This week there was another important election. It was just in time to remind us all of what democracy really means–citizen participation in the regular process of choosing representatives to make public policy choices for us. Governance by the governed it is called.
Surely, some of us were not ready for another round of such choices. We have not all kept up with the candidates’ credentials, their positions on the issues, what the issues actually are, who the people are who are running and what initiatives or new tax proposals are also awaiting our decisions.
We’re tired and worn out from the last batch of these irritants that were merely yesterday, weren’t they?
Why don’t the powers that be just leave us all alone? Why must we be constantly bedeviled by one civic choice or another? Shouldn’t government just take care of government business and leave us be?
That’s not how it works. Like death, the seasons and taxes, elections will be in our collective faces no matter how we feel and what our moods are. That’s what republicanism means. No monarch to decide for us. It is our constant collective responsibility to pay attention and put in the necessary time and energy to choose those who will govern us.
Sure, we can refuse to participate. We can just not vote and easily excuse ourselves. But the elections will come and go anyway. They will still happen and still be decided, with or without our individual votes. That’s part of the social contract of representative government as described by John Locke a few hundred years ago. Opting out of that contract because one just does not feel like it right now won’t stop the train from coming. One simply de-legitimizes oneself and one’s point of view by refusing to participate at the scheduled time.
Criticizing the choices made and the actions of those elected after the fact will just be noise ignored by the majority. No participation; no right to criticize what was done. That’s part of the contract. Your right to freely express yourself will not be negatively affected; it will simply be trumped by the collective right of those who did participate to disregard what you say. Life, and democratic government, will merely move on without you, and the interests of others who did vote will hold sway.
So what are the odds? How the Valley folk vote has decided L.A. mayoral elections for more than two decades, and that pattern shows no evidence of change.
Since there is almost no chance of any of the mayoral candidates getting a convincing enough majority to win the race outright, and this particular election being billed as a primary anyway, getting a second chance at the brass ring in June is the thing to go for.
Shake off your somnolence, citizens! Vote and protect your right to vote as you see fit in this election and all others in the future. We cannot take this democracy we’re used to for granted–it can slip away right before our eyes. Clearly, you have noticed that the right to vote for some citizens is being challenged again in the courts and in several Republican-led state governments, and, truth be told, if they come for us in the morning, you can be sure your turn is coming in the night.
Our freedoms here are not free, nor is our maintenance of them. In fact, the hard truth is that democratic freedom is expensive and the costs keep rising.
As an old Joe Tex song said, ‘We had better hold on-hold on to what we’ve got.” See you at the next election.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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