This post is likely to be a first run through what will eventually be a really incoherent babble.
Let’s be clear about a couple of things up front. I vote, regularly and dutifully. I pay attention to campaigns and issues. I work for candidates I support and against candidates I don’t.
OK, with that on the record :)…
I don’t know how many people would agree with this, but Grover Norquist’s “let’s shrink the government until it’ll fit down the drain” and Karl Rove’s “let’s build a permanent Republican majority” have taken root. Another day, I’ll sort out the fact that the two major strategic elements of neo-conservativism are flatly contradictory, but for now, suffice it to say that the far right has managed to alienate most of the voting population from the power that’s supposed to be fairly distributed in a democracy.
As a result, as I think we all know (whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not), there’s almost nothing to accomplish by staying within the system of electoral politics, at least not exclusively.
Or put another way… The day after the 2004 election, I had a conversation about it with one of my classes. It wasn’t so much an expression of my frustration with the outcome as it was with the notion that many of my students hold–that democracy happens on election days, that “if you don’t like what the government is doing, vote the bastards out.” I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment, but it occurred to me during that conversation that the sentiment doesn’t go far enough.
We have national elections every two years, every 730 days. If democracy happens on election days, what happens on the 729 days in between? I asked them this, and it seemed like it was the first time any of them had thought about it. Nobody had a very good answer.
And as I’ve thought more about it, I’ve come to believe that because citizens have been alienated (strategically) from governmental power, that the way we express that power, the way we “do democracy,” has to change as well.
The first change, as I’ve begun putting it in bumper-sticker terms, is that we have to “Live what we believe.” Can you imagine how much different this country would be if the citizenry actually lived in accordance with the principles so many of us say we’re committed to? If the Christian Right actually acted Christian? If people who chanted “No blood for oil” at anti-war marches actually sold their SUVs and used more mass transit? If people who railed against “big government” realized that “big government” is responsible (at least in part) for our current imperialist violence and anti-Constitutional power-mongering? If people who support unions stopped shopping at Wal-Mart and Starbucks and other places that work overtime (so to speak) to make sure their employees can’t organize?
That list could go on damn near indefinitely. For now, let’s just say that until the citizenry reconciles its beliefs and its actions, what happens in electoral politics won’t make much difference.