Now that Citizens in Charge Foundation has given the John Lilburne Award to ten defenders of petition rights — most recently, to Oregon State Senator Vicki Walker — it seems time to talk to friends of Common Sense about the award and about Mr. Lilburne.
I founded Citizens in Charge Foundation to help put citizens in control of their own government. Voting for elected officials is one important means of doing that. But it’s not enough to prevent career politicians from ganging up on us and often ruthlessly stomping our liberties. We need ways to produce a better political result when politicians stonewall. That’s why Citizens in Charge Foundation promotes the right of initiative and referendum.
John Lilburne was a 17th-century political activist who pioneered the use of petitioning and referendums to redress governmental abuse of power. He was a leader of a radical democratic movement called the Levelers during the time of the English Civil War. He advocated religious liberty, wider suffrage, and equality before the law.
Critics saw Lilburne and his allies as trying to bring everybody down to the same level. Hence the label Levelers, intended to be pejorative. I view Lilburne as trying to bring everybody up to the same level — of democratic rights.
Each month, the Citizens in Charge Foundation gives the John Lilburne Award to a person who is particularly praiseworthy in pursuing the same goal.
So here’s to John Lilburne — a champion of the rights of everyday citizens.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.