The initiative process is used more often in the service of Big Money than as a tool for citizens left underrepresented or sold down the river by politicians indebted, themselves, to Big Money. The initiative process, a tool of democracy, must be updated to make it, once again, a mechanism to promote citizen power rather than affirm corporate power.
Civil Justice Protections
Access to the courts is a basic tool of democracy which demands protection. Corporations have waged a ten-year attack on people’s rights to the courts. In what is called “tort deform” by consumer advocates, corporate interests would make it almost impossible for victims of medical malpractice, faulty products, financial fraud and other forms of corporate misconduct to seek justice and redress through the civil justice system.
Campaign Contribution Reform
The state should promote a voluntary check-off on tax returns to provide public financing of political campaigns. In an era in which private money stamps out the political potential of most citizens, a broad reform of the campaign finance system is crucial to the updating of that basic tool: the right to vote.
Citizen/ Consumer Watchdog Boards
These boards facilitate citizens and consumers to voluntarily band together in legally empowered oversight groups. With a special citizen board insert in bills or government mailings, people can join watchdog groups which provide resources to advocate for regular citizens and consumers with an effectiveness now limited to the well-heeled corporate lawyers, lobbyists, economists etc. Around the country, a few “citizen utility boards” (CUBs) — notably the Illinois CUB — are blocking rip-offs, bailouts and fighting successfully for consumer and environment friendly energy policies.
Workers must feel free to report dangers and violations in the workplace without fear of retribution. Democracy is a problem solving system; if people are in no position to fulfill their civic duties in the workplace these problems will not be solved.
Worker control of pensions
Pension funds represent some of the largest financial associations in the country; however, the workers who own the pensions have little control over how they are used. Workers should oversee the pension funds built on their earnings, as a tool of economic self-determination and power.
Audience Network and Media Accountability
If, as the adage goes, the medium is the message, then whoever controls the media controls the message. Although the public owns the airwaves, they are controlled by and for private, corporate interests. The Oaks Project will work to promote an audience controlled television and radio networks. Additionally, the Oaks will work to make sure that the corporate media provides grassroots initiative campaigns equal air time.
Taxpayer Control of Public Assets
Citizens’ concerns with regards to the use and sale of public assets — such as land, airwaves and resources — should be facilitated through a public referendum process. As the public we own this common wealth, but without the necessary tools we have lost control of them.
Shareholder Votes on Corporate Political Contributions
Corporations control the political system in California and throughout the country, yet the shareholders who own these corporations have no say in the political contributions, to the tune of hundreds of millions of their dollars, made on behalf of the company. Shareholder votes is a tool which facilitates democratic involvement in the ownership and political work of corporations.
Corporations, when not held accountable, often make fatal mistakes. As taxpayers we are often in the business of contracting with, purchasing from and even subsidizing large corporations; with effective tools — such as a database of corporate crime or a “three strikes” law for corporations — citizens could make sure that corporations are serving the public rather than bilking and endangering us.
“Binding” None of the Above (NOTA)
When Californians face elections with unacceptable candidates, there should be a tool for citizens to reject the entire slate and demand a new election with new candidates. Voters should have a binding “None of the Above” option rather than be forced to vote for the lesser of two evils. The Oaks Project does not support “non-binding” forms of NOTA. The “non-binding” version manipulates and cheats the voters because it does not count.