamble’ reveals a profoundly naïve trust in majority-rule representative democracy, in which those elected are free to act *against* the interests of those who elected them.
Also, although “a corrupt campaign finance system” and “anti-democratic electoral, ballot access, and debate rules” are all taken to task in that chapter, no references are made to preventing election fraud via manipulation of voting and ballot-tabulating machines. In fact, such election machines are explicitly embraced by the GPUS, as evidenced in Chapter 1 (“Political Reform”), sub-section 2 (“Reducing Corruption”) of the Platform:
“a) Develop publicly-owned, open-source voting equipment and deploy it across the nation…,” and “…use verifiable paper ballots” [meaning that each voter should receive a paper receipt — a.k.a. ‘voter-verified paper trail’ (VVPT) — that displays how that voter voted, to be used in case of election recounts or audits. GPUS’s VVPT position is further explained by its statement on voting technology entitled “Electronic Voting Machines Must Have a Verifiable Paper Trail.”]
“b) Establish guarantees that every citizen’s vote counts, and that all U.S. voting systems — including electronic ones — are verifiable, transparent, and accurate.”
Yet what’s missing from the Platform regarding voting systems is that — in a genuine democracy — every citizen’s vote must be counted as it had originally been intended to be cast by its voter. Even rigged vote tallies can be counted accurately by computerized election machines, since they will be accurately tallying their own “black-box”-derived totals via their manufacturer’s proprietary ballot-counting software. Outside of using indirect evidence via statistical outcome-probability models of machine-based election systems, we simply cannot have much knowledge of how the voters actually voted. (BTW, corporate election-machine proprietary software cannot legally be looked at — let alone analyzed — even when it has everything to do with how the final election tallies are presented as to how the voters — “We the People” — actually voted. Even ‘open-source’ publically available election-machine software — which the GPUS endorses — cannot guarantee a true count, as its thousands of code-lines can still hide malicious code, and the machines themselves can be hacked or ‘patched’ before and even during any election.)
As the information available via the links and books listed at the beginning of this article clearly and repeatedly show, desirable voting-system qualities (“verifiable, transparent, and accurate”) are literally impossible when any kind of voting-machine-based election system is used. In order to ensure accurate counts of votes as those votes were intended to be cast by the voters, a voting system based solely on genuinely secure-chain-of-custody, publicly observed, hand-counted, paper ballots must be used instead. The high stakes of many elections, the temptations to manipulate vote counts, and the likelihood that any election machine, especially computerized ones, will be highly vulnerable to such manipulation are simply far too great for any democratic society to place its trust in any form of a machine-based voting system.
Yet, in spite of all these facts, the GPUS governing body is — in essence — saying that its membership believes our current, computerized, “back-box” election systems are inherently trustworthy and acceptable when voters can obtain a paper receipt that shows how they voted.
But, then again, perhaps that’s the reason why there is just one Green Party elected representative to a significant legislative office in the U.S. today — a state lower House seat — plus some lesser offices around the country.
Also, not only is the delegate apportionment formula (‘Rules…’ — Article 8) used to populate the 150(+/-2) National Committee — the GPUS national assembly — fiendishly complex, it’s based on the number/percentage of votes individual Green candidates around the nation have received. Yet these votes were counted in a long-manipulated elections system. Why should we base any formula on potentially manipulated (“cooked up”) numbers? And, instead of spending so many work-hours on the apportionment process every couple years, shouldn’t it be a higher priority to base them on elections that genuinely reflect how voters actually voted?
Most GPUS internal business is conducted via online voting, which is accessible to Green party members as well as the general public. For example, GPUS National Committee members vote online, and basic records as to how they voted (or did not vote) are made public on a GPUS website HYPERLINK “https://secure.gpus.org/cgi-bin/vote/voteresults
The Greens/Green Party of the U.S.A (G/GPUSA)
As an effective organization, G/GPUSA — currently headquartered in Chicago — appears profoundly moribund; postal mail is eventually returned to its sender, and even e-mail takes literally months for a reply. Besides a sporadically published Green Politics newsletter, The G/GPUS’s latest activity was the 2012 publication of its organizational Bylaws, which incorporate the Greens’ 10 Key Values.
Regarding the threat to democracy from easily manipulated election machines, the only references on G/GPUSA’s website to it have been several articles from 2000–2001 and 2006, in which the two sides — pro- and anti-voting machine — made their positions known. The ‘anti-’ side brought up the usual reasons, especially easy manipulation, while the ‘pro-’ side claimed that computerized election machines would make the use of instant runoff voting (IRV long a Green Party voting-method favorite) much easier. [This was in spite of the fact that — by 1912 — Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota and Wisconsin had been using IRV systems successfully. All of those IRV elections were counted by hand, not computers, which at the time didn’t even exist. After a series of primary elections — in which IRV’s alternate-preference votes happened to play no role in determining the winner — this IRV procedure was eclipsed in all five states by the voting process that most in the U.S. are familiar with today.]
A G/GPUSA spokesperson recently (2014) stated that, although “we are against voting machines until it is proven that they can’t be hacked… a bigger problem is the corruption of our whole political system with money in the elections.” In other words — for the G/GPUSA — campaign finance reform is an even more important issue to address than is that of regularly stolen elections via easily manipulated, computerized election machines.
Again, as the highly credible and referenced information available via the links and books listed at the beginning of this article clearly shows, using any voting-machine-based election system (versus a system based solely on genuinely secure-chain-of-custody, publicly observed, hand-counted, paper ballots) is putting trust where it is not at all deserved.
In addition, although G/GPUSA states that it is against the use of such machines until it can be proven that they cannot be hacked, such proof will never be found, since virtually any election machines — but especially computerized ones — will inevitably be subjected to attempts to manipulate the outcome. The stakes of elections — especially for national offices — will always be far too high to resist for those with the motive and means to manipulate election outcomes.
According to Wikipedia, G/GPUSA is no longer registered as a political party.
* Libertarian Municipalism/Communalism (Murray-Bookchin-developed/inspired movements)
Libertarian-socialist political theorist Murray Bookchin (1921–2006) co-founded and directed the Institute for Social Ecology (Goddard College), and was professor of social ecology at Ramapo College and Goddard College.
Over the course of several decades, Bookchin developed a political ideology he termed “Communalism” (always with a capital ‘C’). Communalism aims to empower people to co-create their own socio-political-economic institutions that are to be based on: “rationality”; locally based democratic citizens’ assemblies; “municipalization” of the economy; and a deep understanding of social ecology, or how humans can work in harmony with ecological forces instead of at cross-purposes with them. All is to be guided by the maxim, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This ideology incorporates what Bookchin believed to be the most beneficial aspects of Marxism, left anarchism, syndicalism, and radical ecology.
Communalism’s central political-economic system Bookchin termed “libertarian municipalism.” Libertarian municipalism is to be based on: ecological sustainability; public custody of the local economy — both land and enterprises — via “economic municipalization;” and — like the NC/PA system further below — also based on confederated democracies of neighborhood-based, face-to-face, citizens’ assemblies. These assemblies make decisions by simple-majority voting and create and maintain the administrative bodies Bookchin termed “confederal councils.” Also (and again like NC/PA) confederal councils can only be composed of delegates, NOT representatives. Delegates can only perform binding acts in the Precinct Assembly and above by following their assemblies’ explicit instructions. All governmental policies in this system are to be developed in the local citizens’ assemblies. The assemblies appoint delegates to the confederal councils, which are to administer those policies. The use of delegates versus representatives is to ensure that citizens maintain their grassroots democratic power.
So far, so good — these are most worthy goals. Yet Bookchin’s writings have left much to be desired in many key areas. Some of these include: his creation of virtually new definitions to commonly used words (such as “capitalism,” “rational,” and “state”); failing to provide clear-cut steps for average reader to take to create a Communalist/libertarian-municipalist economic-political system; pre-ordaining what participants in such a system will create, and so contradicting democracy’s true essence (the people themselves deciding what they want and how to attain it); a grossly distorted ‘straw-man’ presentation of consensus decisionmaking process; and many more.
For example, Bookchin’s has described “capitalism” in his writings as a cancer-like “grow-or-die” economic system, in which a business must either indefinitely expand or go out of business. This creates ecological ruin, both from rapacious practices of raw materials extraction and processing, as well as from waste-product pollution; and widespread human suffering (especially by compelling populations around the world to horrific working and living conditions; as well as for the creation of shoddy products requiring frequent replacement.
In “The Communalist Project” (2002), although Bookchin declared that capitalism is an economic system — based on private production and distribution of goods — that acts as the primary economic medium within our society. He also stated that capitalism is “continually advancing the brutal maxim, ‘What does not grow at the expense of its rivals must die.’” Bookchin also stated that capitalism, “in effect, has generalized its threats to humanity, particularly with climatic changes that may alter the very face of the planet, oligarchical institutions of a global scope, and rampant urbanization that radically corrodes the civic life basic to grassroots politics.”
According to an average dictionary (Encarta College Dictionary, 2001), “capitalism” means, “An economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods, characterized by a free competitive market and motivation by profit.”
The dictionary definition is usually what most people go by, so it seems likely many readers of Bookchin’s materials will believe that their locally based corner grocer, hardware store, and other local businesses operate within and as part of an overall capitalist economic system. And it’s a safe guess to assume that most readers clearly differentiate between such locally based companies and the enormous, non-local ones (such as Monsanto, Carlyle Group, ADM, Exxon, Nestle’, etc.), which have been committing large-scale crimes against Nature and humanity for many decades.
Because these readers likely believe that their local grocer, hardware store, etc. do not play any significant roles in such crimes, they might then subsequently be more skeptical or dismissive of Bookchin’s other ideas. Thus, for example, the clear benefits of local, geographically based, direct, face-to-face, assembly democracies could more easily become “babies thrown out with the bathwater.”
Similarly, Bookchin’s meaning of “rational” can be difficult to determine, though he always portrayed it in a highly favorable light. The primary dictionary definition of “rational” is: “Governed by or showing evidence of clear and sensible thinking and judgment based on reason rather than emotion or prejudice.” Bookchin’s meaning of “rational” seems based on a “scientific materialist” perspective [i.e., nothing exists except physical matter, thus nothing “spiritual” or non-physical is possible and so need not divert us from the path of logic and reason, of which the methods of genuine scientific method are the best means by which we can know that physical reality.]. This he presents in opposition to perspectives based on emotion and/or spirituality and/or religion and/or superstition (non-materialist perspectives he tends to lump all together).
Because both terms — “capitalism” and “rational” — underlie so much of Bookchin’s work, knowing precisely what *he* meant by them is crucial for adequately understanding it. Yet, once one finally does discover his definitions, one sees that they are more his own versions of these terms’ definitions than those of common usage.
The “municipalization of the economy” — another pillar of libertarian municipalism — means that, within the borders of a given municipality, “land and enterprises be placed increasingly in the custody of the community — more precisely, in the custody of citizens in free assemblies and their deputies in confederal councils. How work should be planned, what technologies should be used, and how goods should be distributed are questions that can only be resolved in practice.”
In other words, a libertarian municipalism-based economy should be directly owned and controlled by the municipality in which it operates, instead of by private owners. However, such municipalization would likely not sit very well with the huge percentage of the U.S. population that firmly believes in the sanctity of reasonably regulated “free enterprise.”
Also, there is a lack of concrete guidelines on how such local control should be exerted. Bookchin only states that the planning of work practices, the kinds of technologies used, and the products to be distributed “are questions that can only be resolved in practice.”
On another front, Bookchin also calls for money to be utterly abolished, yet describes little of what is to replace our current money-based economy.
On yet another front, Bookchin calls for the creation of many neighborhood-based, face-to-face democratically run citizens’ assemblies, through which citizens can co-create a new society from the ground up. Then, in nearly the same breath, Bookchin declares precisely what the assemblies’ end results *should* be, as if there would never be any question that the decisions of such democratic assemblies could match his own. It’s quite possible that majorities of the participants of these assemblies’ would *not* want to enact economic municipalization. No one really knows in advance what a sovereign person ultimately decides to do.
Another shortcoming in Bookchin’s system — IMHO — is his near-total disparagement of consensus decisionmaking processes in favor of simple-majority rule. This rejection had apparently been due to a series of negative experiences he had had to endure while in the Clamshell Alliance — a highly decentralized, direct-action, anti-nuclear power organization. But — given the need for mutual trust — the single individuals/small groups blocking decisions in the Alliance reflected that group’s poor choice of group-decisionmaking process, not inherently fatal flaws in consensus process itself. There are methods (such as super-majority voting, and — today — dynamic facilitation) that still allow for the greatest possible breadth of agreement within a group while avoiding situations in which an individual or small group blocks the rest of the group.
Still another shortcoming is Bookchin’s sweeping — yet totally unsupported — declaration that “warfare was endemic among our prehistoric ancestors and in later native communities, notwithstanding the high, almost cultic status enjoyed by ostensibly peaceful, ‘ecological aborigines’ among white, middle-class Euro-Americans today” (“Nationalism and the ‘National Question’” (1993)); p. 109; The Next Revolution). As has been overwhelmingly documented, the farther back into time that one looks in the archeological record, the less evidence can be found for any warfare whatsoever (see here and here for just a small sample of that evidence). Thus, because it is fact that humanity tended to live in a more harmonious manner with itself and Nature for most of its existence than we do now, humans do *not* have an innate biological leaning toward warfare. Yet Bookchin simply reinforced a belief in humanity’s in that bogus innate flaw: human-human violence (appears similar to an ‘original-sin’ belief), especially among those of our society who might otherwise would have been more likely to seek practical guidance from humanity’s more harmonious and egalitarian prehistory, in co-creating a new society that reflects those healthier aspects of that prehistory.
Similar to his definition of “capitalism,” Bookchin’s description of the term “state” is invariably negative. “The state is the instrument by which an oppressive and exploitative class regulates and coercively controls the behavior of an exploited class,” and “Every state is a force for class repression and control,” [from Bookchin’s “The Communalist Project,” 2002].
According to the same average dictionary cited earlier, the relevant definition of the word “state” is, “A country’s government and those government-controlled institutions that are responsible for its internal administration and its relationships with other countries.”
It seems likely that a confederation of libertarian municipalities would have significant elements of a “state” as defined by the dictionary. Wouldn’t they then also have at least some of the elements of a “state,” as it is defined by Murray Bookchin?
Another significant area is that, in order for a municipality to officially sanction libertarian municipalism throughout its jurisdiction, enough libertarian municipalist candidates would have to get themselves elected to that municipality’s council to form a majority. They would then be in positions from which to locally institutionalize the operations of a libertarian municipalist system. This, of course, is totally dependent on elections that genuinely reflect the will of the majority. Yet nowhere has Bookchin addressed the existence of multiple, election-machine-enabled election thefts [for just a small fraction of the evidence for that challenge, please see the initial sections of this article]. Any candidates running on a platform of libertarian municipalism as described by Bookchin would almost certainly become electoral targets by those who are manipulating these elections.
One more area is that — so far, at least — no healthy neighborhood-based, citizens’ assembly based on libertarian municipalism as outlined by Bookchin seems to have emerged in the world. (The closest has allegedly arisen in the Middle East: a large group claims to have put into practice many of Bookchin’s ideas for face-to-face, local assemblies operating in confederation with each other, complete with confederal councils. Yet at the same time, there have also been more than a few credible, less-than-positive reports about the tyrannical nature of that group’s true leadership. (The irony of that situation is truly surreal …!)
In sum, though many fundamentals of Bookchin’s Communalism and libertarian municipalism have great merit — particularly their emphasis on grassroots-based, face-to-face democracies working together — there are also severe drawbacks, as noted above, which give doubt as to its viability in the world.
* Neighborhood Councils/Precinct Assemblies (NC/PA)
According to the NC/PA Manual for Citizen-based Self-Government, “Neighborhood Councils/Precinct Assemblies” (NC/PA) as an idea was inspired by:
1) Thomas Jefferson’s favorite idea: creating 100 democratically self-governing ‘ward-republics’ in every county, which — through a kind of network democracy — ultimately work together nationwide.
(Such wards are similar to Madron’s and Jopling’s ‘holonic’ democratic system, as well as other local-based grassroots democratic councils that form spontaneously during and after socio-economic disruptions (ex: neighborhood and workers councils forming in Argentina after the economic disaster there 10+ years ago).
2) The potential of voting precincts (including sharing a few similar properties with Jefferson’s “ward republics”). Most election districts in the U.S. and world today are literally built of voting-precinct-like electoral sub-divisions. After individual voters, voting precincts are political regions’ most irreducible part.
3) The (re)discovery, development, and practice of group-wisdom generating processes, like consensus decisionmaking, Dynamic Facilitation, genuine mutual respect, trust-based-on-trustworthiness, etc. These help groups to co-create high-quality, longer-lasting decisions, with the resulting actions able to directly impact whatever political system a group finds itself. This ‘inherent wisdom-generating’ quality is allegedly found at each level of NC/PA.
NC/PA claims it can build face-to-face direct “deep” democracy throughout the U.S. from the neighborhood level up via the “Nine Pillars,” which are:
1) Aware, Caring Citizens
2) The Voting Precinct
3) The Neighborhood Council (NC)
4) The Precinct Assembly (PA)
5) Mutual Respect for All NC/PA Participants
6) Mutual Trust via Mutual Trustworthiness in the Neighborhood Councils
7) Healthful Deliberation and Decisionmaking Processes in the Neighborhood Councils and the Precinct Assembly
8) Rapid Replication of NC/PAs across the Nation
9) Network Governance from the Grassroots
These precinct republics are themselves composed of the even smaller and more informal affinity-group-like “neighborhood councils” (NCs), the delegates of which participate in the monthly voting-precinct-wide assembly (PA). NCs meet at least twice a month, and all members are encouraged to raise whatever issues and concerns are important to them.
NCs become connected to other NCs within the voting precinct through the precinct-wide assembly (PA). The monthly, larger, voting-precinct level PAs consist of NC delegates* plus the members of the precinct’s NC members. (* In the NC/PA system, delegates are never to be allowed to act as representatives, who too often do as they see fit, regardless of how their constituency feels (see the more detailed explanation of this further below).) During the more structured PAs, delegates express their NCs’ issues that need attention by the PA.
This dynamic working-together of the two basic nested groups — NCs within their PA — form a NC/PA, “a voting-precinct-based geopolitical unit in a mutually empowering system of deeply democratic self-governance.”
Larger assemblies serve larger electoral districts, all of which are composed of voting precincts. These would include towns/cities, counties, state- and federal-representative districts, states, up to and including the nation.
If neither a NC nor PA is available, a seed NC in a voting precinct can be started by any adult precinct resident who wants to do so, which can aim at encouraging the establishment of other NCs in that precinct and a PA.
Each NC is a small group of voting age citizens who live within a common voting precinct who gather on the basis of: shared physical proximity; mutual trust; and perhaps general life outlook — in some ways, a kind of neighborhood-based affinity group. The NC/PA system requires much in the way of mutual trust based on genuine trustworthiness. Sincerely given mutual respect between all members is also essential. Each NC must base itself on these qualities from its very beginning by regularly gathering together to practice such qualities.
Yet the NC/PA Manual also points out that — even before such gatherings can begin — whoever establishes a NC should conduct some kind of background checks on any potential NC co-founders. For example, answers to such questions as, “Is this person a genuine resident of this voting precinct? If not, where does s/he actually reside?” “Does this person have a criminal background? If so, what kind (victimless or with true victims)?” And so on.
Though this step might sound extreme, the authors of the Manual claim that not taking it would open the nascent NC/PA to disruptions of all kinds, including those arranged by one or more core members with hidden agendas. Thus, “open-tent” arrangements are perfect habitats for abuse by agent provocateurs. Similar situations have happened countless times already, in which all wanting to be part of group decisionmaking have been welcomed with little-to-no discernment as to any prospective participant’s trustworthiness (e.g., the “Occupy” events).
At the NCs, members can talk about issues of concern, and meeting facilitation is rotated so each member gets experience in it. However, only what all members agree to be released is actually written down and later brought up at the larger PA.
In the NC/PA system, potential members do not have to agree in advance with a pre-formed platform or party-positions on issues, as they do with the Green and virtually all other political parties and movements. Instead, every otherwise eligible precinct resident can establish — or apply to join — a local Neighborhood Council, regardless of his or her opinions on specific issues.
Due to political elections being the means by which NC/PA groups can effect desired change, eligibility for any NC includes being at least 18 years of age, a U.S. citizen, and physically residing within that voting-precinct’s boundaries. In addition, members must agree to basic meeting guidelines (such as interacting with mutual respect and truly listening to speakers).
Whenever possible, genuine consensus is sought in both NCs and PAs. During the PA — and with the aid of experienced facilitators — each NCs’ issues and concerns are deliberated by the NC delegates. Like the Green Parties, the NC/PA system strives during their decisionmaking to reach either genuine unanimity or genuine consensus. But in real-life situations, they also retain the ability to use super-majority votes (e.g., needing at least 2/3, 3/4 or more of the vote) for issues on which unanimity or consensus cannot be established, whether due to time constraints or the issue’s highly controversial nature.
At all levels — from NCs to PAs to larger geopolitical areas (e.g., a state legislative district), the radical difference between the roles of ‘delegate’ versus of ‘representative’ remains fundamental. The reason is that ‘delegates’ can only act in accordance with explicit instructions from their home NC, PA, or larger-area gathering. ‘Representatives,’ on the other hand, have much more leeway about what to do, and can even act against those they are allegedly representing. In the NC/PA system, only delegates deliberate and are chosen by whatever democratic process the delegating group geopolitical area decides to use.
Regarding the issue of fraudulent elections, the Manual states that “one of the most (if not the most) important methods today [by which the U.S. government is increasingly corrupted] is through voting machines and ballot-tabulating machines via on-site hacking by ‘last-minute maintenance’ and/or off-site hacking by modem/WiFi.” It also urges that a top priority for every NC/PA should be the total replacement of voting and ballot-tabulating machines with systems based only on genuinely secure-chain-of-custody, publicly observed, hand-counted, paper ballots. Since the elections of public officials and ballot measures are every NC/PAs’ primary means of effecting change in the surrounding society, it is obvious why — from an NC/PA perspective — such elections must be truly fair and transparent. Fairly conducted elections are how NC/PA members can genuinely gauge how the broader society feels about various issues and compare elections results to their own intentions.
Rapid multiplication of NC/PAs plus their use of ‘network governance’ (like that described in Madron’s and Jopling’s Gaian Democracy, above) is also a key component to the NC/PA movement’s future success. Self replication is something promoters claim is possible even today, but only to the extent that the key NC/PA principles (i.e., trust via trustworthiness, mutual respect, etc.) guide the NC/PA membership at every level.
However, while the NC/PA ideas in the Manual are most intriguing, vital details about exactly how such delegation principles would work in practice are not fully explained. Especially for levels above a PA, some principles of ‘delegative democracy’ might prove very helpful for a NC/PA-type system in this regard.
Another useful idea is to use the “spokes-council” process, which clearly describes how even large groups can achieve consensus or as close to that as can be reached. Delegates (or “spokes”) from an organization’s sub-divisions (such as the NCs) gather as a group (such as in a PA or assembly of PAs) to share their smaller groups’ ideas and concerns, from which specific proposals are made. These proposals are then communicated (either in person, by phone, or online) via those delegates back to their respective small groups, which then deliberate on those proposals. New ideas/amendments/alternative proposals that arise from those deliberations are then communicated back via the delegates to the larger group. This process continues until agreement is reached. Descriptions of this process are found in “Spokescouncils: Consensus in Larger Groups” (a section of The Empowerment Manual by Starhawk (New Society, 2011, pp 29–30)) and the section ‘Consensus in Large Groups’ of the “Consensus Decision Making” publication from Seeds for Change’s website. Spokes-council guidelines also include delegates being regularly rotated, and limiting the amount of time that delegates can serve as delegates. Also, because the “spokescouncil” process is relatively time-consuming, only decisions about vitally important issues should be managed in that way.
Apparently decentralized to the core, NC/PA does not maintain a centralized information website (other than the very simple Wordpress site linked above) and search-engines don’t yield much.
Even so, a NC/PA style of democratic system might just be relatively practical and decentralized and resilient enough to have more than a “snowball’s-chances-in-hell” of booting itself up all over the place and self-replicating — even within today’s grossly dysfunctional society — and so is definitely worth serious consideration.
That Question Again…
“In the face of all that’s presented here, and with so many of us behaviorally conditioned, how can truly healthy democracy even begin, let alone maintain itself over the long term?”
Yes, it is possible, but only as long as the ‘body politic’ of that healthy democracy remains vigilant against potential pitfalls — before, during, and after that healthy democracy’s founding.
Though it might seem be hard to believe, there are — and have been — innumerable successful directly democratic systems. In fact, such systems have been used for countless millennia by indigenous tribes peoples around the world. Much more recently, there have been various Green parties and national/transnational activist groups that use highly democratic decisionmaking processes (e.g., Seeds of Change) and thus have shown how a direct democracy can be successfully practiced, from the local through national levels and even beyond.
As far as a modern, relatively healthy, directly democratic nation state, Switzerland is likely the best example. From its 1848 constitutional founding, Switzerland has been using a mixed or ‘semi-direct’ democratic system that combines direct democracy, representative democracy, and basic consensus:
- Majority-rule, direct democracy via referendums and popular initiatives, including those that would rescind proposed or even already-passed laws, as well as elections of candidates for public offices;
- Secure chain-of-custody, publicly observed, hand-counted, paper ballots (other than a few local Internet-based elections in several areas recently);
- A two-chamber parliament that develops legislation (similar to the U.S. Congress), the members of which being directly elected by the citizens; and
- A 7-member Federal Council (similar to the U.S. Cabinet), the ministers of which being political-party representatives who elected to the Federal Council by the combined parliament. The members of this Federal Council decide on proposals regarding fundamental national policy via an informal consensus process. These proposals are then forwarded to the parliament for approval or rejection. The Federal Council often finds itself strongly motivated to reach mutually agreeable consensus, not only amongst themselves and Parliament, but with the various parties, interest groups, and the citizens of Switzerland as a whole.
About four times a year, nation-wide elections in Switzerland occur regarding various issues, and include both initiatives and referendums, in which policies are directly voted on by people, and candidate elections, in which the people vote for government officials.
So far, there are no voting machines in Switzerland; virtually all votes are hand counted. Every municipality randomly recruits a number of citizens who have the duty of counting the ballots, though penalties for disobeying have become rare. However, after people sort the ballots (e.g., “yes” and “no”), then the total number of “yes” and “no” votes are counted either manually or, in bigger cities, by an automatic counter (like the ones used in banks to count banknotes); or the ballots are weighed by a precision balance. Even with hand counting, vote counting is usually accomplished within five or six hours, though votes for parliamentary elections from the citizens of large cities (Zurich or Geneva for example) may take much longer.
(Details of Swiss governmental procedures can be found in this a Swiss-government-published .pdf booklet.)
Switzerland has had self-government for many years, yet is has consistently been a stable and prosperous country. Similar systems could conceivably be established in many other places.
Beware of Pitfalls
While several pitfalls in establishing and maintaining a healthy democracy movement have been described, there are, of course, many, many others. For example, there will always be temptations to retreat from the practices of healthy democracy and into more familiar — yet ultimately far more unhealthy — varieties. Those favoring such retreats from healthy democracy often vigorously insist that returning to these and other “more efficient” forms of decisionmaking will make the group’s efforts far easier to accomplish.
Examples of such backtracking might include (but are certainly not limited to):
- Reverting to the use of electing long-term independent representatives to larger gatherings, instead of electing short-term delegates whose role is to strictly fulfill the will of those who delegated them;
- Ignoring or allowing disruptive or sabotaging behaviors by individual members or small blocs.
- Inviting or allowing new members into the initial healthy-democracy core group without first conducting some form of basic background check and/or other methods to establish degree of trustworthiness. (This will prove essential, since the quality of the initial core group will determine how grassroots-based, healthy-democracy initiatives (such as establishing broader-based deeply democratic organizations) are carried out).
- Reverting to simple majority-rule votes on most or even all issues of importance.
- Reverting to other less-healthy forms of democracy, from those requiring “Roberts Rules of Order” or other complex parliamentary procedures to out-and-out ‘mob rule.’
- Allowing or encouraging unequal power arrangements — whether formally or informally structured — to evolve in favor of one person or minority bloc.
A Proven Track Record
In spite of many critics’ accusations of healthy democracy being too time-consuming and unwieldy (and thus ultimately impractical), all components needed to establishing and maintaining a healthy democracy are already ‘on the shelf,’ so to speak, including mutually empowering group-process and decisionmaking techniques (e.g., consensus process and Dynamic Facilitation), professional facilitators (at least for the more important or critical-issue meetings), meeting venues, background check protocols, publicity techniques, etc. No single requirement of or component for instituting a healthy democracy is truly new. Many readers, though, might be unfamiliar with the basic practices of participatory self government, especially as our current system of adversarial ‘shallow democracy’ has dominated all of our political lives. That is why it is so vitally important for each of us to start practicing the techniques of healthy democracy — starting *now.*
Now Is the Time!
Yes, now is the time to find and join with trustworthy others locally to begin acting collectively. We must retake — locality by locality, county by county, state by state — not only our right to vote but our right to election integrity (i.e., to having our votes counted as they were originally intended to be cast — critically important for any true democracy). This most fundamental democratic right — to election integrity — will drive virtually all other healthful societal changes that we would like to effect. Without election integrity, it truly does not matter what we do or do not do, say or do not say, think or do not think, because the psychopathic plutocracy will prevail in their rush toward the total domination of the Earth, its ecosphere, and all its inhabitants (save for themselves as the ruling class, of course).
“Should voters come to understand that no record independent of the [election] computers exists…, the damage… to the political system as a whole… would be staggering.” ~ Ronnie Dugger, “No Appeal,” Harper’s Magazine, November 2004. These words at the close of “No Appeal” are powerful. Yet, so far, most voters seem quite willing to try to ignore such understanding, basically ‘whistling in the dark’ as they step over the precipice into a future of living as serfs in a technologically mediated tyranny so absolute its like has never been seen before in human history.
Investigative journalist Jonathan Simon, author of Code Red: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century (see description and link under the “Plutocratic Tyranny, U.S.A.” section toward the beginning of this article) wrote:
“The great task that confronts us is that of changing a process passively accepted as a fait accompli and currently possessing the vast weight of legal, bureaucratic, and habitual inertia. The change to an observable [vote] counting system will require a re-awakening in the American citizenry of a compelling sense of both its collective rights in and duties to our democracy.
“We need only to break a spell that has been cast on us — a spell of convenience, passivity, and helplessness. We need only remember that democracy is not something that we watch, it is something that we do.” [emphasis added]
So — it is long past time to face reality as it truly is, not how we wish it to be. And it is long past time for us to wake up from the herd mentality to which we have become accustomed and truly begin to co-create our own shared destiny!
1) Start NOW, not “later.” Delays will only tend to greatly increase unnecessary suffering, not only for the delayer but for the Earth and all its inhabitants, as well. On the flip side of that, prompt actions now will tend to shorten the time needed for a healthy-democracy-based, new human Renaissance to finally begin to blossom.
2) Reduce TV, increase investigation. An excellent start would be to take some time from the average American adult’s nearly 3 hours of daily TV viewing and put that time into investigating those issues and possibilities raised in this article that resonate most deeply with you personally.
3) For further inspiration and ideas, see “The Zen of Global Transformation” by ‘Nasrudin O’Shah,’ along with its annotated bibliography “Background Books and Articles.” (Don’t let the 2002 date fool you; this book is just as relevant today — if not more so — than it was then.)
4) Spread the word, gather, and *practice*! Share with trusted others these discoveries and other healthful ideas about grassroots healthy-democracy activism and movements (especially those that give election integrity a very high priority), gather together, and actually begin to practice techniques of healthy democracy (e.g., consensus decisionmaking process) in deciding what the group’s possible next steps should be. Both the individual *and* group empowerment that one can thus feel and wield must be personally experienced to be truly appreciated.
Finally, and to paraphrase from Lucinius Macer’s speech quoted at the start of Part 1 of this article:
“As long as your oppressors make greater efforts to retain their mastery over you than you do to regain your freedom from them, they will tyrannize you more every day.”