Wouldn’t That Be Something

Wouldn’t That Be Something[1]

In response to the article: “Why Occupy Wall Street wants nothing to do with our politicians”, by Heather Gautney, published in the Washington Post on October 21, 2011 (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/why-occupy-wall-street-wants-nothing-to-do-with-our-politicians/2011/10/21/gIQAc2wT3L_story.html?hpid=z6).

At the very end, the article introduces an important concept, one that at the US federal level we not only do not grasp but one which the Supremes, long, long ago, placed beyond our grasp.

Since our Constitutional Convention in 1787 we’ve been told that direct democracy is not feasible (although in a federal system something like it seems to work in Switzerland, the closest country on earth to a democracy).  States in the US have disagreed as have many other countries and the article may, at the very end, be positing, perhaps unintendedly, that it’s time for the national government to reconsider the issue.  It certainly seems that current institutions are dysfunctional at best and that we must do better.

So, what was the magic phrase?  It was at the end of the following sentence: “ …perhaps the Occupy movement itself will innovate new, more egalitarian institutions despite them, ones that can meet the demands of a truly participatory democracy.”  The operative word is “participatory” as in “participatory” as opposed to “representative” democracy.  Other countries have acknowledged the difference between “participatory” and “representative” democracy (e.g., Colombia) and are experimenting to create a more equitable and responsive system of governance based on acknowledgment that representative democracy is not democracy but oligarchic (albeit in a modified sense since it does introduce aspects of popular selection) and a desire to implement a more democratic synthesis using instruments such as plebiscites, referenda, initiative and recall, all means by which citizens can undertake direct legislative and electoral actions.

In the US, such forms of participatory democracy have existed at the state level for a long time, although frequently challenged as violative of the US Constitution.  On a federal level however the Supreme Court declared such activities an improper delegation of power from the government to the people, amazing in light of the purported fact that our government derives its just power from the people, hence rather than a delegation it would involve a partial revocation of the original delegation (I know, sounds like legalese; it is).

So what chance is there for real reform?  It would seem to require a Constitutional amendment but perhaps the need for such constitutional reform is what the Occupy Wall Street movement has crystalized.  Perhaps even the possibility of popular legislative action would be enough to decalcify Congress.  Wouldn’t that be something: when Congress fails to act, either because of cowardice or special interest pressure, we’d have mechanisms for the people to act directly.  That would certainly create a new paradigm and anything seems better than the plutocratic state we’ve become.

[1] © Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2011; all rights reserved