Tag Archives: democracy

Do we value democracy?

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.

gallup-poll-faith-in-voting

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.

voting-is-people-power

– Kristin

Advertisements

More concerning than Tromp

Suppose for a moment that our president-elect is not the main threat to our freedom but a buffoon whose primary purpose is to be so outrageous as to distract everyone from worse things happening. And suppose for a moment that everything U.S. citizens have taken for granted is no longer a certainty. As someone who reads dystopic science fiction and has paid attention to happenings in Latin American countries, and as someone with children who will inherit tomorrow, I think about these things.

It’s easy to get frightened here, but let’s not. Let’s start with the assumption that the worst we could imagine is preventable. In this case, the first step is to predict it. If you’re somebody who hasn’t paid a lot of attention to what’s happened in other countries, now’s the time. So, here’s a link to an interview with author Isabel Allende explaining what happened the day of the military coup in Chile, when democracy was suddenly abolished.  And here’s a link to some excerpts from the novel Horizontalism by Marina Sitrin, which talks about the day that Argentina froze bank accounts and used the money to pay off an IMF loan, leaving people without their savings for months. Anyway, those were my starting points for understanding the world around me a little better.

Right now it’s clear that the New Deal and civil rights legislation, both hard-won in the twentieth century, are under attack by our current Congress. And people are already worried that loss of the Affordable Care Act will cost lives, and asking whether Medicare and Social Security might be next.

What other damage could Congress do? I can think of a lot of things — defund the EPA, repeal worker protections, and more.

But what aren’t we thinking about? How about a substantial revision to the Constitution, dramatically limiting the federal government’s ability to raise taxes and pass laws?

That’s impossible, right? No. According to the article “Corporate America is Inching Even Closer to a Constitutional Convention” on the web site In These Times, apparently, the U.S. close to having something that hasn’t taken place in the entire history of our country: a constitutional convention.

According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, the states can convene a constitutional convention without the federal government’s go-ahead if two-thirds (34) of them pass a resolution in favor. Right-wing organizations—and their billionaire funders—have been working feverishly for decades to get state legislatures to call for such a convention, with the explicit aim of limiting the powers of the federal government.

According to the Constitution, such a convention would only have the power to propose amendments, which would then be ratified only upon approval by three fourths of the states.

What’s concerning here is that model legislation has been written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and if you don’t know what that is, now’s the time to find out! I like to think of them as a fourth branch of our government–the corporate branch. Unelected, secret, unaccountable. And there has been a dry run of a constitutional convention using ALEC’s model legislation.

That warrants close scrutiny. In a Tromp era, with more and more people angry at the federal government, efforts to limit it will be popular among both the right and the left. But here’s the rub: curtailing federal rights can make states more tyrannical. As the article points out:

But ALEC doesn’t just fight for states’ rights over the federal government. It fights for states’ rights over everything else, including local governments. After focusing on state legislatures for decades, they now hold decisive control in states across the country, which they have used to stalemate state budgets, and push an avalanche of “state preemption” laws to entrench state control over local towns, villages, cities and counties.

It’s also worth noting that the recent federal election, which put in place a conservative president, Congress, and governors were affected by voter suppression, including voter ID laws proposed by ALEC. The issue of voter suppression, detailed in an article in The Nation, is one of the most under-reported stories about the recent election, but also one of the scariest.

What else aren’t we thinking about?

How about the bizarre goings-on within the U.S. intelligence community–the CIA, the FBI, and whatever Homeland Security is doing? Hacking, Russian blackmail, and who knows what else. It’s like there’s some turf war going on with unknown stakes. Yesterday Anonymous came forward with a threat to release damaging material on our president-elect — after having made but not followed through on a similar threat before the election. That’s surprising enough on its own, but an even bigger surprise to me is that when I checked the news, the top hit announcing this threat was not for any traditional media but rather rt dot com.

Anybody know what that is? Leftists have been forwarding lots of articles from it. Really, anything damaging to the president-elect appears legit to us. We’ve gotten lazy.

But remember: the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.

That website, which jumped to the very top of my news feed, is Russia Today — the Russian state-owned media. Why did it jump to the top? Is it because it’s that popular, or because my news feed has been personalized? It’s concerning either way. Because whoever can manipulate the news can manipulate the nation. And to what end? What does Putin want? Would destabilizing the U.S. help him achieve his goals?

Our representative government is a big stinking mess right now. People have lost faith in it, for good reason, and with every new Tromp scandal our faith grows weaker.

But there are no other democratic proposals out there on the table. Our constitution and our system of elected officials is, at the moment, the best thing we have. Let’s not throw them out the window.

To make a long story short, what’s more concerning than Tromp? The possible loss of our democratic institutions. That’s what. Let’s keep a sharp eye and all our wits about us in the days and weeks to come. Watch the news, but also watch behind the news.

Onward.

– Kristin King