Speech prepared by Mary Taylor to deliver to Northern Virginia's delegation to the General Assembly on January 10, 1998 at the Fairfax County Government Building
(See also "Do You Have Initiative? Not if You Live in Virginia!")
Most of our ancestors came here as poor peopleoften as indentured servants or slaves. And while the New World brought opportunity, it also brought old laws and practices that kept most people poor and the rich privileged.Our Constitutiona great stride forward in the rights of human kindexcluded more than half the populationthe female halfand among the other halfthe menexcluded slaves, indentured servants, and free men with no property. In shorta few had all the power.
But when money to pay for numerous wars and public buildings and roads was needed, it was always the poor, not the powerful, who had to pay.
Slowly, and with great struggle, some of these injustices were eased. Free men were allowed to vote, slavery ended, women were allowed to vote, and voting rights for all Americans, regardless of race, were guarded from infringement. The struggle to make some of these changes happened even in our own lifetimes.
Nevertheless, our news is full of examples of how the powerful few manage to control the outcome of elections and of the decisions of our elected officials.
Why else would corporate interests always prevail over clean air or safe products or universal health care or fair trade or just wages or fair distribution of tax burden? Because no elected official in this state or country could ever get re-elected without their money. A few powerful people are still controlling the process.
Well, it's time for another great struggle. The people of Virginia, and of the 23 states without it, are demanding the right to make some laws directly for themselves. They are demanding intiative and referendum, also known as I & R. They want to be able to propose a law to their neighbors, to get a certain percentage of their neighbors to sign a petition, and to place the issue on the ballot for ALL the voters to decide.
A law giving us Initiative and Referendum needs to be a fair law, especially in regard to how many signatures are needed. It takes only 1.5% of voter signatures to put a politician on the ballot. It would be fair if the people could do the same to put just one issue on the ballot. But we supporters of I & R would accept as much as 5% to put a law and 8% to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
However, the latest response from members of the Virginia General Assembly is not 1.5%the number they set for themselvesnot 5%, which proponents have proposedbut 20%! At 20%, the only people who can get an issue on the ballot are the ones who can afford to pay others to do nothing all day but go around and get petitions signed. At 20% you might as well hand over ALL government to the privileged few and send the politicians home.
It isn't that we don't want people with big corporations or big bank accounts to have power. We just want to see the average Virginianthe average Americanhave a REAL say, and not the pretense of one. We want them to have the right to intiative and referendum with signature rates of 5% for laws and 8% for amendments.
So, let's use a little rhyming to help us get the picture clear:
I & R for all in this great state.
At 5 and 8the people's rate.
Democracy is due and just can't wait.
5 and 8it's the people's rate.
Elected reps can all be great
With 5 and 8the people's rate.
Catch the spirit. Don't be late!
Make it 5 and 8the people's rate.
That's the ticket in 98
5 and 8the people's rate!