Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Power of the People

Democracy. Derived from the Greek words δῆμος (dêmos) "people" and κράτος (krátos) "power." What an odd race we are, us humans, to make such a simple concept so needlessly complicated. Power of the people. Control over our own lives. Except for this group and that group. No votes for you! No representation for you! You can only vote for a Christian, and you, a Muslim!

Today is Election Day in the United States. The US Constitution mandates that Election Day be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, but the way the federal system works makes odd numbered years rather dull, or in political terms "use three or four electoral races in the country and pretend the outcomes will predict what will happen in the next year." As someone with a degree in Political Science, I am something of a political junkie, which can be frustrating, depressing, and disillusioning at times.

See, democracy is not about getting everything you want. It's about compromise. Now, I wasn't around in 1789 when the founders of this country drafted the US Constitution and then went about holding elections and all, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't as toxic as today's electoral races seem to be. Case in point - one of the most watched election races today is a special election for the NY-23 congressional district. Why? Because a form of rightwing extremism has so polluted one of the two parties in this country that the actual candidate for that party was trashed by those deeming her too "moderate," and she ended up dropping out of the race at the last minute. So the race is between a third party candidate whose ideology is more in line with the extremists than not and a member of the other party, a party which hasn't won that seat for 140 years.

Alright, I've waded too far into the realm politique and probably should pull back a bit. My point is that in some regards, the US has gotten to the point where compromise is akin to treason. What is happening now, what has been happening for a decade or two or even three is that the system has shown cracks. Allegations of voter fraud abound - some based on evidence, most based on wild paranoia - and today, in NY-23, supporters of the extremist candidate are violating electioneering laws and trying to intimidate voters who don't agree with their narrow world views.

Which reminds me of Lebanon. Because compromise seems to be a dirty word in Lebanese politics. What Lebanon has is not democracy. Sure, there are votes and ballots (if you can call them that) and all that, but the only institutions in the country are confessional groups who won't put the quasi-democratically elected government together because what is compromise but a sign of weakness, right?

Then I started thinking about our electoral problems here in the US and I thought, it isn't as bad as it seems (or as the media makes it out to be). I only wish that Americans would stop taking their democracy for granted, because when you look at a country like Lebanon (or worse - Egypt), and you see the people thirsting for real freedom and democracy and not getting it, not getting their human rights, well, it should make a person with a soul want to embrace what they have. The cracks are nothing. They can be repaired as long as we do something about it and not wait for the levee to break. But Lebanon? The levee breaks, and still politicians are squabbling over - what do they even squabble over? - while they're all drowning in the sea that has engulfed them.

It's these people who give democracy a bad name, who have created capital D Democracy, ideology masked as real democracy or used to dismiss real democracy. These are the ones who drag democracy through the miry clay, use it to promote their own political agendas, while real people suffer and real people die. Capital D Democracy is not democracy.

Democracy is a fundamental human right. It's like a gift. Control over our lives, our destinies. But it can be used and abused and we as human beings are the ones who are tasked to protect it from those who seek to destroy it. It's a tough job, it really is, but human beings haven't survived for 10,000 years (or whatever it is) because they are incapable of progress. We are capable of organization, of action, and we see it everyday in the projects and activities of civil society. Civil society is the backbone, the heart, the very essence of democracy.

Like those Greeks told us, we survive because someone managed to shut Pandora's box in time to save Hope.

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