Once again, it’s patriotism time. Many of our readers, I imagine, are thoroughly tired of the old love-your-country routine, and yet, it’s still worth considering.
If nothing else, it’s sobering to observe how many countries in the half-century or so I’ve been paying attention have enthusiastically announced conversion to “democracy”, only to revert to some kind of autocracy, with oligarchy being the most popular version. The former Soviet Union in all its branches provides a host of bad examples, along with a few successes to be sure.
The demise of the much-touted Arab Spring is the latest sad story. Some Middle Eastern countries can’t even drum up a strongman to run things, but have reverted to a kind of tribal feudalism reminiscent of Europe in Shakespeare’s time, with no end in sight. Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries which have absorbed a great deal of money and a huge investment of human lives, seem poised to abandon the pretense of elected governments altogether. And so it goes.
The “democracies” I studied in my high school ancient history class don’t look much better in retrospect. Yes, some Greeks and some Romans for relatively short periods of time had some versions of group decision-making, but your chances of being outside the group were much greater than your chance of being a voting citizen, if you were a foreigner, a woman, a slave….
That was a millennium and a half or so ago, and covered some small number of centuries. The recent experiment called The United States of America hasn’t endured for much more than a couple of centuries, and it’s constantly at risk. Despite the brave words of the Declaration of Independence which we celebrate today, it could be plausibly argued that American democracy in the United States didn’t really exist until the voting rights of the descendants of those who were slaves in 1776 were decisively ensured by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, despite having been granted decades earlier by constitutional amendment. That was just a half-century ago, while the extension of the franchise to white women happened not quite a half-century before that .
And the brief flowering here of something resembling true democracy is constantly in danger. A perpetual threat is oligarchy: government by and for money, either by wealthy individuals (most often white men) or, lately, by those concentrations of wealth called corporations.
The Citizens United decision empowers capital to buy elections even more openly than in the past. A corollary anti-democratic tactic is voter-suppression: the continuing attempts by privileged and powerful people to deny the vote to less-privileged segments of the voting population (many, though not all, of whom are the descendants of slaves) by enacting various laws which make it hard for poor people to vote.
So what we’re celebrating in this country today is not exactly a perfect democracy, is it? But it remains better than a whole lot of alternatives both in the past and in other parts of today’s world. We still have a lot of say about what goes on here.
Our president, though not himself a descendant of those enslaved at the time of the Declaration of Independence, looks a lot like them, and his wife and children do trace their ancestry to previously excluded Americans. Those of us who live in Berkeley can rejoice in the fact that now all of our current representatives to higher levels of government are women—that would have been impossible less than a century ago.
How to celebrate what’s good about what we’ve got? By vigorous participation in the process of government, even when it’s not so easy.
There’s an election coming up this November, as is often the case. Right now is the time to sign up with your preferred candidates to contribute time or money. It probably feels counter-intuitive to make your choices for the November election in early July, but that’s how you can make a difference.
An organization which promoted the election of women to public office (thank goodness, no longer a problem here) used the acronym E.M.I.L. Y: Early Money is Like Yeast. To that we would add: People Power Supplies the Flour, without which you can’t make bread at all. The more personal participation there is in a candidate’s campaign, the less power money has to swing an election.
We’ve already endorsed Tony Thurmond for California Assembly District 15. He was a winner in the June primary as one of the two final candidates (both Democrats), and will now face Elizabeth Echols in November. If you like him too, help him out,.
For your reference, here are some dates for our Berkeley readers to keep in mind regarding the November City Council elections:
July 24: last day to collect signatures on candidate nomination papers in lieu of paying $150 to file as candidates for the Berkeley City Council. What you can do: if you’re asked, sign the petition, since paying money shouldn’t be a qualification for running for office. You can contribute your signature for any candidate city-wide—you don’t have to be in the same district, and you can sign them all if you want. You might even circulate petitions for your favorite candidates.
July 14-August8: Filing period for candidate nomination papers. If an incumbent in a council doesn’t file for re-election, other candidates can file up until August 13, in that district only.
September 25-October 14: Sample Ballots are being mailed.
October 6-October 28: Period to obtain Vote-by-Mail Ballots. After 10/28, V-B-M ballots can be gotten at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters office.
This is your chance to join the door-to-door and phone-banking campaign efforts of your candidate to make sure that all of his or her fans actually remember to vote. For details on how Vote-by-Mail works, see this excellent web site: http://www.acgov.org/rov/votebymail.htm
October 20: Last day to register to vote.
November 4: Election Day. Anyone who hasn’t managed to vote by mail can take their ballot to their local polling place or designate someone else to deliver it. For a retro experience, you can even vote in person on Election Day!
Announced candidates in contested races for the Berkeley City Council to date: District 1: Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Linda Maio. District 7: Sean Barry, Kriss Worthington. District 8: George Beier, Lori Droste, Michael Alvarez Cohen, Jacquelyn McCormick.
We hope to provide a detailed discussion of all of these campaigns, possibly with endorsements, in the very near future. Meanwhile, I encourage candidates and/or their supporters to submit position statements of any length to firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s free, which is a lot cheaper and more ecological than spending money on a lot of glossy paper mailers which will only end up in the recycling bin.