05 June 2008

Voting weak surrogate for democratic participation

I am dumbfounded by the number of progressives who have such faith in the electoral process, as if it is the sine qua non of political democracy. The party and electoral systems, as they exist now in the United States, bloated and dependent upon corporate funding, have become major institutional impediments to democracy.

The party and electoral systems are cash cows for the public relations/advertising and news media industries, particularly television, which have every economic incentive for an electoral “season” that is eternal. Two to three weeks for the primaries and another two to three for the general election would be more than adequate. Worse yet, the candidates and the parties bleed the talent, time and savings of some fine Americans away from everyday arenas of power—starting with the workplace, but also our schools and universities; within the healthcare and housing systems, and religious institutions—where the dirty work of democracy takes place and where social movements are built.

It is an illusion that people who behave like disgruntled, unorganized consumers all year, except for a couple of hours to vote, are exercising the rights and responsibilities of democratic participation. Voting is a critical element of a political democracy—the blood shed to expand the franchise in this and every nation underscores its significance—but real democracy includes much more. If we cannot democratically participate in the institutions that govern our everyday lives, then voting once a year becomes a pale substitute for political freedom.

Substantive social change almost always occurs from the bottom up in social movements that force responses from the status quo, regardless of which political party is in power. It is an illusion fueled by an ignorance of history that important political change can occur as a result of a change in the presidency, especially at a time when no one can even afford to be run without millions of dollars in corporate funding. And that is precisely the reason the ruling elites and their apologists in the political parties and the mass media try to convince us that voting once a year is all there is to democracy. They know that as long as we simply vote in an electoral system they manipulate, nothing of importance will change.