It was most gratifying today to find two articles headlining OEN questioning the value of the vote in this country today. What good is it? Does protest accomplish more? Another article lists the accomplishments of Occupy in honor of its six-month anniversary.
In my forthcoming book Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: How the People Lost and Won, 2000-2008, I quote a youth who asserts that the best democracy combines protest with voting.
Maybe he's right.
Let's think this through.
Self-criticism is a trademark of this country, and both articles feel free to criticize it. Another article I read discusses events in Zuccotti Park last night that scream "Police State!" Brutality was rampant, even against a protestor in the midst of a seizure.
Later this week I am attending a program on the success of nonviolent policing in other parts of the world. I will report on that and hope that we can import that form of discipline here, where it is sorely needed.
I do not know how many elections in U.S. history were not a choice between the lesser of two evils. But we have elected some great presidents, though none of them was perfect.
One beloved president put us to work on the infrastructure during the Great Depression and gave us social security. Another despised one gave us the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, and Medicaid. Granted, the citizenry in this country do not enjoy the benefits of many other countries, including free health care, family leave, a mandatory summer vacation lasting four weeks in August, and so on.
The United States rests on unstable ground. We slaughtered Native Americans (are "illegal aliens" simply coming back to land that was theirs?) and enslaved others--both of which were legal while Thomas Jefferson drafted a Declaration of Independence that called Native Americans savages, and soon after the ragtag, working-class militia won our independence, the glorified founding fathers drafted the Constitution.
Few people could vote once the Constitution became law: one had to own property and be free and white. Ben Franklin joked that a man with a jackass could vote while without one he couldn't. Thomas Paine lauded the vote as the lifeline of democracy, though.
Gradually the privilege spread to unpropertied white men, but the arc did not always bend toward justice. Emancipated blacks were granted the vote until Jim Crow took it away--and 150 years later he still curses our society, though we are fighting back. After martyrdom and violence, women won the right to vote, something dismissed as ridiculous in the days after the Revolution.
It is easy to fault the system and certainly correct. It is also easy for the system to fault us or worse, but ultimately who is to blame? I wonder if it is us.
Have we consistently done the hard work that is also the lifeblood of democracy, according to Thomas Jefferson among others? Occupy stands out so much because it is such a novelty. We should have occupied constantly. What would have happened?
We occupied the tyranny of Britain and won. In the midst of a bloody war, slavery was abolished.
Society largely tends toward a division between the haves and the have-nots. Dare I say that every person among the 99 percent with free time and sufficient amenities of life should be out on the streets with Occupy? How many would that add in this society composed of the 99 percent versus the one percent?
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