Old School Bus + 20 years: National Referendum

San Diego Review November 1, 1995

Old School Bus + 20 years: National Referendum Realized?

by Dwayne Hunn

In 1976  Roger Telschow and  John Forster  packed up their People’s Lobby literature, training, and maverick politics  in an old yellow bus, crisscrossed 30 states and poured their energy into making the wooden figures in the marbled halls of Washington implement the National Initiative & Referendum.  The results?

In  1977 Senators Abourezk, Hatfield and Gravel (D-AK, 1969-81)  co-sponsored Senate Judiciary  Committee hearings on implementing a national initiative process.  They all expressed support for the idea of  initiative law making, but  Hatfield and  Abourezk didn’t support the initiative amending the Constitution. “Ridiculous!”  Gravel  today responds,  “That means  the employees of people can amend the Constitution,   but people can’t. Ridiculous!..”

In 1977 Rick Arnold’s initiative helped replace  the lessons of  Vietnam and three Bronze and one Silver Stars by learning how to gather signatures and run initiative campaigns.  Today, more than 300 initiative campaigns later, he sees  the  National Initiative  as the  safety  valve  America needs to check systemic cynicism. Today, Gravel and Arnold’s paths increasingly cross, as they pursue the goal of a national initiative, albeit by  slightly different processes.

A three day San Diego October 1995 Campaigns and Elections Conference allowed political experts to hone the skills of  the sponsoring American Initiative Committee (AIC) and Philadelphia II participants, as both organizations approach 1996 intending to make Direct  Democracy available to America.  What’s the difference between AIC and Phily II?

Both want Americans “empowered” with the National Initiative and Referendum (NI&R) and believe a grassroots ground swell will be needed to do that.   Arnold believes that every Congressional district needs an organization gathering signatures and pressuring representatives so that 3/4ths of the states plus 1 (38) will empower Americans by ratifying a simply worded Amendment such as: “The people reserve the right to the initiative and referendum.”

For the 1996 Presidential ballot, Gravel wants a National Initiative and Referendum ballot in every registered voter’s hand.  When one over 50% votes for empowering Americans with those Direct Democracy tools,  Philadelphia I, where Americans in 1787 drafted their   new Constitution without asking permission of  the states under the inept Articles of Confederation, will  have an equally revolutionary and powerful   brother — Philadelphia II..

Gravel’s Phily II  does not, however, leave defining the process for doing national initiatives in the hands of  elected representatives.  Instead, like the Constitution with its articles and sections,  Phily II specifies the what, when and how of the NI&R.  “Governments make it harder to do initiatives, so why leave it in their hands to establish the process. Anyway, I’ve been there (the Senate)  and don’t want to entrust that to them.”

Simple process, complex wording.  Which do you prefer?

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