CHARLIE MITCHELL: Ultimate gut-check for democracy was shouted down

By Charlie Mitchell

OXFORD – “Historic” is a description used too often, but having three citizen initiatives at the bottom of Tuesday’s statewide ballot in Mississippi is, in fact, historic.
Our state and federal constitutions establish our fundamentals. They define us. They create the core from which all other statutes, rules, regulations and court decisions flow.
So it follows that having the chance to use direct, popular vote to add words to a constitution is democracy in its purest form.
Mississippians won the power to petition and change the state’s 1890 Constitution in 1992. Since then, only question put to voters has been whether to limit terms of elected officials – and the people said no.
By coincidence, this month’s exercise in unfiltered self-government by Mississippians was almost joined by people of Greece – democracy’s birthplace.
The measures proposed to Mississippians have been serious. Whether voters should be required to present photo IDs, how much eminent domain powers should be limited and when personhood begins are not trifling matters.
Voters in Greece, however, were to face the ultimate gut-check, that is until the pressure on Prime Minister George Papandreou grew too great last week.
Greeks are the heirs of Cleisthenes, Ephialtes and Solon, the trio most commonly credited with coming up with the idea that citizens in a community could set the rules by which they would live.
Previously, rule-makers had been the elders, the best hunters, tribal chiefs, commanders of the largest armies.
Democracy has been an on-again, off-again proposition since those glory days in Athens.
A partner of democracy is free trade. Economic turmoil has wracked nations in the Eurozone since the near-collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008.
The socialist government of Greece has been “too good,” “too generous” and can no longer come close to paying its bills.
Anyway, late in October, world markets rallied after it was announced that agreements had been reached to resolve Greece’s financial imbalance.
But Papandreou quickly twisted the deal and rankled the finance ministers by saying the agreements would be “put to the people.”
Leaders of other “democracies” went bananas at the notion that Greeks might be asked, directly, to decide the very future of Greece.
Implicit in all this is that there could come a day when the people of the United States face, on a single day, the same question: Will we stop pretending that government outgo can exceed government income indefinitely? Would we accept major changes, self-imposed hardships?
The questions span 250 centuries. Greeks invented democracy. Greeks were poised show us whether people would actually engage in self-denial as part of self-rule.
If a referendum had been held, it would have been historic.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email

Click video to hear audio