Progressive Writers Bloc

Democracy: Use it or Lose it

Uncle Bill Warner

The U.S.Census bureau reports that a mere 60% of all eligible voters voted in the last presidential election. Compare that to the 95% which turned out in the recent U.S.-sponsored recall election in Venezuela! When was the last time you saw a mile-long line waiting to vote in THIS country, which pretends to be a democracy, a government "...of the people, by the people, and for the people?"

An interesting observation attributed to Plato goes like this, "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." Americans who refuse to vote are abrogating their civic responsibility. Hiding behind that weak defense of poor citizenship "Its a free country, I don't have to vote if I don't want to" does not cut it for me. Saying that "There is no difference between the parties, so why vote? " does not get it, either. If you are a citizen and don't take part in running what we so proudly call a "democracy," then you deserve what you get when you get sick without health insurance, get drafted and go off to fight in an unjust war, lose your jobs due to bad government policies, or have your freedoms taken away one by one. Unfortunately, YOUR lack of participation affects me, too, and I DON'T deserve it!

Some countries have tried forced participation in elections. You might expect that in some totalitarian countries where rigged "show elections" with 100% - turn-out are the rule, but even civilized countries like Australia have tried fining citizens who refuse to take responsibility for holding up their end of the bargain implicit in being a citizen. It doesn't work very well, and most places that have tried it have abandoned it. So what is the answer?

When I think of the peoples who have never had democracy, and who have fought, bled, and died to get the vote, I am shamed by the cavalier attitude so many Americans have towards voting. It scares me to think that Americans care so little about their country as to abandon their precious say in how it is run.

I am sure that it will come as no surprise to most folks that our government is into supporting what big business perceives as the "national interest." Money talks. It gets you elected. These big business interests that have invested in other countries and which draw off their wealth and profit from cheap labor there are willing to spend millions of your tax dollars to send military aid and even troops to make sure their businesses are not "nationalized", or taken over by a head of state that feels the profits from a country's natural resources or value of the work done there should be used for the benefit of the people in that country, who are often poor and landless. Big multinational corporations want to control the world for profit, and though their "bought-and-paid-for" government mouths a commitment to "democracy and freedom" its actions belie that hypocrisy. We don't practice it here...how can we pretend to support it elsewhere?

The examples are endless of our efforts to keep democracy from happening around the world. Some of the most egregious cases include the Vietnam War, fought to keep the people there from having free elections. They would have elected Ho Chi Minh. Eisenhower prevented elections because a fair vote would have elected an avowed communist! (Is a dictatorship imposed by the United States democratic, and a fairly elected communist government undemocratic?) The US backed despots in places like the Philippines, Indonesia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Chile, Nigeria, and dozens more. You may remember how U.S. corporations like Anaconda Copper and AT and T poured huge amounts of cash into the Chilean presidential elections to keep Salvador Allende out of power, as he favored keeping much of the country's wealth at home for the benefit of the people. When the people of Chile democratically elected him anyway, the C.I.A. engineered a military coup which brought him down put the brutal, but U.S.-friendly dictator General Pinochet in power. Only weeks ago, we backed a coup in Haiti that ousted a democratic government and installed former death-squad leaders in power. Yet we say we believe in democracy: the rule of the people.

If a repressive dictator can keep the people of a country in line and keep the profits flowing to the multinational corporations by using US-weapons and US-trained and supplied soldiers to prevent workers from striking, we have consistently chosen that option over a democracy which focuses on the needs of the poor and the working class. You can't do business with the poor, but you can deal with a ruling class who maintain their wealth and priviledge through U.S and foreign investments. The LAST thing they want is democracy!

We give lip service to democracy (power flowing up from the people, not downward from the rich and powerful), but we don't promote democracy abroad, and we're undermining democracy here at home.

The very people who are hurt most by malicious government policies that deny health care, decent education, good jobs, safe housing...have bad voting records. Blacks, Hispanics, and poor whites traditionally have low turnouts. If they came out and voted in force, the government of this country might be quite different. The people that DO tend to turn out are those who want to protect their privileged status in a system that is working FOR THEM. These people are often believers in the idea that they are superior to those who don't have jobs, health care, decent housing, etc...and that "the general welfare" be damned.

I was once involved in a teachers' strike in Los Angeles. Seventeen teachers were being cut at our school alone. I did some phone-bank calling to teachers, and I will never forget one guy I talked to. He vehemently said he would never go on strike, and complained loudly about the union...they never did the right things. I then asked him when he last attended and participated in a union meeting to help set policy to benefit both teachers and students in our district. He replied that he had NEVER attended a union meeting . I resisted the temptation to tell him that he, by his inaction, had forfeited the right to complain. I feel the same way about my fellow Americans who love to complain, but refuse to participate...to vote.

I am proud of this country's ideals. Unfortunately, I see them being trashed on a daily basis with so many people who could defend them standing idly by and refusing to get involved...just like it was someone else's country, not theirs.

Well, in Venezuela, the people resisted the tremendous pressure by the U.S. oil companies who wanted their democratically-elected leader, Hugo Chavez replaced. The Venezuelans turned out. 95% voted. They fought for their rights, for their country, and they won. Big money was defeated by the people.

I feel democracy is a precious and fragile thing, won by the blood of so many who went before us. Not to register, not to vote, not to have a say, allows the special interests to buy elections. When that happens you get a government that serves the oil companies, that helps ship American jobs overseas, and that turns its back on it's children.

If you believe in America, prove it. Look at what is going on, (not what Rush Limbaugh or Fox news tells you is going on), register and vote! Democracy...use it or lose it.

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