Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Democracy in Crisis

by RALPH NADER

Among the tens of thousands of Americans protesting in the nation’s capital against George W. Bush’s war-quagmire in Iraq this weekend, more than a few will probably wonder why there are not more folks with them or, at least, more marching in other villages, towns and city squares around the country. After all, nearly 70% of the American people believe the war was a bad mistake and want out.

Amidst all the proper discussion of restrictions and underminings of democracy in our society, one subject stands out almost as an unmentionable–namely, unused democratic capacity.

Needless to say, my prior columns have pointed out the curtailments, suppressions and weakenings of democratic institutions and initiatives by government, corporations, elected officials and other institutions and forces behaving autocratically. Today, let’s take note of some places and opportunities where we have plenty of elbow room, and space, to use our existing democratic capacity.

1. Half of democracy is showing up. There are lots of empty seats at city council and boards of education meetings. Rallies rarely fill the streets to the extent allowed by demonstration permits.

2. In New England, many municipalities have abolished the town meeting form of government because too few of the burghers bother to show up. Imagine–direct democracy. The people were the legislature in these smaller towns. You can’t get anything better than that.

3. There are legitimate complaints about the mass commercial media not telling us enough about many subjects early enough–such as years ago tobacco health risks, auto defects and the like. Too many advertising dollars were and are at stake. But they’re giving us far more information than we use–to wit, corporate crime, fraud and abuse and ripping off the taxpayers. Recall: “It’s Your Money,” on ABC and the exposes on Sixty Minutes .

4. Between ten and fifty percent of eligible voters actually vote, depending on the election, from a primary to a presidential. That leaves a lot of unused voter capacity. Another kind of capacity is doing one’s homework, as a voter, so as to not go to the polls again and again to vote for incumbents who again and again vote against one’s legitimate interests, however charming and distracting their empty slogans may be.

5. Citizen groups who get justice done at the local, state and national levels offer more unused capacity. They would like very much for people, who share their grievances and applaud their remedies for change, to join them either as dues paying supporters and/or active collaborators. There are no filled quotas or standing room only signs for active supporters.

6. How about all the times when agitated people say: “This isn’t right, I’m going to call City Hall, contact my member of Congress, or collect signatures on a neighborhood petition?” But these civic energies are soon shelved. Self-declared but unused capacity.

Of course, it is always easy to rationalize inactivity by saying: “Oh, it wouldn’t have made any difference. They’re going to do what they want anyhow.” Sorry. That one wore out before 1776. Fortunately, enough of our forebears rejected that surrender mode and left us with much of what we like about our society.

There is an additional long tail to the unused capacity by citizens to make a difference that does not go unnoticed by the politicos and the corporatists. Even when aroused citizens change the powerbrokers’ directions, the powerbrokers resume course because they have learned that aroused citizens return to their unaroused state and cease their vigilance.

The residents of Washington, D.C. are experiencing this with the new Mayor, 36 year old Adrian Fenty. As a distinct underdog, Mr. Fenty knocked on literally half the households of Washington, D.C. He took very little corporate money in a populist campaign opposed by local corporate interests and big developers who supported the early favorite, Linda Cropp. Mr. Fenty won overwhelmingly and owed nothing to these commercial interests.

No sooner was he elected than he began to reverse himself. He went along with a $600 million taxpayer funded baseball stadium that he vigorously opposed as a city council member. He is thick with corporate consultants eyeing a city takeover of the dismal local school system.

Sam Smith, the legendary local commentator and publisher of the Progressive Review, describes Fenty as actually believing in the Federal City Council–the core powers of the corporate world that have helped maintain Washington, D.C. as a model “tale of two cities”–one community rich, the larger other, poor and abandoned.

Mr. Smith described a fellow activist as “lamenting how Adrain Fenty has gone corporate after campaigning as a populist.” And he’s only been mayor-elect and mayor for a few weeks.

But Mr. Fenty knew that those doors of those homes and apartments he knocked on were opened by people he knew would not knock on his door at City Hall. The corporate lobbyists will be the ones knocking.

 

 

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail