At what point do we become enablers of a broken system? Worse, when will we start to realize that “the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings” being abused by guilt and misguided fealty to a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy? How long will we continue, like battered spouses, to stay in a dysfunctional relationship that eviscerates our self-worth, pits us against one another, and destroys our hopes, dreams, and ideals? Does participation in a putative democratic system begin and end solely with the act of voting? Why can the act of staying away from the General Elections, accompanied by loud protestations and other actions (mentioned later), not be seen as a courageous referendum by a disenchanted and disillusioned electorate against gridlock and inert government?
Every four years we are herded like sheep to be slaughtered in the abattoir of hustings and ballot boxes, to rubber stamp the coronation of politicians bought by corporate entities and special interest groups; every four years we drift further away from democratic ideals as greed triumphs the public good and more people join the ranks of disenfranchised communities even as we continue to abet plutocrats in their quest for power! Every four years we bemoan the fact that there’s little to choose between our two major political parties, which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing except that what we mean is that both parties are inefficient and corrupt. If approval for Congress is less than 13% (probably the only people happy with them are their families) why would we continue to vote them into power? Remember how Einstein described the act of doing the same thing over again and expecting different results?
Whenever I raise this issue I’m told that voting is a privilege. No, it’s not! Running for office is a privilege, or it should be when it isn’t purchased; voting is a right fought for and obtained after much anguish, at least as far as universal suffrage is concerned, but still a right we could choose not to exercise. But if the act of voting itself becomes an endorsement of the privilege to run for office then may not abstinence in some circumstances stand as a rejection of that license? Surely it is the only way we can truly check “none of the above!” Another caveat popularly attached to “voting privileges” is the admonition that we cannot complain if we do not vote. The right to complain is embedded in our democracy, protected by the First Amendment; the right to vote is actually not even explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution, and indeed throughout our history access to the booth has been denied to various constituencies based on the tenor of the times; this has led to the aura of privilege that now surrounds the act of voting.
For me to suggest that we abrogate that privilege would appear to some tantamount to heresy—after all, if so many people in history and currently around the world are denied that privilege how can we so callously cast it aside? The answer to me is clear—voting implies a choice, it suggests that we choose someone we believe in, someone who offers us clear paths of leadership. Surely we need a more evolved society, one in which it isn’t enough just to vote but in which we are permitted to make informed choices between good and better, not between bad and worse!! How can we in good conscience say on the one hand that we have no faith in politicians and on the other hand that we will vote for them? How can we watch from the sidelines as hordes of legislators, in our name and on our behalf, hijack this so-called democracy?
At some point the battered spouse must break the shackles and stumble from the house to denounce from the rooftops the abuse suffered and with as much pride as can be mustered proclaim, “Basta! Enough! No more!” Every time we fulminate against policymakers let us remember that we rage against ourselves for we gave them the power to destroy us! As long as we continue to participate in a tainted system we cannot sit back and criticize “them” without also leveling blame at ourselves, whether we voted for them or not! It’s too late to claim ignorance as a virtue, for in our tacit acceptance we gave birth to this monster and nurtured it to adulthood!
Of course, the system will continue regardless—but only for a short time. If only 13% of us approve and 87% abandoned the polls, not in silent protest but with a deafening clamor (we have more outlets through which to sound our disapproval than ever before) it would shake the roots of this republic. They will have to take notice. One can argue that the lack of turnout at local elections hasn’t deterred anyone. But those tend to happen outside the glare of media spotlights; they have become deeds done in the dark!
It is time to grow a new democracy. It is time to reach into our local communities and reshape the conversations. To reject the system altogether would be as irresponsible as enabling it. Local elections, where important public policies are implemented and where national civic leaders are grown, occur without the participation of most citizens. That’s where we need to focus our energies—mayoral, municipal, school board, sheriff, etc. That’s where future national leaders are born and where we can demand the tough answers before they have learned the art of spin, prevarication, and double-talk, where we can separate the wheat from the chaff and put would-be politicians on notice. It takes time and effort to read and understand platforms and backgrounds; and it takes time to attend town meetings and local debates, which probably explains the exiguous turnout. But democracy is hard; creating a new republic demands focus and immersion in the process.
But why reject the general elections? Simply because it would be dishonest to continue to choose between unacceptable candidates, and picking third-party aspirants is a cop-out if we select them out of pique or frustration or by default—our ballots are too precious to waste! Besides, we need to send a clear signal to Washington that government is a fraud if it isn’t of, by, and for the people! At this moment we are bystanders at the dismantling of a structure that once held so much promise; we watch with mild frustration as generations of politicians blithely ignore the realities of the street as they pawn our futures for a pittance. It is time to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!!