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?