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Our Democracy: Vote for me, and I Promise NOT to Represent You
In theory, we live in a representative democracy where a majority vote by the citizens of a community/province/nation determines its political leadership, and these leaders represent the interests of the people who voted for them. That’s the theory. The reality isn’t nearly as neat and rosy as we are brought up to believe that it is. In a previous blog post, I wrote a review of a documentary film I watched called ‘Citizen Koch’, which decried corporate and Big Money involvement in politics, and how America’s political and judicial systems were being corrupted by the money of a few billionaires with vested interests in influencing policy decisions. The problems of our modern democratic system are laid out pretty well in the film, but one problem drives practically all the corruption, and dallying, and bad management that our governments are responsible for, and that is money in politics.
Before I get into that, though, I have to ask what do we expect of our elected leaders, of our representatives at home and abroad? When we vote someone into power, we believe we are choosing the person who shares the same interests and concerns as us about society and the lives we live, that they will represent us in driving progress and reform to better all our lives and those of our children, to ensure they inherit and even better society when it comes to their turn to enter adulthood and exercise their democratic rights by voting. We vote for a politician who is like us, whose idea of the betterment of people and the system at large coincides with ours.
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that that’s rarely what we get.
The above video describes what is wrong with having a representative democracy in the US, but it could easily apply to any country with leaders elected by popular vote. Essentially, in most cases, our choices of representatives are limited to two, maybe three choices, who have to fund their campaigns to get enough public exposure to be a serious contender. Sure, especially in more local or regional elections and sometimes national elections, there can be a great many options, but can they really be considered in contention for a seat in government if the people have never heard of them and don’t know what they’re about?
That is why political candidates need donors.
Anyone can be a donor. I could donate one Euro to the political campaign of my choice, and that makes me a donor, but not a very significant one. However, the guy who donates a million Euro is much more likely to get noticed than a million people like me donating one Euro. That is the nature of democracy today. You pay big bucks, you get the attention of your candidate, and they are in your debt, literally! Therein lies the problem, as how can you have a representative democracy when the leaders we vote into power are technically obligated to represent those who paid them into power? Whoever conceived of the idea that money and donations in politics was a good one clearly didn’t give much thought to this question, or did, it’s hard to say which is worse.
We the people just don’t bring enough dough into the equation. Thousands or even millions of small donors can be easily outspent by a handful of very big ones. Therefore even as a block, the small donors don’t get noticed by the politicians they subsequently vote for. It leads to the inevitable conclusion that votes don’t really matter. It’s all about who can raise the money to fund their election campaigns, who can prostitute themselves best to corporate donors who will fund them into the spotlight in exchange for favours down the road.
When you consider the corporations are only interested in making a profit and are willing to do everything it takes to achieve that aim, it makes sense for them to have considerable influence with the politicians and government entities that can affect their profitability. Therefore, having paid for their politician, it is of course only “fair” that they get to lean on them to create or block legislation, depending on which action benefits them most. What hope have the people got in this scenario?
When we think about it, despite differences in culture, ethnicity, religion, social class and many other factors, we all want basically the same things from our government. We want them to provide us with healthcare, education, jobs, infrastructure, utilities, a good food system, a healthy environment, and a strong economy that benefits everyone. The problem lies in the fact that these things don’t always benefit corporations. In particular, regulations of a social or environmental nature such as for food safety, health cover, workplace safety, clean air and water regulations, and other such legislation that would be welcomed by you or me, is burdensome to a big company that just wants to make money in the cheapest, most efficient way possible.
If our government does not provide our needs, we can rally, we can protest, sign petitions, and sometimes such actions are successful, but a lot of the time, the interests of Big Business are favoured. Often this is justified because politicians believe increasing the success of corporations means the betterment of society across the board. However, just because corporations are making more money doesn’t mean they’re going to employ more people or invest in the communities that harbour them. It doesn’t even mean greater tax returns because corporations often lobby politicians to cut their taxes, so wealthy Big Business gets more and more state wealth that could pay for much of things we desire of government that I mentioned above, and what’s the government’s answer? Give them what they want, so they can expand further and continue to drain the economy and society.
Democracy should mean putting the people first, but corporations now are people, at least in the US. It has basically reached the stage where the people cannot decide that they don’t want something and that’s the end of it. Take Denton, Texas for example. The town that originated hydraulic fracturing voted in a landslide to ban the practice within its town limits. This is local democracy in action. This is the people saying loud and clear that we don’t want something in our community that pollutes our environment and harms our health. That united voice should be good enough, shouldn’t it? No, it’s not because Big Oil and Gas will lose money because of the ban, especially if other towns and cities follow suit. So they are suing to overturn a democratically approved mandate for their own selfish ends and instead of supporting the people of Denton, the Texas government, in co-operation with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), has been moving to prevent cities from banning fracking or regulate oil and gas industries in any way, thereby further undermining local democracy.
This is not an isolated incident, especially in the US where states are moving to prevent municipalities from passing any kind of ordinances whether they be to prohibit drilling within a town’s limits or to have anti-discrimination laws in place. For example, another bill, if passed in Texas, would kill home-rule authority, which would transfer all powers to pass ordinances to the state. This is the uprooting of democratic principle, concentrating power in an evermore centralised form that limits the participation of ordinary people.
As the video above states, we do not live in a representative democracy. We live in a plutocracy run by oligarchs who are increasingly not being subtle about it. The concentration of wealth and power and the elitism that has infected our political systems can only lead us down a road of less power to the people, less socially responsible governance, less corporate and political accountability, less rights and freedom, less of everything that is supposed to be upheld in a democratic society. We are degenerating into a modern kind of fascism, power to the wealthy and to the corporations, but not you or me, not the people.
The example I gave above is just one way in which our democratic system no longer serves us, local policies being rendered meaningless by the state despite the local people wanting them. In my own country, my county council for Clare and several others, have called for a moratorium on fracking in Ireland. However, it doesn’t matter what they want, or by extension what the people want, if the Irish government decides they want to allow fracking in the country then their decision is final, much like they wish we’d accept water charges as final. The fact is whether it be local ordinances or decisions that affect an entire nation, what people want is largely being ignored. This is why people are rising up against austerity, intrusions of privacy, and corruption that are becoming more and more commonplace.
However, we now have many obstacles in the way of us exercising our basic democratic rights. Even though we are essentially voting for one or another side of the same coin in an election with other candidates not well known enough to reach significantly into the public conciousness, any concerted effort to vote for the lesser of two evils is even thwarted. Voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and zero restrictions on fund-raising for candidates are all designed to favour one side of an election. Even when we try to overcome these insidious attempts to undermine the validity of our votes, we can no longer protest safely, or question the status quo without being under suspicion of some kind of sedition.
We are losing what little liberty we have under the current system. We have become so disillusioned with it that many of us don’t bother to even participate. There are two ways to look at that. One is that it can be a kind of protest, a rebellion against a system that churns out a political leader who does not bring change, who does nothing to better the lot of the general populace, who favours corporatist interests rather than populist ones. By not engaging in politics, we are demonstrating our disapproval of the system which in itself is like a democratic vote, just one to abstain! However, on the flip side, those who do vote then get disproportionately represented in government, and that can be detrimental to minority groups’ interests. It can also be the difference between getting a relatively idealistic, progressive representative and a greed-driven, conservative.
Last year was the first time I personally voted. I voted for Fis Nua and Green Party representatives because I believed they held the greatest promise for positive change in my own country and while, yes, some candidates do get elected to local councils or the European Parliament, politics in my country, just like practically everywhere else, is polarized between two or three major parties. I’m not going advise people who don’t vote to vote because I’m not even sure if democracy in its current form can ever be truly representative and not corrupt. Even if the most progressive, well-meaning individual gets into high office with the best of intentions, they generally have to tone down their message for change and compromise themselves in order to fulfil their role within the government machine. Jacque Fresco of the Venus Project has stated on many occasions that “all governments are basically corrupt”. His answer is basically to do away with government rule and leave major decision-making to computers to manage everything from agriculture to transport to resource management.
Crazy? Or maybe exactly what we need?
In my previous post, the video, “The Story of Your Enslavement”, suggests that as our personal freedoms increase, people begin to wonder why they need leaders at all. Is this perhaps why right now our freedoms are being increasingly curtailed and democracy in practice has become a joke? A slightly paranoid notion, but who’s to say it isn’t the case?
Whether we choose to abstain from the current system as it continually degrades our lives with austerity, incursions into our privacy, circumvention of our rights and freedoms (as they are), and expects us to just accept it as just how it has to be, or we choose to vote and perpetuate all of this, or maybe, just maybe, see politics working for the people, that is our choice and one of the few things we can control. For me personally, I would use my vote to throw the corporations and lobbying interests a curve-ball, to get corrupt politicians and bad decision-makers out of the game, replaced by people with some kind of vision for the future. After all, what good to us is a lawyer or a businessperson to make decisions about agriculture, education, the environment, infrastructure, transport, food, or water? From what frame of reference can they make a decision on whether to approve a new chemical pesticide, or to decide where is best to build a highway, or judge how to address social problems like homelessness?
They can’t! We need engineers for that, chemists, architects, sociologists, people with the know-how to make these kinds of choices for the betterment of society. I’m not saying that all politicians are inept, but many are guided by their own prejudices, their own short-sightedness and greed. After all, what vision can one exercise when all they’re concerned about is getting through the next election so they can keep their job another few years? So to those of you all over the world who plan to vote, vote for underdogs. Don’t vote for someone because you’ve always voted for that party, vote for people who are actually different, not those who just promise to be.
Our world is in crisis. Our perpetual growth economy has already pushed Earth beyond four of the nine planetary boundaries by which scientists determine the state of our planet. Our course needs adjusting, but how can we hope to accomplish that if we keep choosing the same drivers? Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. By that standard, our drivers are nuts. The question now is are we happy to let them drive us off a cliff, or are we the people brave enough to take the wheel?
All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.