A recent Guardian article got me thinking about how much people value democracy and what we expect out of it. The article, “Burst your bubble: five conservative articles for liberals to read as protests stymie Trump”, quoted a neoreactionary thinker who may have influenced Steve Bannon’s thinking. The quote, from “How I stopped believing in democracy,” is:
And, if our goal is really just the faithful execution of a trust, why assume that electoral suffrage of any sort is the most effective way to constitute it? . . . How does Google just skate along without any suffrage at all, whereas Georgia needs elections? And which trust would you guess is more effectively exercised?
Yes, folks, in addition to the voter suppression we saw in the last election, there is a serious effort underway to eliminate voting altogether. The current president, cabinet, and Congress do, collectively, have the ability to seriously erode suffrage.
There is one and only barrier standing in their way: public opinion.
If we have a populace ready to take to the streets in support of universal suffrage–to copy the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement — then our right to vote cannot be taken away no matter what the federal government tries to do. This is the lesson history gives us.
Unfortunately, we don’t. The twenty-first century has seen a significant crisis of faith not only in our political leaders but also in the American people, according to a recent Gallup poll.
From Gallup article “American’s Trust in Political Leaders, Public at New Lows,” September 21, 2016.
A study by the Pew Research center from November 2016 is even less optimistic, with only 34% of the public trusting the collective political wisdom of the American people.
Well, it’s easier to take away universal suffrage from people who don’t believe in it, and that’s why it’s under attack now.
What is to be done? I have three outrageous proposals. Think ’em over.
1. Push for universal suffrage
Our laws exclude plenty of people from voting: undocumented immigrants, felons, ex-convicts, people with the same names as felons and ex-convicts, people who live in areas with limited polling stations, and people who physically can’t leave their house to vote. Is that reasonable? If not, what can be done to change it?
You might be thinking I’m going too far. But consider. Aren’t ex-convicts supposed to have “paid their debt” to society? And don’t undocumented immigrants pay local taxes such as sales tax? And wasn’t the rallying cry of the American Revolution “No taxation without representation“?
Right now, when our system is broken, is the time to question everything.
2. Use democracy everywhere
By this I mean family meetings, book groups, PTA meetings. Be a democracy nerd. Anytime you’re in a group and an unofficial leader says, “Well, it looks like we have consensus. . .” just pipe up and say, “Why don’t we vote on this?” The main objection I see raised is “Oh, we don’t need all that fancy structure” and “It will take too much time.”
Actually, democracy, even in small groups, takes very little time and is efficient. A person starts off by saying, “I move that. . . .” This clarifies the proposal in everybody’s heads. Someone else says, “I second that.” If nobody seconds it, then obviously nobody else thinks it’s a good idea, and it will obviously fail a vote, so the group can drop it and move on. Then somebody says, “All in favor . . . all against . . . all abstaining.” Count the results, and presto! You know what the group wants to do.
Actually it’s not quite like that. There’s room for discussion after the second and before the vote. That can take time, but chances are it will be quicker than its alternative. And if the discussion drags on past the point of usefulness, somebody can always say, “Call the question!” That means “Shut up and vote already!”
(Geeky interlude here. Technically, if you’re following the official Roberts Rules of Order, you have to vote on whether or not to call the question. In practice, I’ve found this makes people very confused, especially the ones that were still talking. Are we voting on whether to vote, or are we voting on the motion? Then the facilitator explains, but the people who just started talking after the question was asked are confused all over again. A trained facilitator will know when the room is ready to call for a vote, or another method can be used, like a thumbs-up/thumbs-down “temperature check.”)
3. Use democracy in the private sector
This is the most outrageous proposal at all. It brings us full circle to the quote from “How I stopped believing in democracy.” The author asked, “How does Google just skate along without any suffrage at all, whereas Georgia needs elections?”
Well, why don’t workers have the right to vote at Google, or any other company?
If you’re looking at this question squinty-eyed and thinking “What in the heck is she on about?” then this is the time to notice that you’ve internalized a belief that the private sector–even nonprofits–should not be held accountable to the public interest. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not true, but most people have not even thought about it.
The thing is, when we work eight or more hours a day and every meeting we attend has a boss managing the discussion and making all the decisions, we come to expect that even in meetings we hold outside of work. (This goes back to my outrageous proposal #2.) We expect to be powerless everywhere. But what if it was the other way around? What if the public was powerful everywhere instead?
Democracy. Use it or lose it. Our choice.