FREE SPEECH ZONE | Elections: What’s Democracy Got To Do With It?


The quadrennial ritual of U.S. presidential election is happening in a strange morass of massive money contributed by secret corporate donors, right-wing attempts to roll back voting rights for millions of Americans and a mountain of very real problems that neither ‘major’ political party seems interested in addressing. Add in the context of the “Arab Spring” aftermath of elections and Syria’s uprising that attempts to overthrow its dictator, it feels almost quaint that there are still people willing to die for the chance to vote. Here in the “land of the free”, as a progressive voter I am told I have no choice but to vote for the Democratic Party candidate.

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In the country that touts itself as ‘the greatest democracy on Earth’—America— elections are more like crude propaganda and 21st century grade-B exploitation films made by Madison Avenue shopping gurus. A slice of the electorate is pandered to, others are pushed and still more are made very aware that they don’t count at all. With only two recognized political affiliations— Republicans and Democrats—for all practical purpose, any others might as well be legally banned. Progressive social movements go dormant or are actively herded into working to get Democrats elected.

To run for political office as an independent individual or as a member of any “third Party” political party, there are many obstacles . If you don’t wear the magic R or D,, a great deal of energy and money ia spent just to be on the ballot. Ds and Rs automatically qualify. The media with the largest reach—-owned by corporations—rarely or never reports on candidates without the D or the R Seal of Approval. When such outcast candidates do get mentioned, it is usually only to dismiss them as “unelectable“. Over and over the message is: that the only candidates voters are allowed to seriously consider are the ones that have been pre-selected for them by the Republican and Democratic Parties.

When the Supreme Court handed George W. Bush his victory in the 2000 election–after tens of thousands of Democratic were purged from Florida’s voter roles and the Democratic Party refused to fight for their own victorious candidate, Al Gore, who was blamed? Not the Supreme Court or Republican operatives using dirty tricks, not a spineless Democratic Party or even those who actually voted for Bush.

Blame was (and still violently is) cast on the Green Party, their presidential candidate Ralph Nader and all voters who thought they had a constitutional right to cast their votes for him. Twelve years later, you’d think the 2000 election had just happened, given the virulent attacks on Nader voters—making it obvious that the 2000 election has been used as a social bludgeon against anyone who considers a “third party” candidates

From a matter of basic principles in a nation that tells other countries how to run their affairs, even justifies waging war as “spreading democracy”, how is this acceptable? And from a practical point of view, what do people think this will make anyone support the Democratic Party? If anything, such tactics only further alienates voters.

Even the Republican and Democratic Parties dissident candidates—Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) come to mind—are tossed in the outcast candidate trash can. How dare ordinary citizens think that we have any significant say in the two political parties? Like war, everyday Americans’ are just supposed to show up and do what we’re told.

Even the non-partisan League of Women Voters (LWV)–founded in 1920, after women won the vote—has had the Presidential Election Debate taken away from them. The two ‘major’ parties and their corporate sponsors now completely control the “debates“–who can participate, what issues can be raised., who is excluded and what issues are censored.. The LWV has recently even been shoved out of registering people to vote. It seems that voter turnout of 50%–or less, often far less in non-presidential elections–is perfectly acceptable to Democratic and Republican Parties. Less participation by We The People appears to be the goal—which seems ,frankly, completely incompatible with the idea of democracy.

One conclusion is harder and harder to escape: no matter who wins, over the last twenty-five years, certain major elements of public policy remain more or less the same.

Wars drag on, that the public seems to have no say in—except to pay for, fight in and, if unlucky, be maimed or die in. Republicans and Democrats start and continue the wars—even when elected for saying they’d end them (as President Obama was). Corporations pay little or no taxes compared to ordinary workers or mom and pop small businesses. Workers rights—and their jobs—disappear, whether the openly anti-union Republicans are in charge or the union-supported Democrats are. Both parties support so-called “free trade” agreements that export jobs, undermine workers/consumers’ rights and further pollute the natural world—while giving multinational corporations more power over more and more of our everyday lives.

Ordinary people have less and less access to the courts for redress even as corporations are declared “persons” by the highest court in the land. Racial segregation of schools has returned; discrimination of all kinds leaves people with no recourse, since enforcement of such laws has been de-funded banks and Wall Street turn our economy into a casino where the house always wins—and the rest of us lose while neither political party does anything to stop it. Republican or Democrat, most elected officials are busy making sure that when they do leave office, the corporations, will have a well-padded place for them to land.

I’ve come to conclude that the Republican and Democratic Parties are entwined in a theatrical performance of sham “democracy”, agreeing on most issues, and serving the same corporate elites. Republicans have the role of The Ideologues, pushing the public discourse further and further to the right, lauding corporations and the wealthy higher and higher for worship by “regular folks“, as G.W. Bush would say–while creating an ever expanding list of scapegoats and “untouchables” unworthy of public concern. Being closer to the 1%, eventually Republicans scare much of the 99% and so, the Democrats are brought in to do their job as The Implementers. If progressives had really faced the eight years of President Bill Clinton, we’d see how much of the so-called “Republican agenda” he accomplished—just as President Obama has continued and even expanded George W. Bush’s policies.

Yet, I’m told by fellow progressives, I must vote for Democrats, that its crucial that Barack Obama get a second term. “It will be worse under a Republican!” they howl. They don’t answer this question: What would Mitt Romney do that President Obama isn‘t already actively doing or passively allowing to continue?

Make indefinite detention part of American law for the first time in our history? Keep the gulag Guantanamo open? Give corporations tax breaks to export our jobs and more “free trade” agree ments to do it? Drill more on public lands? Bomb countries we are not even at war with? Fail to address climate change? Continue to “privitize” all public services–including schools? Continue the failed “war on drugs”

that has made the U.S. have the largest prison population on Earth? End unions?

President Obama has either actively done all these things or–in the case of unions–stood by and let it happen. Yet, people demand we shut up and not point out these facts. Various “liberal” organizations, websites and online publications regularly practice censorship of those who raise fact-based issues about Obama’s actual policies. If you won’t support the Democratic candidate, the “marketplace of ideas” is closed to you.

Have the audacity to mention “third party” candidates and it gets really ugly. All of one’s comments are erased from the website and you’re banned from the site or the organization , with a totality that is worthy of Josef Stalin.

I don’t know who I will vote for in November 2012–but, it won’t be Barack Obama.

I’m taking a look at the former progressive Mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, on the Justice party ticket. Honored as the “Greenest Mayor in the U.S.”, Anderson cut greenhouse gas emissions by government vehicles and buildings by 30%. As a lawyer,. He’s defended people without payment. He created restorative justice programs instead of filling more corporate-profit driven prison cells. He’s challenged corporate monopolies and worked with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union to protect civil liberties. Anderson is strongly committed to affordable housing and addressing the foreclosure crisis.

He made a city anti-discrimination in hiring for the GLBT community by Executive Order—in a Mormon state–and is in the Twin Cities to take a stand against the far-right Marriage Amendment on the Minnesota ballot. You have two chances to hear Rocky Anderson speak. If you still believe in democracy–the real kind not the spectacle—I hope you’ll check him out. (Event info below)

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism, for her reprting for PULSE Newspaper. She also writes poetry, does activism and is part of a community garden.She is producer/host of CATALYST, Thurs. 9am on KFAI Radio 90.3fm Mpls 106.7 fm St.Paul

SAT.JUNE 23, 4pm

ROCKY ANDERSON progressive candidate for President

Plymouth Congregational Church

1900 Nicollet Ave. S. (off Franklin Ave.) south Minneapolis


Sun.JUNE 24:, marching with the Minnesotans United for All Families contingent in the GLBT Pride Parade between 11-1 pm,AFTER PRIDE MARCH: the candidate will be going to Macalester College in Weyhauser Chapel in St. Paul for a speech on “Confronting Reality in a Political Illusion.” This talk will be in the Chapel,1600 Grand Ave, St Paul, and is free. The public is welcome and there will be time for a Q & A.