From Tue Jan 20 10:15:13 2004
Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2004 00:30:48 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Direct Democracy, Wisdom Councils, and The Revolution
Article: 171981
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Direct Democracy, Wisdom Councils, and The Revolution

By Richard K. Moore, 19 January 2004

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:

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 individuals.

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 unachievable.

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 here.

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 consensus.

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 elsewhere.

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 expectations.

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 vile.

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 enemy.

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, rkm