Friday, December 1

Why I Quest for Direct Democracy, What I learned

This is the brief story of how I, happy-go-lucky not-so-tight-rope artist Evan from Heaven, was treated by the government of Boulder, Colorado, how my Guatemalan friends were killed by US-supplied weapons, what I decided to do about it 30 years ago, and what's happened since.


I worked on Boulder's famous Pearl St. Mall, but members of the Mall Commission who wanted to "curtail the circus atmosphere" shut me down repeatedly, in spite of our enormous popularity and the Commission only having advisory power -as my volunteer lawyer Doug Thorburn later discovered. When City Council, going against a petition of some 4000 supporting me (see a page at bottom), gave the Commission licensing power, the Commission refused to license me.

 Among others banned was mime David Shiner who was arrested at least twice for "impersonating an officer" and went on to be Ringmaster of Le Cirque du Soleil, had his own show on Broadway, and is one of the most famous clowns in the world.

Evan as JesusI left Boulder, performed in Aspen and Key West, and then Yelapa, Mexico. Arriving penniless in this fishing/tourist village, I was given a free hotel room with a view. The Mayor, known as Piri, fed me lunch daily at his restaurant at the foot of the town waterfall, where I entertained his diners by tightroping over the falls. What a change from Boulder! Doy gracias a la Dulce Morena y sus hijos. I made enough in tips to live there in paradise and in spring to travel back north. I was also honored to play Jesus for Holy Week celebrations there in 1986.

In 1985, my volunteer lawyer Doug Thorburn talked some sense into Boulder's oligarchs and I was able to resume my shows, which I did until an old injury forced my retirement in 1998. I continued to live in Mexico and Guatemala seasonally into the 90s.


In Guatemala, I fell in love with Lake Atitlan, which Aldous Huxley called "the most beautiful lake in the world." I started building a house on Maya artist friend Raul Velasquez Barrios' land (photo below, with 2 of the 3 volcanoes by the lake in the background), but abandoned it when 3 other Maya friends were killed by the Guatemalan Army -with U.S.-supplied M-16s. Some 200,000 were killed, tens of thousands horribly tortured, mostly in the '80s.



I gave up the house and returned to Boulder, depressed. I read in Howard Zinn's "People's History of the U.S." that "polls showed by 1975 that 65% of Americans were opposed to all foreign military aid" -because it strengthened dictators. I realized if this was a binding vote and not just a poll my friends would still be alive -along with 200,000 other Guatemalans, and millions from Vietnam to the Americas. If we had real "government by the people", our shows would not have been banned in Boulder. The world would be a much better place.



So, I spearheaded Boulder's 1993 Voting by Phone ballot initiative, hoping this would make more direct democracy practical. We made the CBS Evening News, the Wall St. Journal, etc.

With the City Council dishonestly attacking our initiative it was defeated 59-41%. I started Vote.org in 1995 to promote citizen power via better and national ballot initiatives. I sold that domain in 2015 and that site is now at EvanRavitz.com/vote.

(Initiatives are controversial, thanks to media dwelling on the few bad ones. But the full record shows the results are far better than what politicians do. Because it was until 2016 easier in Colorado than most states to get initiatives on the ballot, we have a stellar recordWhen signing initiative petitions is allowed online, it will be even better.)

I soon got a call from Jared Polis, a Princeton student who'd enabled student voting by web. We've been friends ever since.

Jared became the wealthiest and most philanthropic person in Boulder. He sponsored 2 Colorado ballot initiatives which passed becoming Amendment 23 (raising K-12 school spending) and Amendment 41 (the country's strongest prohibition on lobbyist "gifts" to politicians.) Jared became our Congressman. He said on radio in 2008 that he would introduce a bill for national ballot initiatives in his first year. But he didn't realize it would take a constitutional amendment. 

In 2000 I devoted Vote.org to famed former Sen. Mike Gravel's project for better and national initiatives. I solicited endorsements from prominent people. Howard Zinn became one of the first, along with Patch Adams, Pete Seeger, Daniel Ellsberg, Julia Butterfly Hill, "Granny D," Michael Lerner, Ralph Nader etc. See the complete list. Gravel ran for President in 2008 and 2016 mainly to promote this project. But Mike is almost 90 and it has stalled.


But time has proved Direct Democracy has a better record than representatives, for the most part. Colorado is a relative paradise due to ballot initiatives, while "our" legislature does little but obstruct the process -they tried with Referendum O in 2010 and succeeded in 2016 with Amendment 71- and pass preemption laws to prevent localities from solving our own problems.


Boulder Colorado voted 71-29% in 2018 for Issue 2G which will allow the city to offer ONLINE petitions for future ballot initiatives, which we believe will be the biggest Improvement in direct democracy in its century in America. By a fluke, I was appointed to the city's Campaign Finance and Elections working group and our 11 members unanimously recommended it and Council unanimously put it on the ballot. Here is our working group's editorial for issue 2 G. 

Unfortunately, greater powers, probably Big Oil and Gas, and now-Governor Polis, who is afraid of them, seem to have corrupted the implementation of online petitions in Boulder, as well as stop it moving to the state level, where they've talked about this for several years. Here's my interview at the 7th Annual Election Reform Symposium and a presentation showing all the lying, cheating and defrauding taxpayers of $250,000, by City staff

Let my people VOTE!

-Evan 'from Heaven' Ravitz

2 comments:

Charley Cropley, N.D. said...

Evan, I admire the principled life you live. Thank you for your devotion to participatory democracy.
You model what you teach, bro.

Evan Ravitz said...

Thanks Charlie. Let's hike again soon...