Published in the Colorado Daily 10/93


Opinion leaders of little faith

In the weeks before the November 2 vote on the Boulder Voting by Phone City Charter Amendment we must answer all the worries. I've named them after their main voices. Today, the most substantive concern:

The Elise Boulding/ Charlie Butcher/ Bob Seivers/ Scott Simon/ Matt Appelbaum argument: "The People can't be trusted to do the right thing if we use phone voting for electronic town (state or national) meetings. Look at Colorado Amendments One and Two, passed by citizen initiative."

Whoa. This year's Charter Amendment that Boulder votes on Nov. 2 simply gives you the option to vote by phone. It doesn't ease the initiative process. That's our second goal. You can vote against it when and if it comes up. But you shouldn't:

This is Boulder, which voted against One and Two. We are also, according to the U.S. Census, by far the most educated city in the country: 59% of adults have at least a bachelor's degree; Raleigh NC comes in second with 40%! We should be the model for learning self-government. If not us, who?

Imagine too, how the vote on One and Two might have gone if many more people had voted, as happened with the first binding telephone voting in Nova Scotia last year with the Liberal Party leadership election: 96.4% participation! The ACLU reports that "the Christian Coalition has been quietly seize control of school boards and other key posts most vulnerable during low-turnout local elections."(emphasis ours) High turnout will mean the real majority rules. If not now, when?

Amendment One sent a bottom line message to government: We don't like what we're getting for our money, so no more money for you (without our permission). If the initiative process was accessible to average citizens (not just rich landlords like Doug Bruce or powerful groups like Colorado for Family Values), we could legislate instead to get what we want. Amendment One is a sledgehammer. Voting by Phone is pro-active, not just reactive to what government proposes, like One. As Alexander Hamilton said: "If there is a problem with democracy, the solution is more democracy."

Amendment Two was confusingly worded, so that many voted the "wrong" way. [We're hardly saying the present initiative process is perfect. But it can be refined by using the existing process.] Amendment Two has never gone into effect. If the preliminary ruling of the Colorado Supreme Court holds, the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution means that "fundamental rights...depend on the outcome of no election". The majority cannot tyrannize the minority.

Buckminster Fuller, the apparent inventor of democracy by phone (in 1940), wrote: "The people will make mistakes. But they will be honest mistakes. And quickly correctable." Two's opponents stood ready to bring a better-worded Two back to the ballot to reverse it. If the initiative process was more accessible (fewer signatures required, more frequent votes), their process would be easier and faster.

Interestingly, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Denver Police and Gay and Lesbian Center of Colorado statistics all show hate crimes against homosexuals down significantly April-June compared to January-March. The first 2 sources also show all hate crimes in the second quarter down by half compared to second quarter of last year (anti-gay statistics were not kept separately until this year}. These may be more serious crimes than ones reported only to the GLCC, which are up this year. Is it possible that Amendment 2 brought the hidden hate of Colorado out in the open (out of the closet) for discussion in a way that has reduced its violent expression? Ben Barber, in his book Strong Democracy, calls this a "democratic conversation". The media and courts and citizens are discussing Two. We're learning about gays and straights and our feelings about each other. This isn't an academic discussion for the few: it includes everyone.

Scott Simon of NBC & NPR stated at the opening of the Walter Orr Roberts Institute that Colorado Springs (home of One and Two) is a good argument for representative (as opposed to participatory) government. We see them as complementary. Colorado Springs is largely a military town funded by our tax money to fight the Cold War, which UP syndicated writer Richard Reeves says "drained away our national treasury fighting shadows in the dark." Our taxes, funneled into his unusual city by an exclusively "representative" government (there is no participation by initiative or referendum nationally), helped fund One and Two. Our government needs citizen participation by all, to check and balance its excesses. It's still wildly out of balance.

Elise Boulding, a 1990 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize -and a former supporter of Voting by Phone- changed her mind and wrote me that "...we need to put much more effort into education for democracy, and becoming familiar first-hand with community contexts." That's what we're getting: it's one of Barber's "democratic conversations" we're having these days! If you're of a millennial cast of mind, you could call it God (the people) talking to itself (ourselves).

[I wrote in the May 16 Camera about this kind of education at Sudbury School in Framingham, Mass., where for 24 years the kids and staff have enjoyed true freedom and democracy. It works wonderfully, and for half the cost of the Massachusetts public schools. Call 443-3786 for a copy.]

The voices of this argument are thoughtful, caring people. I can feel their pain over One and Two. Opinion leaders of little faith, We invite you back into the democratic conversation. Debate us, or join us!

Evan is the founder of the Voting by Phone Foundation, the instigator of the new free speech tables on the Mall as well as the 13th Street bike path now under construction, and the Mall tightrope-walker for 15 years.