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Real Democracy in the Belly of the Beast

1 September 2001


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said there are three pillars that hold up the current system of domestic oppression: poverty, racism and militarism. In order to have real democracy, economic justice, peace and a unified society, we have to both envision our own liberation in our time and take back our history, power and moral integrity.

The reason Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King were both loved and hated, both followed and murdered had to do with their use of "satygraha" or truth force and "ahimsa" or nonviolent harmlessness. These powerful tools moved them outside the control game that has secured privilege for a few over millenia. These systems of privilege, which are the real, deep violence of society, cannot be challenged or defeated using their own violent methods. Nor can they be changed by substituting a new elite in the seat of power, or by reforming them.

As I see it, the crucial steps that must be taken now to stop the current trend to global corporatization, fascism and genocide/ecocide/ethnocide include the following, here in the belly of the beast:

  • Replace the "virtual democracy" of the current and obsolete "representative" system with direct, participatory decision making on issues by referendum. Repeal the oppressive laws, recall the politicians, and reclaim the "organ" that will enunciate and empower the will of the people as a whole.

  • Do this at all levels -- community, city, state and national. Think globally when acting locally and think locally when acting globally. Real democracy is a system where ALL the people affected by a decision make that decision and those not affected do not.

  • Design this system so that it cannot be corrupted by the existing privileged few, including universal voting registration, automatic referendum rights, rotating citizen councils to poll for monthly issue debates and decisions, and a limit on advertising.

  • End the corporate monopoly stranglehold on the commonwealth of the electronic means of communication. These are now just as important to control as the means of production, if not more so. Begin by taxing the corporate licensees in air time to allow full and open debate on the local, national and international issues to be decided.

  • Do not allow new means of communication to be controlled by entrepreneurs or corporations.

  • Educate the young in real democracy, and open the educational institutions to a full flow of ideas and information. Hold referendum in schools and other community places and include the young in decisions that affect their lives. Build models of participatory democracy and informed decision-making to create new citizens for the democratic future.

  • Teach human values and living skills before teaching corporate skills or science without conscience.

  • Enfranchise people by creating community models at every level, open and inviting organizations, and easy access to information and debate of ideas. The problem is not apathy but a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness that is encouraged by the privileged few to divide and defeat the majority of people.

  • Disenfranchise the false "people" called corporations by limiting their lifespans, ending their legal immunity, making their dealings transparent, and putting them under popular control instead of private. Do not accord them the rights of persons or citizens, for they are not.

  • Address the cancer of militarism that has gouged social services, health, education and general welfare for decades, and that continues to assign the vast majority of taxed dollars to past, present and future wars and preparations for war. Standing armies do not stand.

    Militarization of all social functions continues apace, including police, education, social services, and even humanitarian efforts abroad. Instead of humanizing the military, this serves to militarize humanity. The military must become a transparent and democratic organization whose purpose, size, presence, operational limits, and personnel matters are decided by open and participatory debate by GI's and citizens alike, not behind the closed doors of the Pentagon and the national security state. Honor veterans -- no more wars. Stop arming, funding, researching and facilitating genocide worldwide.

  • Open the secrets of the society by declassifying the millions of existing records and ending further classifications or records and all electronic intelligence gathered by satellite or other means.

  • Encourage this openness and the end to denial and lies at the family and community and job level as well as nationally. Transparency facilitates accountability. Reclaim the history of our lives that has been stolen by the national security state. Come clean, and discover our real histories and herstories.

  • Put an end to decisions made in secret by "experts" with "clearances" to privileged information. There can be no democracy without a free flow of information. Jefferson said that given a choice between a government without a newspaper and a newspaper without a government, he would always choose the latter.

  • Break down the layers of fear and mistrust that are encouraged by the privileged and their propaganda arms of entertainment and "news" and in their institutional behavior, that perpetuate racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all the other divisions and prejudices that splinter society and work against community and democracy.

  • Make the standard for "representation" not popularity of the few but diversity of the whole, not (s)elective but demographic. Encourage and make space for dialogue between communities as well as joint projects and organizations that are inclusive.

  • Change the tax structure to focus on profit-making corporations, not on the people underemployed by them. Charge a small percentage of corporate gross income annually instead, which would far outstrip the amount now taxed from the menial salaries and wages offered to the labor that made the profit possible. Whether or not people are taxed, they should have a direct say in how those taxes are spent.

  • Allow direct, participatory allocation of all taxes collected by polling the people themselves annually and creating budgets based on their decisions. This would be taxation with real representation.

  • Change the methods of economy, and move away from profit as the motive for activity. Alternative, small scale, cooperative economic methods and models exist. Money is only credit, and that can be issued in other ways, without privilege. The current system allows tremendous concentration of wealth, and then power in a system of "one dollar, one vote" that serves the increasingly privileged few. The more local and self sufficient and community-based the economy, production and exchange is, the better.

    The more centralized, profit-based, unaccountable, and global the economic model is, the worse it is in effect and execution.

  • Move away from money as the motivator of human interaction to systems that seek and support the real talents and dreams of community members shared for the common good in a rational and informed system of operation that takes into account real needs, real resources, the environment and ecology, the long-range impact locally and otherwise, and the support that the activity provides for the community as a whole.

  • Decentralize power and globalize the access to information and transparent operations worldwide. Local decisions must take both regional, national and global concerns for resources and impacts into account, and decisions made on a larger scale must take the local impact into account as well.

As wealth and power have concentrated, so has society around the centers of such activity or its routes of transportation and expansion. This centralization, homogenization and replication of function and control has left large sectors of the society without self-sufficient means of survival.

The "efficiencies" of such centralization do not outweigh its disastrous potential for damage to that same survival on all levels. Cultural, biological and personal diversity are all threatened to the point of extinction under the current model.

We have the information, resources, knowledge and technology available to comfortably house, clothe, feed, transport, educate, keep healthy and entertain all the people of this earth, and to sustain the ecology, renewable resources.

We do not have the wisdom, moral integrity, or vision to do so because we are trapped in our consciousness and our conscience by the demands of a system of profit instead. We exist in a deadly pyramid of power, privilege and control, with 6% of the population of the earth consuming 60% of its produced goods, and within that 6% of privileged people, only 2% of them control over 80% of the real wealth generated by the work and production of the remaining 98%.

The poorest 80% subsist on 20% of the wealth generated. The average salary of two-thirds of the world's people is less than $2 a day, and the privileged one-third that remain have an average salary of $70 a day.

Within that average, some are billionaires that skew the average upwards -- most make far less each day. 470 billionaires control wealth equal to the combined salaries of two-thirds of the people alive. And the gap continues to accelerate, as does the mortality rate of those left at the bottom, especially children, the elderly and people of color.

The only answer is real democracy, where the people reclaim the power to inform themselves and to decide how the resources of the world are used and how the created wealth is distributed in a direct and informed way.

This will release an untapped potential of human creativity, love and talent that can transform the world into a global community that supports life instead of a system of privilege that promotes death to the planet itself. When profit, not people, drive the decisions, when privilege not justice is protected and fought for, then the rights, hopes and liberation of all species is endangered.

"I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves. And if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion."

--Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson did not envision his model as the final one by any means. He despised political parties and recognized that there are really only two political divisions in any social order: those who wish to invest power in an elite few (Aristocrats), and those who wish to decentralize power into the hands of all people (Democrats).

He felt there would have to be revolutions every 20 years to keep power from concentrating again. And he knew that the government he created, while a vast improvement on monarchy, would not necessarily serve the next generation, any more than a tattered coat should be forcibly passed down from a parent to fit her child.

He supported any mechanism that checked power, privilege and abuse and that preserved democratic control. He saw self-sufficient, agricultural and decentralized communities as the backbone of democratic society.

He was still blind to issues of race and gender for the most part, though he did wish to end slavery. But he envisioned liberation within the confines of his own time and experience, and his ideas still drive the democratic ideals and hopes of much of the world. He challenges each of us to do the same: to define our own liberty and its technology, and to secure the blessings of that liberation to all.

There are many brilliant people and communities thinking about, practicing and expanding these ideas and actions that are the answer to the current global dilemma. If you are inspired, if you wish to share your vision of them, if you want to learn more, please contact us:

Real Democracy
P.O. Box 772
Washington, DC 20044


See Michael Schuman's book Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age (1998) for a review of decentralized alternatives that I have been promoting for 40 years now - JJ

Referendum the decision making     Decentralize the decision-making

Repeal the oppressive laws

Directly allocate the taxes

Recall the "representatives"

Debate the issues and open access to information

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