|Roman forum. Democracy is crumbling.|
Therein lies much of the sterility of modern electoral politics. Politics and politicians have become increasingly removed from the everyday activity of the common people.1 The chasm was summed up by a quip I overheard the day after the election: “That’s (voting) all over, now I don’t have to think about it for another three years.” I wonder how many Australian electors thought the same? Quite a number I suggest, considering that the percentage of informal votes increased from around 5% to more than 7% of the total.2
The paucity of political participation is not unique to Australia of course. Declining voter participation is matched by an increasing distrust in politicians and the political process worldwide. There is very good reason for that. We have been lulled and seduced into a sense of political hope. Those seeking change get involved in party political campaigns to get so-and-so elected and the candidate from such-and-such party unelected.
Seekers of change hope for a different outcome – an outcome thought to enable the desired change to be more likely. That’s the problem – hope!
Hope, I have heard recently compared to a mortgage. Hope mortgages the future. And the root of mortgage? The French word mort meaning death. Hope is projected into the future, it is not grounded in the present.
“Hopeful people do not as a rule hope for what they have. They hope for what they do not have,”says Stephen Jenkinson. As for hopelessness, well, that is hope’s twin, he claims.
That is what I witnessed in the course of the Australian election. Hope for change prior to the election, and hopelessness afterwards when the hoped for change did not happen.
By putting our faith, hope, and trust in electoral politics we give away our power and our integrity. For this reason many resort to not voting or casting informal votes. For some this may be out of a sense of despair or surrender. For others, not voting may be from a desire to hold onto whatever sense of authentic community participation they may have.
“But, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” is often levelled at those choosing not to vote. This attempt to discredit and shame someone into their “civic responsibility” is, unfortunately, all too prevalent. It also reflects a conservatism that inhibits creative thinking about alternatives.
It can also be claimed that by voting you throw away your claim to participate in community and public decision-making.
When we abandon our claim to participatory decision-making then we leave a vacuum. Politicians and other power-brokers are very happy to step into that vacuum, and in doing so, claim the right to govern and make decisions for us, and to us.
And that truly is tragic. Discarding our community decision-making powers leads inevitably to hopelessness and the “I don’t have to think about it” approach on one hand.
On the other hand, those who do not represent us have become our rulers, our decision-makers. Perhaps at some unconscious, unquestioning, level we instinctively know that politicians do not represent us. They haven’t for a long time. Moreso, politicians are becoming less representative. Ask yourself when was the last time your local plumber or hairdresser, or other common person, was elected? Then ask yourself: from what strata of society do most of those who claim to represent us truly represent?
We need to ask ourselves, as a society, some serious questions about the way in which our public and community decision-making is constructed.
Then, we must find ways to create something that truly is representative.
P.S. For those asking: “yes, but what’s your alternative?” I suggest you type in the word “sortition” in the “Search Rainbow Juice blog” box.
1. I use “common” deliberately in an attempt to reclaim its honourable meaning of "to move together."
2. Voting is compulsory in Australia.
3. Stephen Jenkinson, Die Wise, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, 2015.