Waiving The Flag
by Hart Williams © 1996
It's election time: time to wave the flag, or get out the vote, or, more popularly, sneer at the whole thing: "Them durn politicians in Washington, D.C. It's all a goldurn plot by (choose your term)." I particularly enjoy hearing the "We are gonna change the world!" generation spouting jaded cynicism (you know who you are). Still, the frequent and pervasive attitude about politics, about government, about those principles embodied in that much-maligned, or, just as often, mindlessly-worshipped flag these days is that we're all just, you know, ABOVE it. "It" being ... being what? Government. The political system. THEM, right?
Wrong: us. Every people call themselves "the people," and we're no different: "us," U.S. And therein lies part of the clue. The price you pay for not having a king or dictator making your decisions for you is that you have to make them yourself. Or among yourselves: US.
Part of the problem, I think, is that we're frustrated. We don't like what we have, and everyone has their own personal "If I were king" solutions. But the nature of DE-mocracy is inevitably DUMB-ocracy. The "system" is a great, slow beast, lurching along fifty years behind the times: creaky, slow-witted and occasionally even dangerous, like a rabid jackrabbit. Well, sure. But most of what we attribute to genuine malice in "gum'mint" is an ignorance, perhaps akin to a six-year-old at the wheel of a steamroller. Forced to make decisions, even a bureaucrat will, eventually, make decisions. And, in the absence of your feedback, your participation, your voting, of making our decisions for ourselves—which requires that we move away from the TV set, and attend public policy forums, council meetings, the political gatherings that elections facilitate—in the absence of our voices, government governs, and we sneer that it has lost touch with us.
Nothing could be further from the truth: we have lost touch with it. Why? Well, we're too busy, and we're too jaded, and we're too bored, and we're too disillusioned, and we're too wrapped up in healing ourselves, and empowering ourselves and our other little dramas to speak up.
And, so, having unfairly had decisions made FOR us, we complain, and ascribe it to the usual malign collection of Freemasons, Elders of Zion, Gray Sirius Aliens, CIA/KKK/KGB nasty people who spend all their time trying to control the world, so as to make people like you and I miserable.
Democracy is tough. There's always something wrong. You never (unless you're very, very lucky) get EVERYTHING you voted for, and often you get a lot that you were absolutely against. Nasty Federal Judges declare your passionately-fought-for and powerfully-worded new law unconstitutional. If you're involved in campaigns, your candidate oft-times loses, and your time and money have meant nothing. Yup.
But an old gray-haired gentleman used to tell me his stories, and this one is germane: "Remember the Russian Revolution?" he'd ask. "Remember Nazi Germany? The political revolution in each country was engineered by less than ten men in each case!" Yet, we live in a country of empty hearing rooms, with empty courtrooms, and county and city meetings rooms only populated by those paid to be there.
I seriously believe that this election will be a watershed: a turning point for American Consciousness, for better or for worse. But you couldn't tell it from the attendance at political events. Thank God for CSPAN and CSPAN2, else we wouldn't have ANY idea what's being decided in our names. Our "commentators" have seemingly decreed themselves "above" the fray. Like everyone else, it seems, they're "too good" to be bothered.
[2002 UPDATE: SINCE 2000, the US media seem to have completely fallen down on the job, and the most reliable sources for what's going on in our government are British and Australian newspapers online! This is crazy!]
Apathy is the zeitgeist, of course. We've had too much tossed at us, too fast. From Brezhnev to the fall of the Berlin Wall, from great American cars to great Japanese cars to great American cars again. There's been an explosion in communications technology, in computers, CDs, CD-ROMs, three hundred TV channels beamed into our homes. A certain amount of stunned silence is certainly understandable. And yet we do not speak at all.
But, the funny thing about democracy is that, clunky and unwieldy as it is, wrongs ARE righted, and corrections are made. It's slow, bloody work, but it happens.
Take the example of South Africa. Originally "colonized" by the Dutch in late seventeenth century, only in the past ten years have the "slaves" been freed. "Dumb"-ocracy has been struggling with the problems they're struggling with for over a century. Slowly, yes; stupidly: yup. But take a look at Turkey. You don't see the government apologizing to the Armenians. Or, look at Iraq: no one thinks of atoning for atrocities committed against the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs.
We live in a world in which women's suffrage—or free elections at all, for that matter—is but a very recent occurrence in the lives of upwards of a billion people. Yet we cherish not the "system" with which we are entrusted.
"My vote doesn't count," goes the popular refrain. "What can one person do?"
Well, isn't that the point? ONE person can't do much: one person can't build your new car, or construct that nice pseudo-ranch house; or pave the streets and keep the traffic lights going. One person can't put out the magazine you hold in your hands. That cooperation—from writer to editor to art director to composition to printing to collating to distributing—is what is called "government." Even in the absence of "government," there is governance. Consider the Mafia, or the well-oiled machinery of the drug distribution rackets.
And, in the latter cases, that's the sort of government one gets when one allows others to make one's decisions for one, wouldn't one say?
The inherent problems of democracy, to paraphrase Churchill, pale in comparison to the next-best forms of government. Which means that you have to quit considering yourself above it, and disappointed by it, and cynical about it, and frustrated with it, and victimized and dis-empowered by "It," and make your voice heard. No one's going to read your mind about how you want things to be. And yet you sit, mutely, ANGRY that you don't get what you want?
So, cast your ballot, and remember that we honor democracy for our best moments, and not our worst, and that what your ballot represents is not merely the HOPE that you will decide to make a difference, but the guarantee that you will always have the opportunity to MAKE that difference, should you so decide.