So, Ontario, Canada’s most unbearably self-righteous Province, just concluded another one of those spiffy “election” things everyone is getting so worked up over these days. As of this writing, it’s still not entirely clear just how low the voter turnout was but it seems to be definitely below 50%—the lowest in Provincial history.
The McGuinty Liberals who a fell just shy of a third out-right majority government, will now form what ol’ Dalton is idiotically referring to as a “major minority.” And what exactly is a major minority? Well, it’s when you win 37% of votes from a voter turnout that represents an impressive 47-49% of the eligible population. You know: a major minority.
Just before the last Federal election I wrote a piece explaining why I would not be voting; I got a lot of flak for it but I’ve remain committed to the principles I established in that piece. They were follows:
1. Our electoral system is broken, as such, my vote is meaningless.
2. The parties running are inept and/or disingenuous.
3. Continued electoral turnout on the part of voters is making matters worse, rather than better.
Many will accuse me as being “part of the problem” but I ask you: really? Is this what you understand as “democracy”? Every four to five years you got a gym or a church basement, mark a single piece of paper and then walk out to go about your life—still poorer every year and more and more politically ineffectual. That’s it? Is this what people in Egypt are struggling over? What people in Syria are dying for? Hardly. Even if we had 100% turnout, this still wouldn’t be a democratic system.
The logic of righteous indignation that somehow wishes to equate non-voting in Canada with tacit support for Hosni Mubarak & Co. should be offensive to anyone able to reason their way out of a paper bag—one marked with Exit signs at that. For one thing, it erroneously assumes that we, in the West, are living in “the most democratic” of regimes which is patent nonsense. What happened in Tahrir Square and is continuing to occur across the Middle East and North Africa is a far more substantive experience of democracy than the sad mummery we “enjoy” in Canada. People are actually organizing, directly influencing the social space around them—in schools, factories, and in the streets. To compare these revolutions, these wonderful, frightening, chaotic, liberating moments of blood, tears and unbridled joy to the conservative, reactionary, entirely symbolic performance(s) we call elections, which we call our democracy—that is what is offensive, friends.
Now, I fully admit that a significant segment of the non-voting public is simply uninformed, purposefully ignorant if you will. Unfortunately, young people make up a disproportionate section of this group. But as someone who interacts with said young people on a regular basis, I can tell with a great deal of confidence: they are entirely justified in their positions. They don’t vote because they don’t perceive politics as having an influence on their lives, that their votes don’t matter, that politicians are all crooks and lairs and in a few, astute, cases they will note that the system itself is rigged.
They are wrong that politics does not influence them—but certainly much effort has gone into creating such a perception. The material dispossession of the global working classes as typified by the global capitalist system could only have been achieved, in large part, through the wilful and targeted dumbing down of society as a whole. There is a reason why the Casey Anthony trial was reported on with all the breathless hysteria of the Second Coming while America’s wars, debt and general social collapse are tucked in somewhere between the Sports pages and the Sudoku.
As for the rest? Well, I think I’ve said my piece on the rest.
But it is interesting that after decades of declining voter participation and now the effects of the years-long global economic crisis, we are finally beginning to see the emergence of a more genuine, participatory model of democracy in the West. The “occupations” which have been sweeping across North America are a hopeful sign and a reflection of the actual history of democratic progress. Democracy is something which happens amongst mobilized populations—not something that happens between isolated individuals pulling levers to gently rotate the edifice of a bureaucratic leviathan an inch to the left or an inch to the right. If anything, democracy is marked by the struggle against not the approval of such monstrosities.
Never in history has “representative democracy” been anything more than an attempted by the rich and powerful to curtail the democratic aspirations of the masses. No revolution has ever demanded the rotation of its oligarchs as its principle aim—it has merely had to settle for as much when the forces of reaction and privilege have coerced or tricked it into accepting this “compromise”.
It is unlikely that this knowledge is widely known amongst the “rank and file” participants of this new wave of occupations. But it doesn’t matter. That’s the crazy thing about democracy: it’s not a historical or ideological project which one has to memorize or copy—it’s not an ism. No, it’s something entirely organic to the human experience, something humanity keeps discovering and rediscovering, shaping and reshaping. It is something which depoliticized and hyper-politicized youth and workers alike in Fortress North America as much as in the dictatorships and juntas of the Middle East are reimagining—liberating.
It’s like this, friends: Dennis the Peasant was right: “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.” It’s time to stop pretending our own aquatic ceremonies are anything more than a farce. The participation rate there is irrelevant—the lower the better, frankly. It’s time to completely delegitimize these dog and pony shows. The real participation rate we should concern ourselves is the one in the streets of New York, Los Angeles and soon Vancouver, Toronto and all across this continent. Only there can we truly build something, create something, influence each other, care for one another.
Friends, if you actually care about democracy, if you actually care about the democratic experience, then get out of the god damn gym and into the streets!
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