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Community Corner: How We’re Strengthening Direct Democracy




Editor’s Note: Community Corner is a project of Yellow Scene Magazine to elevate the voices in our community that are deeply invested in and involved with community action, community organization, and supporting a future that’s community inspired.


Several years ago, three of my Mayan friends were killed by the Guatemalan Army using guns bought by U.S. taxpayers. In anger and grief, I buried myself in research and found the majority of United States citizens (two-thirds) oppose such military aid. I decided we needed better and national direct democracy so we, the people, make the big decisions. Direct democracy works. The Zapatista Rebellion, started by Mayans living in Chiapas, Mexico, have been using and advocating direct democracy for years, which they call la consulta.

Direct democracy: citizens as individuals voting on issues directly via initiatives, referendums and recalls instead of elected representatives.


There are 24 states and D.C. that have initiatives and referendums and two more have just referendums. Numerous municipalities have them too. We’ve accomplished a lot using a direct democracy system here in Colorado. Nobody has answered my challenge to show a state legislature with a record that can compare with the record of Colorado voters in the last 20 years.


We passed Amendment 20, legalizing medical marijuana; Amendment 22, closing the gun-show loophole; Amendment 23, raising K-12 spending; Amendment 27, one of the country’s strictest campaign finance limits; Initiative 37, the country’s first renewable energy requirements for utilities; Amendment 41, the country’s strongest Ethics in Government law; Initiative 42, raising the minimum wage; Amendment 54, prohibits government contractors from making campaign donations; Amendment 64, the country’s first legal marijuana AND hemp law; Amendment 65, asking our Congressional Representatives to work to reverse Citizens United; Amendment 70 for a $12 an hour minimum wage; Proposition 106, Medical Assistance in Dying for the terminally ill; and Proposition 107, for Open Presidential Primaries; Amendment Y, to end gerrymandering in our congressional districts; and Proposition 111, which restricts payday loan interest rates.


This is all due to a laborious process created in 1912. The only significant change in Colorado’s direct democracy since then was the passage of Amendment 71 in the strange election of 2016, which has made amending our Constitution even harder, and which we do to keep our legislature from reversing what we do by initiative. For example, after we passed Initiative 15 for campaign finance reform, the legislature gutted it and we had to redo it as Amendment 27, which wasted 6 years.


While Colorado is unique in its direct democracy principles with the voters, the people, having the most power, it still has to work within a representational democracy, which we have nationally. National direct democracy will probably take a new generation in Congress, or an Article 5 “convention to propose amendments.“


Here in Boulder, voters passed (71 to 29 percent) a Charter Amendment allowing us to pass initiative and referendum petitions online, opening up the process to more diverse groups of people who don’t have the time or money to collect several thousand signatures. You can read our editorial about it here: tinyurl.com/Boulderpetition.


By allowing petitions online, more money can be spent educating people, not gathering signatures, it can also prevent petitioners from being harrassed by big business and corporate ideologies, especially as oil and gas employee harassed petitioners for Amendment 112.  Older problems such as lying about the meaning of petitions to get signatures, fighting over places to petition and increasingly privatized public spaces banning petitioners, would all be solved, among many other advantages.


BUT, as Noam Chomsky says, “there’s nothing the ruling class hates more than democracy,” and initial interest in online petitioning by Colorado state legislators has stalled, posing a threat to our further advancements of direct democracy.


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