By Bailey Ludlam
SAN FRANCISCO, California: It's official, the third 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy has come to a close.
In a final gathering, speakers drew together the numerous concepts discussed and dissected during the five day conference. All agreed on at least one concept - the need for continuous communication and dialogue. Victor Cuesta of Las Palmas University noted that as the European Citizens' Initiative is implemented and mechanisms for discussion are proposed and utilized, it is important to continue communication not only among citizens but also with parliament and legislators.
Direct Democracy word cloud
The forms of communication and participation among citizens is a topic that remains to be debated. Grace Cainoy Weitman of Empowerment Congress in Los Angeles shared some of her experiences in attempts to rally the local communities. Weitman noted that most of the time local problems such as road and sewer issues can be addressed through community discussions. In Los Angeles, California Empowerment Congress holds annual summits and works with the community throughout the year to create better connections between office holders and residents. While Weitman notes that most of the time issues can be addressed more easily after talking about the problems with the community, the sheer size of a region can make communication difficult.
On a global perspective, Amjad Atallah of the New America Foundation Middle East Task Force illustrated the sheer importance of communication in countries where direct democracy has yet to be implemented and totalitarian regimes currently exist. In the Middle East, he said, globalization and new media are acting as accelerators for not only concepts of direct democracy but also information in general. However, the use of new media to discuss these concepts and spread the ideas throughout the regions, is not quite as easy as one might think. Unlike, places like the United States where social networking sites can help launch or win a campaign, the use of social media in other parts of the world is far more restricted.
Additionally, Attalah noted that the largest hindrance of the establishment of direct democracy in countries like those in the Middle East is the contradictions by democratic countries. For example, the United States is a symbol of freedom but when Arabs are stopped in airports to be verified and searched the contradictions in United States policies is highlighted and leads to discouragement and doubts in direct democracy.
2010 Global Forum group photo
In the spirit of continued communication a "wildcard box" was used throughout the five day conference to collect questions and suggestions by conference attendees. All submitted questions were added to a voting system that the crowd participated anonymously following forum discussions. Participants voted on a scale of 1 to 10. Additionally, attendees were identified as either U.S. or foreign attendees to analyze differences in opinion. According to sponsors, results of the votes will be made available on the 2010 Global Forum website.
The conference, although rich with information and speakers, was not only for learning but for the sharing of ideas, drawing people around the world together and implementing the suggestions and ideas made at the conference. In closing, Joe Mathews read the draft of the San Francisco Declaration on Direct Democracy.
The draft of the 2010 San Francisco Declaration on Direct Democracy can be found here.
By Kyle Maichle
SAN FRANCISCO, California: The fourth day of the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy highlighted how initiatives, referendums, and citizen involvement can affect public policy. The first speech of the day came from California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres. Torres, who is also a former state lawmaker, blasted critics who think that citizen initiatives are responsible for the state’s fiscal crisis. Torres mentioned studies that point the cause to legislative-referred initiatives that increased spending while citizen initiatives resulted in less spending. In addition, Torres called on the Legislature to impose contribution limits towards initiative campaigns and banning ballot initiatives that negatively impact the state budget.
UC Hastings College of the Law
Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States discussed about how his organization uses the initiative process. Pacelle said that the animal rights organization uses initiatives as a last resort when the law permits it. The leader of the Humane Society also said that initiatives can be used as a tool to hold lawmakers, lobbyists, and parties accountable. Pacelle stated during his remarks that initiative campaigns has allowed his organization to hold accountable hunting and agricultural lobbyists that block animal rights legislation.
The first panel discussion of the day talked about alternative methods of direct democracy. Alice Siu, a political science professor at Stanford University, talked about how she uses citizen panels as part of conducting scientific polls. The method Siu mentioned was involving citizen panels in addition to polls that use random sampling. The Professor also said that the system is used in other nations and could be expanded to the United States. Mark Linder and Greg Greenaway discussed about how citizen involvement successfully affected housing and redevelopment policy in California's Bay Area region. Greenaway said that citizen discussion panels were successful in convincing the City Council and Mayor of San Jose to spend money on redeveloping all of its neighborhoods instead of Downtown San Jose.
San Francisco Chronicle Building
The Second panel of the day talked about constitutional conventions. J.H. Snider of Maryland discussed the campaign he is leading to get the state's voters to change their constitution. Snider talked about the challenges campaigns could face in 2010 in changing their constitutions, but is optimistic that the current political climate could play in his favor. Iowa and Michigan will also put constitutional convention questions on the November 2010 ballot in addition to Maryland.
John Woodcock, a former Connecticut state lawmaker, talked what went right and wrong during the 2008 campaign he led to bring a constitutional convention. Woodcock said that campaigns in support of changing their constitutions need to narrow their focus down to one or two issues in order to be successful. Woodcock, who now leads Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative, said that his efforts in 2008 have made initiative and referendum a fringe issue in Connecticut's 2010 elections. Manfred Brandt of Germany and Adrian Schmid of Switzerland also talked about the European model of constitutional conventions. Both of the speakers said that changing a constitution at the local or national level in Europe is a more deliberate process in which takes years instead of months.
The rest of the afternoon was divided into breakout sessions on issues ranging from building trans-partisan coalitions to using direct democracy at the local level.
Joel Mardsen of World Vote Now
The evening ended with movie night at HUB which is located in the San Francisco Chronicle building. There were movies about direct democracy in other nations being shown along with a viewing of World Vote Now. World Vote Now (timed out) is a effort in bringing a global initiative and referendum process.
The final day of the forum on Wednesday will focus the future of direct democracy along with the declaration of best practices from the forum. A full downloadable schedule of the July 30-August 4 forum can be found here. (dead link)
For up to the minute reports, make sure to follow the live tweets at #IR2010.