The real key to a transformed
system of participatory democracy into a teledemocracy using ICTs is to afford citizens the right to be
lawmakers directly. This necessitates an increase in the use of more pure democratic
forms, like New England Town Meetings and citizens initiatives and referenda at all levels of
governance. This gives the citizens the right to be legislators in their own right on
major issues concerning the agendas, priorities, planning and policies of their polity.
It worked in ancient Athens, it
works in New England towns, it works in Switzerland, and it works in 24 states in the U.S. It
needs to be expanded throughout all representative systems in order to increase their effectiveness
and the use of modern ICT is indispensable to make this happen in the future. There are some good
examples of how this is occurring today and how this view- point is becoming a global
Unlike Switzerland, the U.S.
(which likes to be thought of as the leader of Western democracies) has no citizenís
initiatives at the national level. The reason for this is the founding fathers deeply
distrusted the citizens and gave as little power to them as they could in order to get their new
form of government ratified. Also, unlike almost every modern industrialized nation in
the Western world, the U .S. has no national referenda. (A referendum is where the
national legislature decides to let citizens vote on a major issue of national concern).
In recent years, citizens of
Italy, Austria, and Sweden have voted to ban nuclear power in their countries. The people of
Ireland voted to permit abortion in certain instances. The people of Norway voted to not belong to
the European Union. The Australian people voted to maintain their connection to the
British monarchy. The people of France voted to cut the term of office of their president to five
years. And in the near future, the people of Great Britain will vote on whether to replace the
pound with the Euro.
Big issues decided directly by the people. But in the U.S., we maintain
a hostility to direct democracy at the national level based on the knowledge and values of 55 men in 1787 who feared and distrusted the will of the
However, thanks to the struggle of other men and women at the turn of
the 20th century, almost half the states in the U.S. do permit citizens
initiatives at the state level. And in the past several years, thanks to the
Internet, a system of a decentralized, multistate citizen's initiative process is
Since the mid-1990s, organizers of similar citizens initiatives in
several states have been coordinating their efforts via the Internet to come up with strategies, tactics, wording, fundraising, and so on in order to get
laws passed on certain issues that are the same or nearly so.
Thus, we find a large number of states in 1994 passed very like-minded
laws that limited the terms of office for members of Congress and state legislatures. In 1998, five states passed almost duplicate laws that permitted
the use of marijuana (and other controlled substances) to ease the pain of people suffering from terminal and/ or very painful diseases. There have
also been Internet-coordinated state initiatives on limiting taxes. This list will grow and the number of states involved will grow as well.
It is my
prediction that within the next 10-20 years, we will be having the exact same initiative passed in 20 or so states. Moreover, this will probably persuade
other states to change their constitutions to institute this process so they can join the movement.
The move toward more and better citizen lawmaking is hardly confined
to the U.S. In Germany, for example, there is a movement called "Mehr Demokratie" (More Democracy) that has grown tremendously over the past
few years. This is a national organization that has been successful in changing the constitution of Bavaria to facilitate citizen initiatives and the
charter of Hamburg, Germany to allow for it as well. Their aim is to amend the constitution of the federal government to permit national citizen
Mehr Demokratie uses the Web to distribute information, to expedite
organizational activities, and for fundraising. It also uses the Web to help develop a trans-European movement for more direct democracy in other
European nations and to help amass support for changing the constitution of the European Union to allow the citizens of the nations of the EU to vote
on EU laws directly. All this is in an early stage.