FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Less Than Two Weeks

In response to Ralph Nader’s relentless calls, high school social studies classes may devote a special hour this month to teach school children about the American electoral system. But it’s their parents, the voters, who need the crash course in civics. And quickly. We have less than two weeks to become real participants in our democracy. How can this happen when citizens are gripped by 24/7 coverage of a made-for-TV national blockbuster fed by ceaseless new corruption and sex revelations and deepening personality clashes of celebrity candidates?

In the days remaining before we cast our votes, there’s little likelihood that ignorance and confusion about the 435 House races can be addressed so that voters can make intelligent choices. Since their outcome will decide the balance of power in the US Congress, why are we not preparing ourselves, to make our vote in our home districts count?

Take the state I am familiar with–New York. New Yorkers pride themselves on having a political sophistication, but are actually woefully ill-informed. About the presidential circus, everyone I meet can volunteer lengthy comments; they quote press accounts of gaffs, policy shortcomings, poll numbers and the latest satirical skit. They may know the name of their incumbent congressman or woman, but not if they’re running again, how many terms they’ve served or who their opponent is. And races for the state senate or assembly? Forget those.

In just one campaign in this state, the problem is readily apparent from a sample of neighbors: “I want to know what a congressperson actually does,” announces Kathryn, a short-tempered resident who’d all but given up on politics. She plans to attend our meeting with District 19’s candidate and it’s evident that even though she’s 60ish and a professional who works with the public, Kathryn has never spoken to a member of the US Congress, not even to a congressional candidate. Her newfound enthusiasm to break this pattern is because this weekend she’ll have a chance to meet one.

Privately—by necessity since we could arouse neither interest nor help from our state or country Democratic party– a few residents managed to lure one candidate to a town hall gathering. (New York is not a “swing state”. It’s expected to go wholeheartedly Democrat and as a region which the Democratic Party takes for granted, there’s no aggressive campaigning here –i.e. no significant funds are allocated by the national party.) Ours is one of four or five US House seats in NY where incumbents have resigned or otherwise will not run. These seats are open and present fair competitions whose outcomes could alter the balance of power in the House of Representatives. Don’t they count?

Urged on my some residue of hope for this country and an anthropologist’s curiosity, I’m devoting time to move through my neighborhood, risking rude rebuttals and challenging beware-of-dog warnings to urge residents to vote November 8th and to inform them of the candidate I’m supporting.

After Kathryn, I run into Lebron who’s in town for casual work as a housepainter. (He’s actually a professional cook.) Handing him a campaign flyer I ask: “You live in Middletown, so you’d be voting in this district, right?”

“Well, I’m now registered. But district 19, I don’t know.” I check my map; Middletown lies on the border of Sullivan and Orange counties. I’m uncertain too.

Steve working nearby overhears us and offers that he too isn’t sure if he votes in district 19. “My house is in Sullivan but my business is here in Delaware County; are they in the same congressional district?” (It’s a legitimate question since District 19 includes 7 whole counties and shares 5 counties with other electoral districts). This uncertainty also suggests that Steve, and maybe others too, haven’t visited their ballot station—they haven’t voted–in many years.

Sharon, down the street, steps out of her house to talk. We rarely see Sharon at our pancake breakfasts or summer Bar-B-Qs, so her eagerness to come to the coming town gathering is a good sign. “I think I have some things to ask her; I’ve seen some TV ads; there are pros and cons. What about the tax cap; what’s her position on that? I heard she wants to raise taxes.” “Come and ask her yourself”, I retort. “I will.”

(I make a note to phone Sharon on Friday to remind her of the meeting time.)

Taxes seem to be the overriding issue; no comments on foreign or energy policies, jobs, educational reform, or Citizens United (unpopular with the left because of the liberty it grants wealthy individuals and corporations to donate to candidates).

Even as Election Day nears a lot of people here haven’t yet made up their minds, certainly not about congressional candidates (they seem clearer about their presidential choices). More than once, before I have a chance to properly identify myself at their door, the householder assaults me with “Oh, no, I’m not for Hillary”, or, “I was for Sanders, but he’s out. So I’m undecided.” If, before the door closes I can explain which candidate I’m here to talk about, unfriendliness turns to curiosity. “Who?” Accepting a brochure, they ask: “What party is she? Oh, yeh, I think I saw something about her—she’s not from this area.” Or,” I saw a TV ad and have my doubts.”

“Well, do you expect to vote on Nov. 8th”? I retort, trying to end our exchange on a positive note. “Let’s see; I’m undecided. I need to know more”. Ten replies like this are erased when a door opens and a smiling citizen announces, “Oh she has my vote for sure. She’s terrific.”

Does he know more than the others? Is he a party faithful? Does he simply believe he counts?

More articles by:

Barbara Nimri Aziz is a New York based anthropologist and journalist. Find her work at www.RadioTahrir.org. She was a longtime producer at Pacifica-WBAI Radio in NY.

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail