Reigniting Democracy!

Posted on 03 November 2018

“The key to winning: Don’t try to convince anyone. Find people you like and organize!”
~Nicolas Bell

We hear words like “government”, “political party”, “corporation”…and our problems seem so big and we feel so small.

How can we possibly change the world facing such monstrosities?

In France Michel Lotito, more commonly known as “Monsieur Mangetout” which translates as “Mr Eat-All”, is an entertainer who actually ate an entire airplane. From 1978 to 1980 he disassembled and consumed a Cessna 150 one part at a time. It’s amazing he was able to do this at all!

When we want to change “The Establishment” we have to stop thinking about it in monumental terms. Don’t let the big buildings fool you. Bricks are inanimate. They can’t fight you. What you are dealing with is a collection of people. It is entirely possible to take down an establishment one person at a time.

Right now you have people working hard to motivate you into voting. Because win or lose by fair or foul play, your vote nevertheless tells those in power which way the wind is blowing. If you organise enough of your friends to vote together, those in power now know how serious you are and whether they should be concerned.

Some inspiration: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

In June of this year Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a woman still in her twenties, won the Democrat primaries for her district in New York. She is now campaigning for a position in the US House of Representatives. Her success was entirely grassroots and totally unexpected.

When she found that she had been purged from New York voting rolls and could not vote in the 2016 presidential primary, she chose to work as an organiser for Bernie Sanders’s campaign. She learned everything she could about how to run grassroots campaigns. In 2017 she decided to challenge Democratic Caucus Chair, Joe Crowley, to run for the position of New York Congressional District 14 representative. She was the first person to do so since 2004. If she wins the election this November, she will be the youngest woman to ever be elected to the U.S. House Of Representatives.

How did she get this far? She started by speaking with people in their homes and having coffee parties. That’s the very definition of grassroots! With the help of a team of volunteers she made extensive use of social media such Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Her materials were multilingual, reaching out to the many different people who lived in her district. She also made a viral YouTube video.

The majority of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political contributions were by small individual contributors. She spent $194,000 campaigning compared to her opponent’s $3.4 million. And she won!

Ocasio-Cortez does not come from a wealthy white family. Her heritage is Puerto Rican and she was born in the Bronx of New York City. If she can achieve this much political success, then now is the time for young people everywhere to start flexing their political muscles and create change! You can do it!

Vote Vote VOTE!

Voting isn’t just a right. It’s a responsibility.

Only by voting do you ensure that you are living in a democracy. Only by voting do you protect all your rights. Only by voting are you guaranteed of having your voice heard by your nation.

In Australia everyone is required to vote or face fines. Quite a difference from the US! Some people do feel that their freedom is abridged by forcing them to contribute to political decisions. However, it is completely legal to make a “donkey vote”. This is when a person turns up to a voting station and puts no marks on their ballot. This is a political statement in its own right. It may say that they do not like any of the candidates, or they are unhappy with the system. Of course it can also mean they are a complacent jerk, who likes messing with people! These are things Australia has to consider.

We all need to become used to voting from a very early age and have it mean something. We need parents giving children choices, even if it’s “chocolate or vanilla?” then abide by that choice. We need school elections that are more than just popularity contests: where the elected roles require genuine responsibility and concern for the electorate. Civics classes need to become a thing once more. When a young person comes of voting age, that should be cause for a big celebration!

Become a voting maniac and find ways to encourage others to be voting maniacs!

Voting Clubs

Create a voting club! In this club organise to help register people for the vote, then get them to the polling booths in a timely fashion. Have events where a few individuals present details about the candidates and issues that will be on the ballot, so that people can make informed decisions. Have everyone bring cupcakes for afterward! On election day have all your friends dress up and carry balloons, vote, then go somewhere for a party!

Create a Bingo card where people can mark off squares for voting on local, state, and federal ballots! For extra squares encourage members to become part of credit unions and cooperatives, where votes in these organisations also count toward BINGO!

People will often skip opportunities to vote in midterm elections or local ballots, because they feel they aren’t as worthy of their time. ALL votes are important. In the case of local elections this is where you can feel your power! You can sense that you have made a difference! When enough local governments make the same changes, that informs state government. When enough state governments make the same changes, that informs the federal government. That’s how grassroots politics works! Don’t worry about the smallness of these electorates. Trust me, they can pack a punch under the right conditions.

Join a Party and Vote Some More!

People see political parties as some sort of Medusa released each election. Sure we may see any number of snake-like faces, but it seems to be all one monster. Don’t let anyone fool you by talking about “The Democrats” or “The Republicans”. They are groups of people. It’s not that hard to join them. It’s entirely possible to change their nature from within. When I first moved to Australia I joined a party in order to better understand how politics worked in that country. I volunteered to help write for the science and technology policy development group. After many years of just being there, I started writing more policy at higher levels, until eventually I was helping to set federal policy. Some of my ideas even made it into law!

When you join a political party, you get to vote who runs for various positions before anyone else does. If you don’t like the results, have your friends join you and vote some more in the next primary elections. Don’t be afraid to invade!

Who’s a Loser?

Some people may find voting disspiriting when their side loses. But it is in fact important by what margin someone has won a political position. If they squeaked through by one percent, they know they have to be answerable to their electorate or forfeit their position. You will then have power when you contact them and say, “I want this to happen.” If your side lost by a large margin, please understand that voting is an important part of a longterm process toward change. Your side may have only managed twenty percent of the vote, but if you are seeking social justice, then the most important thing you can do is to keep at it. Your vote gives your position visibility and offers the opportunity for dramatic shifts.

Practice Makes Perfect

In the US it’s very easy to feel that the system is rigged against you. That’s because it is!

Even if we did away with Electoral College, all the elections would still not fully represent the will of the people. That’s because the US relies on a “First Past the Post” voting system–the most simple form of election but not the most fair. If you have ever wondered why the US can only manage two political parties, this is why.

Let’s say we have an election where three parties are vying for the presidency: the Yellow, the Purple, and the Orange. Let’s say 30% of the people vote for Yellow and 30% vote for Purple. Let’s say Yellow and Purple people may not completely agree on everything, but they both dislike Orange. However, 40% of the population have voted for Orange. Under First Past the Post Orange wins. Sixty percent of the people are now unhappy with their leader, even though they are in the majority. The only way to keep this from happening is by having a two party system. This means not everyone’s issues are represented well, but at least they have some power to stop Orange from winning.

Can voting be made better than this. YES! Yes, it can!

Australia makes use of different means of voting that are a little more complex, but result in fairer representation. These systems are why they have multiple parties in that country. Australia makes use of both “Preferential Voting” (AKA Instant-Runoff Voting or Alternate Vote) and “Single Transferable Vote”. (In New Zealand they use “Mixed-Member Proportional Representation”)

With Preferential Voting you number your candidates from your most favorite to your least favorite. In a Yellow, Purple, Orange election you might vote “1” for Yellow, “2” for Purple, and “3” for Orange. If Orange is most people’s least favorite party, then what “1” votes they did receive go to people’s next preference. Let’s say twelve people are voting in this election: three vote “1” for Orange, four vote “1” for Yellow, and five vote “1” for Purple. Since Orange is being eliminated the ballots of those who voted Orange are checked to see which parties people voted “2”. If all of them voted Yellow as their next favorite, that would give Yellow seven votes to Purple’s five, and Yellow would win!

A few US cities and universities use these other methods of voting. If you are not used to them, they can be a little confusing. But honestly, the ballots can be straightforward. It’s the counting that requires careful attention. CGP Grey on YouTube does a great job of making these methods easy to understand. They produce results that better represent the people. If you believe in democracy, then this is what you want!

Should this interest you, I would suggest practice using these voting systems with your friends. Get a feel for how they work, then start promoting their use. Maybe even put up an initiative to have one of them used in your local elections or perhaps your state!

Getting Fired Up

When you become of voting age, you are old enough to start making laws! That’s more power than most people understand they have.

Through initiatives and referendums you can change the shape of your world. Like anything this will take work and perseverance. However given the issues we are facing now and in the future, the work is absolutely neccesary to save ourselves.

Citizen initiatives and referendums are a mixed blessing. They can most assuredly be abused by self-seekers, angry mobs, and manipulative companies. They are also a tool for direct democracy, making it possible to go around stubborn politicians. You can use this tool for good!

Find a group of friends and think hard about what laws could be made to protect your future: laws to do with housing, food security, protection of the environment, fair treatment, and more.

Right now Washington State is voting on a carbon tax to be imposed on companies that are polluting the state. This is the first proposed law of its kind in the United States. Here is the wording: “Initiative Measure No. 1631, filed March 13, 2018. AN ACT Relating to reducing pollution by investing in clean air, clean energy, clean water, healthy forests, and healthy communities by imposing a fee on large emitters based on their pollution; and adding a new chapter to Title 70 RCW.”

Do not worry so much about knowing what Title 70 RCW means. The rest of the initiative is straightforward and easy to understand. Start by putting together this sort of statement, then begin the process of getting people excited about it. Hold meetings. Contact university law departments to see if any of their law students would be happy to help you put together a full document to submit to your state government.

You may want to start by urging people to approach their state representatives with your document and convince these representatives to put your proposal before the state legislature. This would be a faster and easier method of making your law.

Eventually, you may find you still need to go around gathering signatures. Do NOT rely on online petitions. They have some influence, but are nowhere near as powerful as directly approaching politicians and legislative departments with documents people care enough to sign by hand.

As always, anything that’s going to be a slog requires a light spirit and passionate engagement. Be sure to celebrate every step. Find ways to make what you are doing fun. Regularly congratulate and honor one another. Remind yourselves regularly why you are doing this and how important that is!

Storming the Castle

If you are feeling inspired…if you are feeling REALLY inspired…I would suggest beginning a movement to hold your own grassroots constitutional convention. This is a pretty radical suggestion.

Currently, conservatives are calling for such a convention in order to push through an amendment to give states the power to veto any federal law, supreme court decision or executive order with a three-fifths vote from the states. Take a look through the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Think about what it would be like to have individual states removing your protections, such as freedom of speech or the ability to vote at eighteen. The list could go on and get much worse as to what might be done. There would be no UNITED States.

I don’t think a Constitutional Convention is such a bad idea. Many people in the US find it unthinkable, because what was done at the original convention is seen as sacred. In Australia they have had four Constitutional Conventions. The last two were in 1973 and 1998. We just need to make sure it’s a Constitutional Convention that proposes rights which better reflect our growth as a nation capable of universal compassion.

Schools in Australia regularly run constitutional conventions locally and nationally to help students learn how their government functions. These events also give them the space to discuss current affairs and genuine concerns related to the issues. Students in the US could initiate similar events.

In order to better propose changes and updates to the US Constitution I would strongly suggest young people explore existing documents that will give the changes they seek some weight. The documents I feel are worthy of your time are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a United Nations document that was inspired by the US Constitution but went further, and The Earth Charter which includes economic and environmental justice.

Quite honestly, you can do so much!

This is from a book I am writing on Wattpad.

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