Direct Democracy, Wisdom Councils, and The Revolution


Richard Moore

Bcc: misc. interested (I hope) parties

           We are already all of us, right round the world, subject to the
           cold, pragmatic ideology of fascism-including the violent suppression
of dissent and other human rights; the use of torture, assassination and
           concentration camps; and most important, Benito Mussolini's preferred
definition of 'fascism' as 'corporatism', because it binds together the
           interests of corporations and the state.
           - Boudewijn Wegerif <•••@••.•••>, "WHAT MATTERS-159"


Anyone with any sense today knows that civilization is overdue for
radical transformation. As a species we are ruining our own nest; as a
society we are in decline; as spiritual beings we are heartbroken. The
worst in humanity is controlling the world's destiny. If we love our
children, if we care about life, we have no moral choice but to do
whatever we can to change all this. For sensible people, there are only
two important questions: Can we make a real difference? If so, what can
we do?

Many serious people are now involved in promoting various initiatives
and movements aimed at radical transformation. Some have an
environmental focus and talk about sustainability - calling for a
radical change in how humanity uses resources. Some focus on economics -
calling for a shift from centralized to locally based economics, and
radical changes in currencies and financial systems. Some are concerned
with peace and justice - calling for enlightened social and foreign
policies. Some are more politically oriented - calling for radical
democratic reforms and direct democracy of one form or another.

All of these initiatives and movements are concerned with the decisions
societies make. Those focusing on the environment, economics, peace, or
justice are concerned about WHAT decisions are made by society. Those
focusing on politics are concerned about HOW such decisions are made. 

The WHAT and the HOW are both equally important. Those pursuing the WHAT
question are providing a valuable service - they are developing a recipe
book of plans and ideas for the operation of a better world. But until
we change HOW societies make their decisions, the recipe book has little
practical value - our ruling elites have their own recipe books and
their own agendas for radical transformation -- in quite opposite
directions from what benefits humanity and the biosphere.

The main focus of this posting, as you can tell from the Subject, is
going to be about the HOW question - initiatives for radical changes in
the political process. But first let me establish a needed foundation by
saying something about the WHAT question - the kind of social and
economic regime that is needed to enable to a better world.


The central point I would like to make is that the social and economic
regime we need is RADICALLY different from the one we now live under.
Another way to say this is to point out that the current regime cannot
be reformed. For example, it would make little sense to simply restore
strong regulation on corporations. It was necessary to strip regulations
in the 1980s in order that corporations could continue to increase their
profits. If we restore regulations, reverse privatization, force
corporations to return employment to their home countries, and the like,
then the result would be economic collapse. Same result if we simply
outlaw imperialism. Our whole economic structure depends on growth and
exploitation in order to operate at all. We blame greed, which we can
see in abundance, but it is actually economic necessity that drives our
economic, social, and foreign policies.

If we really want to accomplish the kind of reforms suggested in the
previous paragraph, then we also need to change the underlying
structures which generate the offending conditions. It's like peeling an
onion. If we want to end imperialism. corporate abuses, and
environmental destruction, then we need to establish an economic
paradigm that does not depend on perpetual growth. To establish such a
paradigm, we would need to change the banking system and the way in
which money is created. And that's only the first few layers of the
onion. We would also need to make significant changes in the ownership
of property and natural resources. We cannot establish the kind of world
we need when most of the land and minerals are owned or mortgaged by
giant corporations and banks. We would need to recognize that these
current ownership structures are the result of theft - enabled by
military force and political corruption down through the centuries. I'm
not trying to suggest an explicit program here - I'm not competent to do
so - but I imagine the kinds of things we would need to do would include
repudiating most public and private debts, breaking up corporations into
their individual sites, and turning those sites over to the workers
and the local communities. That would get us about 1/3 of the way to the
onion's core.

We also need to recognize that there is no explicit recipe for these
kinds of radical changes. The Soviet experience does not provide such a
recipe nor, in my opinion, is one provided by Marxism in general. 
Getting rid of capitalism is no guarantee that something better has been
achieved. The work that has been done by the WHAT people (deep ecology,
sustainability, appropriate technology, localized economics, etc.)
provide guideposts, but they are not a complete recipe. Building a
better world means voyaging into unknown territory, trying new things -
and evolving toward what works, what is equitable, and what is
sustainable. It is a voyage that requires creativity, wisdom, deep
thinking, and practicality.

With that background, let's look at some of the direct-democracy
initiatives that are currently underway - the work of the HOW people.


           Be challenged by this. Know how history shows that the minority
movements for truth and justice always win through, to make way for new
           minority movements as the victorious movements settle for power and
           become subject to corruption.
           - Boudewijn Wegerif, op. cit.

Let's begin with that modern Internet phenomenon - Here are
some excerpts from their "about" page (

      MoveOn is working to bring ordinary people back into politics... MoveOn
      is a catalyst for a new kind of grassroots involvement, supporting busy
      but concerned citizens in finding their political voice. Our
      international network of more than 2,000,000 online activists is one of
      the most effective and responsive outlets for democratic participation
      available today... MoveOn builds electronic advocacy groups.... Using
      our ActionForum software, you can propose issue priorities and
      strategies. Others will see and respond to your suggestions, and the
      most strongly supported ideas will rise to the top... In the fall of
      2000, for example, our members chose campaign finance reform and
      protection of the environment as our two top issues. Accordingly, these
      two issues are our major strategic priorities for the current congress.

We can look at MoveOn from two different perspectives. Seen from the
outside, MoveOn functions as a classic, historically naive, reform
advocacy organization. As such it is of little interest to our
discussion. What is interesting is MoveOn's attempt to achieve direct
democracy. From this perspective, the problem with MoveOn is the
narrowness of its dialog process. Impersonal mass voting software works
well for choosing among issues, but it does not enable the kind of
radical, creative dialog that is needed to transform society. The narrow
dialog channel imprisons the organization within the reform box. From
a movement with 2,000,000 activist members, one might hope for a 
richer and deeper reform agenda than the two no-brainer objectives that
bubbled to the top of ActionForum.


Let us now look at a more radical attempt at direct democracy - "The
National Initiative for Democracy". Here are some excerpts from the
website (

      The National Initiative for Democracy includes both a proposed Democracy
      Amendment to the United States Constitution, which asserts the People's
      right and power to make laws using ballot initiatives, and the Democracy
      Act, a proposed federal statute which establishes legislative procedures
      and an administrative agency, the Electoral Trust, to create a
      Legislature of the People, operating nationally and in every state and
      local government jurisdiction of the United States. We, the People will
      have an opportunity to vote on this National Initiative in a national
      election conducted by the nonprofit corporation Philadelphia II.
      In the election to enact the National Initiative, We, the People will be
      voting for our sovereign right as human beings to exercise our
      legislative power to create, and alter governments, constitutions and
      laws. The election process conducted by Philadelphia II will adhere to
      election standards superior to those of state and local governments, and
      will be transparent and open to the scrutiny of the American public,
      thereby ensuring the integrity and fairness of the election.

Here we see reflected a deeper understanding of the inadequacies of our
current representative political system. Whereas MoveOn strives to
influence elections and legislators, the National Initiative seeks to
change the way laws are made. The People themselves would be the direct
law makers - and would have the ability to make Constitutional changes.
Clearly the National Initiative  shows more promise of escaping the
reform box and voyaging toward a radical transformation of society.

Again, as with MoveOn, let's look at the dialog process proposed by the
National Initiative. Here are some more excerpts from the website:

      * Public Hearings. An Electoral Trust Hearing Officer, together with
      initiative sponsors and representatives from the legislature of the
      relevant jurisdiction, will conduct full and open public hearings on
      each qualified initiative.
      * A "Deliberative Committee" of ordinary citizens, selected at random
      like a jury by the Electoral Trust, will deliberate the pros, cons,
      costs and benefits of each qualifying initiative, amend the initiative
      if warranted, and report on its conclusions and recommendations.
      * An advisory vote on each qualifying initiative will be conducted by
      the relevant elected legislature to assist the People in their
      * An intense public information campaign, administered by the Electoral
      Trust, will report to the public on the hearings; the Deliberative
      Committee's conclusions; the results of the legislative advisory vote;
      the societal, environmental and economic impacts; and the views of
      proponents and opponents of each qualified initiative.

Here we see an attempt to enable a richer and more creative dialog
process, one that might dig deeper into problems and develop the kind of
radical solutions that are needed. These proposals - primarily the work
of Mike Gravel (former senator from Alaska) - reflect some sound,
informed thinking and hard work.  But in fact, the proposals amount to a
new Constitution for the USA - adopting them would be as big a change as
the original Consitution was from the Articles of Confederation. There
is no conceivable way, within the current realities of politics and the
media, that these proposals could ever be adopted. I don't think much
argument is needed to support this claim.

To make Constitutional changes that serve We The People, something else
very big would have to happen first. Some other transformation in People
Power and the political process would need to happen - and then the
empowered We The People could consider the kind of legal changes being
proposed above. But in that new, transformed political landscape, I have
a feeling the proposals would seem rather quaint and half-hearted. At
the same time, the proposals would remain available for consideration,
and there is no reason to spend time pre-critiquing them now. There are
many other radical Constitutional-reform proposals floating around, and
they are all equally useful as proposals and equally hopeless as current
political initiatives. May a thousand such recipes bloom so that one day
the more promising ones can be harvested.


Consider now a more politically relevant initiative, the "NPO Project".
Here are excerpts from the website

            Democracy Is Possible
            a political invitation
        This is an invitation to participate in the formation of a very
       unusual and ambitious new national mass membership organization. Its
       aim will be no less than to rapidly transform the American political
       system and enable the United states finally to become a fully
       democratic nation -- one that is ruled by all of its citizens on an
       equal basis and is not dominated by any powerful interest groups or
        The new organization will be modeled partly after the Nonpartisan
       League of early 20th century North Dakota. That organization achieved
       its entire platform of state constitutional amendments and reform
       legislation only four years after its formation in 1915 and came close
       to doing so in its first two years.
        It will focus on pursuing major political reforms, including
       amendments to the constitution that until now have been considered
       It will be structured and governed as democratically as the transformed
       political system it seeks to bring about, in ways that are formally
       approved and periodically reaffirmed or revised by its members and that
       do not privilege the views of its organizers, staff workers, or other
       groups or individuals. That's why a definitive and prioritized list of
       specific reform goals and plans for achieving them can't be listed

This project seems to make a great deal of sense. It's kind of like a
third-party initiative, but more flexible and less tied to the
up-and-down cycle of elections. It wisely postpones the identification
of specific reform objectives, recognizing that a truly democratic
movement will need to define its own objectives through its own dialog
process. Yet it wisely suggests a radical canvass - including
fundamental Constitutional amendments - so that the "New Political
Organization" might have some hope of voyaging to the kind of social
transformation that our dire global predicament calls for. And not being
a party would give the organization the freedom to focus on radical
agendas, something which entities like the Green Party cannot afford to
do if they are to be effective in the political arena.

As with the previous initiatives, let's look at the dialog process
involved with NPO. In fact, the authors seem to avoid prescribing a
specific dialog process, and I think that shows wisdom on their part
(Donald Donato and Ralph Suter). They know that an effective democratic
dialog process is important, they try to characterize some its needed
properties - and they also evidently realize that defining such a
process is not all that easy.

Just as the National Initiative for Democracy offers useful radical
reform ideas, so does the NPO project offer useful organizational ideas.
And just as the National Initiative is not currently politically
feasible, neither is the NPO project complete until a dialog process
exists which can enable its members to reach consensus on the kind of
radical agendas needed to adequately and wisely transform society. And
just as the National Initiative proposals might seem ironically quaint
in the very transformed political environment that could enable their
implementation, so might NPO's specific organizational proposals seem
quaint once we understand the nature of the dialog process that could,
ironically, enable NPO to function effectively and achieve its goals.


Know that you cannot live without hope. Hope is the mainstay of love. If
           hope and love are not at home with you, work on it, through prayer,
           meditation and constructive encounter.
           - Boudewijn Wegerif, op. cit.

I would now like to turn to a final direct-democracy initiative, one
that is already familiar to readers of these lists. It is an initiative
which, in my view, could provide precisely the dialog process that NPO
needs. And - ironically - once you understand the potential of this
dialog process you are likely to see the NPO project from a changed
perspective.  Also, in my view, this final initiative shows promise of
creating the changed political environment that could enable the kind of
radical Constitutional reforms suggested by the National Intiative. And
again, once you understand what this initiative is about you are likely
have a changed vision of what kind of radical legal reforms might be
appropriate when the time comes.

This final direct-democracy initiative is the Wisdom Council movement.
In my view this movement is still in its embryonic stages, not yet
coherent as a movement per se, still discovering itself, not yet fully
aware of its mature potential. We'll get back to that again a bit later.
For now let's review what this movement is about.  Here are excerpts
from the Rogue Valley Wisdom Council website (

      Citizens' Wisdom Councils provide a way to get at the essential wisdom
      in all the people, in a way that strengthens the democratic process. A
      Wisdom Council is a small group of randomly-selected people who come
      together to share thoughts and feelings about the things that matter, to
      seek creative win/win solutions to the problems before us, and to reach
      consensus on a set of shared concerns. A trained facilitator helps them
      to do these things. The statements that result from the Wisdom Council
      are then shared with the larger community, and that stimulates
      discussion of important issues.
      The citizens who form the Wisdom Council do not receive any training in
      how to conduct themselves. They are local people who care about issues.
      They are assisted by a facilitator who uses a special system called
      Dynamic Facilitation to help them address big, seemingly
      impossible-to-solve issues creatively and collaboratively, and to reach

As previously reported here (14 Dec 03), Tom Atlee was deeply inspired by 
the first Rogue Valley Wisdom Council session. He wrote:
    "On Saturday and Sunday November 15-16 seven diverse strangers --
      randomly chosen citizens of Jefferson County, Oregon -- found
      themselves immersed together in hours of thoughtful, heartful,
      and at times dramatic conversation (facilitated and videotaped),
      exploring their community's concerns.  Much to our surprise, the
      conversation transformed them before our very eyes.  They
      discovered a level of passionate, determined group citizenship
      they'd never experienced before.  On Sunday afternoon we watched
      their enthusiasm infect a whole town meeting of local citizens
      gathered to hear them.  Even the most colorful person on the
      Wisdom Council, a passionate, challenging man who had been
      repeatedly disappointed by earlier citizen boards and panels he'd
      been on, spoke with great energy about the power of the
      conversation he'd just experienced and about how it had rekindled [sic]
      the fire of 'We the People' among them."

In previous postings we've seen additional testimony as to the creative,
effective problem solving that happens at these kinds of sessions - and
the transformative sense of community and empowerment
experienced by the participants as a result of the deep listening that
is enabled by the DF process.  Among dialog processes, which we have
considered with each initiative we've looked at, the DF process stands
out as being most capable of enabling people to look deeply and
effectively at issues, and most capable of generating the practical
creativity that might enable us to voyage wisely into the uncharted
waters of radical social transformation.

In fact, the DF process has come about as a result of many years of
evolution. It combines consensus ideas from the Quakers, the experience
of activist efforts such as the Abalone Alliance and the
Anti-Globalization Movement, and what has been learned in the
corporate-effectiveness consulting field. It also happens to be very
similar to the kinds of decision-making processes typically used by
hunter-gatherer societies. It comes down to people listening to one
another, respecting one another, and working together to solve shared
problems. It's a straightforward, natural process -and under known
appropriate conditions it delivers results reliably.

I suggested earlier that the Wisdom Council movement is still in its embryonic
stages, still discovering itself. We can see that in the comment by Tom
Atlee (above) that he - one of the main promoters - was only now
discovering the transformative sense of We The People that can be
generated by a Wisdom Council - given the appropriate circumstances.
Those circumstances happened fortunately to exist with the Rogue Valley
Council, and now that we have seen those circumstances we have the
opportunity to seek similar opportunities to achieve similar results

The Rogue Valley Council apparently came up with useful solutions
regarding some educational problems being faced in the community. This
is good, but the more radically significant outcomes were the sense of
We The People that developed in the session itself, and the fact that
the same sense was somehow picked up by the larger community - without
the larger community needing to participate each and every one in a
similar two-day session.

As a political strategist, seeking a way to achieve radical social
transformation through effective direct democracy, I see immense promise
and potential in this Rogue Valley experience. I see a rather obvious
action agenda that would be likely to foster the evolution of just the
kind of movement that could develop into an effective force for wise and
radical social transformation.

The action agenda is rather simple and straightforward. It has two
parts. Part one is to seek to repeat the Rogue Valley experience in
other communities, learning and improving methods in the process. Part
two is to encourage the radical deepening of the sense of We The People
in the Rogue Valley community, and subsequently in other communities
where part one has been accomplished.

In order to proceed with part one, one would need only to look for
communities with 'exhibiting problems' in which a nucleus of inhabitants
could be identified who would be willing to help sponsor a local Wisdom
Council session. With the video and other material from Rogue Valley,
finding such a nucleus might not be all that difficult, particularly if
the frustration level with 'the problem' has reached acute levels.

In order to proceed with part two, one would need only look for other
problems in the same general community which are ripe for the Wisdom
Council treatment. Perhaps, given the nature of the problem, one might
seek a different sponsor nucleus than the one that stepped forward for
the first session. Those motivated by the education issue might not be
the same ones motivated to do something about a labor or transportation
issue, for example.

Part one is the process by which the movement can spread, and part two
is the process that could, I suggest, incrementally transform the
movement from a citizen's advisory movement (which is more or less its
current status) into a movement for radical social transformation.

I'm extrapolating a bit here, but my track record on extrapolations is
not all that bad. In particular, I would like to suggest the following
extrapolation / prediction of what could be expected from part two of
the action agenda, why it could foster a truly radical movement. Consider...

The more times a community successfully employs the Wisdom Council
process, the more different problems it looks at, and the more people
who experience a sense of We The People, then the more the community
begins to develop an ongoing sense of We The People as a Coherent
Community - a community with a palpable sense of identity and objectives
and ongoing solidarity. In such a community as the Sense Of Community
deepened, it seems to me that the people would naturally and without
much fanfare select volunteers from among themselves to take the office
of Mayor and whatever other offices had decision-making roles in the
local government. Their election would be a foregone conclusion. And
quite naturally - obvious to all - the Wisdom Council process would
become the central process driving official government planning and
policy making at the local level.

To me these kind of consequences seem almost inevitable, if only
successful Wisdom Council sessions can be carried out in sufficient
numbers and involving a sufficient number of issues and constituencies
within the community. Am I wrong? I'd be interested in other's views on
this, or perhaps people's experience supportive or contrary to my

And there's more to the extrapolations. If many communities, facilitated
by Wisdom Councils, evolved to this state of We The People Governing
Ourselves By Dialoging Wisely Together - we would then have the nucleus
of a truly revolutionary movement - a movement based solidly in the
grassroots, a movement capable of radical problem solving, a movement
with an experienced vision of how a democratic society can be run, a
movement empowered with the tools to avoid divisiveness and to find
consensus, and a movement which would increasingly perceive the
established elite regime as being both unnecessary and unacceptably

When the inevitable point of confrontation with the established elite
occurs, then I suggest Gandhi will in some sense be reincarnated many
times over. In the Indian confrontation with the British Empire, Gandhi,
God bless him, served for the most part as the lone strategist, the one
who roused the people at the right time to boycott this or that, or
whatever other collective action would set the Empire off balance
through astute leverage. The rest of the people - with notable
exceptions I'm sure - were not organized or prepared in such a way that
they could do for themselves what Gandhi was doing for them.  In our
extrapolated movement, made up of communities which have learned to
govern themselves creatively and which have a sense of identity and
purpose, people would have the means and the sense of empowerment to
come up with their own effective strategies for non-violent, high
leverage confrontation.

In the end Gandhi's revolution was not about confrontation. No one was
attempting to defeat the British Empire. The goal, and the outcome, was
to create a situation where the British found it in their self-interest
to reach a mutually acceptable accommodation with Gahdhi and and the
movement which he represented. In the end, the consensus process came to
include all those who in earlier stages seemed to be the implacable

But in the intermediate stages the struggles of confrontation must be
pursued and endured. No established regime, least of all the current
fascists in the White House, has ever given up power without attempting
to use its various powers and resources to defend itself. But as we saw
in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, it is sometimes possible for
movements to progress in such a way as to minimize the collateral damage
from the confrontation process and to achieve significant victories at
surprising speed. And in the case of our Wisdom-Council empowered
movement, there would be the means and the wisdom to avoid the
disastrous post-victory co-option process that destroyed the original
vision and spirit of Solidarity and the other liberation movements in
the region, and turned the nations into impoverished and eager recruits
to the European Union / neo-imperialist agenda.

In the end, similarly, our own revolution / radical transformation is
not about confrontation. The kind of world you and I want is also the
kind of world that would be better for the individuals who make up our
current collectively-evil regime. One day they will understand and
accept that. But the nature of power is seductive, as is expressed by
the Ring of Power metaphor in Lord of the Rings. Those who have real
power cannot give it up or see why they should - any more than Gollum
can give up His Precious. Not until the conditions are created that
encourage them  to reconsider their options, not until a movement has
the ability to demand their undivided attention.

may the force be with us,



    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
      suspension of the Weimar constitution followed the
      Reichstag fire." 
      - Srdja Trifkovic

    There is not a problem with the system.
    The system is the problem.

    Faith in humanity, not gods, ideologies, or programs.

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