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Ralph Nader > Opinions/Editorials > The Concord Principles: An Agenda for a New Democracy

Control of our social institutions, our government, and our political system is presently in the hands of a self-serving, powerful few, known as an oligarchy, which too often has excluded citizens from the process.

Our political system has degenerated into a government of the power brokers, by the power brokers, and for the power brokers, and is far beyond the control or accountability of the citizens. It is an arrogant and distant caricature of Jeffersonian democracy.

Originally written in 1992, The Concord Principles sets forth ten arguments of how democracy has been abused, and the constructive tools that citizens can use to regain their rightful participation in their own destiny.

First: Democracy must empower and enable citizens to obtain timely and accurate information from their government, to affirmatively facilitate citizens in banding together in civic associations in pursuit of a just society, and to communicate their judgments through modern technology.

Second: The American people should have reasonable control over the public lands, public media airwaves, pension funds, and other societal assets which the public legally owns, as a commonwealth, rather than having these public assets controlled by a powerful few.

Third: We need modern mechanisms so that civic power for self-government and self-reliance can correct the often converging power imbalance of Big Business and Big Government that seriously weakens the rights of citizens and the democracy.

Fourth: Citizens should have measures to ensure that their voting powers are not diluted, over-run, or nullified. Such measures include easier voter registration, state-level binding initiatives and referendums, public financing of campaigns, and term limits for elected officials not to exceed 12 years.

Fifth: Citizens must have full legal standing to challenge in the courts the waste, fraud, and abuse of government spending and corporate abuses. Overly complex, mystifying jargon in our laws and procedures must be simplified and clarified so that the general public is not shut out from readily understanding and challenging them. Citizens should be accorded computerized access in libraries and in their homes to the full range of government information.

Sixth: Inserts in billing statements from monopolized utilities, financial and insurance companies should invite consumers to join consumer action watchdog groups. The public, which owns the tv/cable/radio media airwaves, which are leased for free to large commercial businesses, should have its own Audience Network to inform, alert, and mobilize democratic citizen debate and initiatives.

Seventh: Effective legal protections are needed for ethical whistleblowers who alert Americans to abuses or hazards to health and safety in the workplace, or contaminate the environment, or defraud citizens. Such conscientious workers need rights to ensure they will not be fired or demoted for speaking out within the corporations, the government, or in other bureaucracies.

Eighth: Working people need a reasonable measure of control over how their pension monies are invested, rather than it being controlled by banks and insurance companies.

Ninth: Shareholders, who are the owners of companies, should not have their assets wasted or worker morale victimized by executives who give themselves huge salaries, bonuses, greenmail, and golden parachutes, self-perpetuating boards of directors, and a stifling of the proxy voting system to block shareholder voting reforms. Workers, consumers and local communities should have representation on the Board of Directors of large multinational corporations.

Tenth: Our country’s schoolchildren need to be taught democratic principles in their historiccontext and present relevance, with practical civics experiences in their communities todevelop their citizen skills and a desire to use them, and so they will be nurtured to serve as a major reservoir of future democracy. At the university levels, facilities should be available for self-funded student civic action associations with full time staff.

The Concord Principles outlines the tools for enabling a better informed and strengthened civic participation by citizens in their roles as voters, taxpayers, consumers, workers, shareholders, and students. All office holders, candidates, and activists should adhere to these principles in their campaigns and in whatever public offices they may hold so that citizens are in a position of knowledge, strength and wisdom.