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F__Working_4_4285_Echoes4 - Governance and Participatory...

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Governance and Participatory Decision Making Page 1 of 4 Echoes from History: Language of Participatory Democracy and Self-Governance The rhetoric surrounding Open Source initiatives has something in common with the passionate and upending debates accompanying the revolutionary phase of American history. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Open Source rhetoric to be found lacking reason, wisdom and a sense of strategic direction. However, many well considered commentators and advocates have also made constructive contributions to the emerging debate on the proper role of Open Source Code. Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has opined on this subject at length – at once scolding the overreaching of some advocates of Open Source while at the same time persuasively presenting a thesis in its favor. The fundamental premises supporting Open Source Code deserve serious consideration and are worthy of attempted application to many types of software – especially Participatory Governance Environments. Massachusetts Constitution It is helpful to consider the foundational texts supporting public sector self-governance in the United States as a reference point. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (one of the original 13 colonies whose constitution predates that of the United States); has much to say on the question of participatory democracy and self- governance. On the topic of representative government, Article V of the Massachusetts Constitution provides: All power residing originally in the people, and being derived from them, the several magistrates and officers of government, vested with authority, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, are their substitutes and agents, and are at all times accountable to them. This text strongly curtails the discretion of elected and appointed government officials by restraining them to act only according to the express desired of the people they represent. Despite the fact that this language exists within the Constitution itself – the basic controlling social compact enabling the state government – it is now common knowledge that government does not resemble this provision. In fact, as of the middle of this semester, the Massachusetts legislature is embroiled in a law suit by backers of an initiative petition creating “clean elections” enacted into law by a substantial majority of voters during the last election. This ballot question method is a recognized manner of enacting law in Massachusetts – and yet the House of Representative of the state has nonetheless decided not to fund the law. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the publicly funded elections must be given adequate financial disbursement or the legislature must act to repeal the law. However this particular contest ends, it stands as clear evidence that government does not always act as the humble, responsive and accountable servant of the people that was envisioned and commanded under the Constitution.
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