Sunday, July 10, 2016

Democracy Is Not What Happens in the Voting Booth

Democracy is not what happens in the voting booth. Let that sink in for a minute.
Democracy is a messy process enacted by people who value things like justice, freedom, equality, and so on, over the rule of law. History demonstrates this point quite adequately.
Without going into a long critique of our fabulously wealthy, hypocritical, slave-owning founding fathers and the rabble-rousing rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, it may be stated that the American Revolution is the classic example of democratic action, whereby the rule of law was flouted in favor of independence. The Boston Tea Party is a good example of Civil Disobedience, an act of protest that could not be ignored.
Every single right that we have in this country has been achieved through the blood, sweat, and tears of people who had no choice but to act in such a way. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, as inadequate as it is, wasn't just gifted to African Americans from a benevolent white government. It was fought for with numerous acts of Civil Disobedience, from sit ins to marches to bus rides and everywhere in between, and met with hatred and violence every step of the way. The same can be said of labor. If it wasn't for organized labor unions, we would not enjoy a 40 hour work week, paid vacations, sick leave, or any other rights of the American worker. Child labor would still be a thing. My daughter Beatrice, at 7, would be old enough to work in a dangerous factory under the old system.
All of that is why stopping traffic isn't only understandable, it's inevitable. It's mandatory. Last year, Bree Newsome committed one of the boldest, bravest, and most inspiring acts of Civil Disobedience in recent memory when she climbed the flagpole in front of South Carolina's statehouse and pulled the Confederate Flag down. She's an artist and an intelligent woman. She knew that she would be arrested as soon as she climbed down from that flagpole, but she did it anyway.
Black Lives matter protesters march down College Street in Greenville, SC in an attempt to block interstate 385 on July 9, 2016.
Black Lives Matter protest, Greenville, SC July 9, 2016

Blocking traffic is a dramatic act of Civil Disobedience. Black Lives Matter is a movement that arose as a response to police violence against black people. It is now an organization that holds non-violent direct action as one of its core values. Its primary goal is to end the murder of black people by police, and the systemic racial profiling that causes it. Black Lives Matter continues the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his spiritual antecedent, Mahatma Ghandi. You break the law in a non-violent way in order to cause discomfort to an unjust power system. It's a way to combat oppression in which the weapons are non-lethal.
Looked at through a critical lens, the United States is not a democracy. Its form of government is more of a plutocracy and an oligarchy. Our system is sometimes referred to as a "representative democracy," which means we elect people to make the big decisions for us. I maintain that so-called "representative democracy" is no democracy at all, that it is, in fact, an oxymoron, for the will of the people is hardly considered, as the voting records and resulting approval ratings of our elected officials bear painful witness to:
"A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that just 11% of Likely U.S. Voters think Congress is doing a good or excellent job. That’s unchanged from February. Fifty-seven percent (57%) say Congress is doing a poor job, down slightly from 60% in February, but generally in line with previous surveys. (http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/congressional_performance)"
So if democracy doesn't happen in the voting booth, what can we do? We can and we must make things uncomfortable for the institutions of oppression. We can and we must continue to orchestrate and/or participate in large-scale acts of Civil Disobedience. We can and we must fight those who would divide us and keep us down. We can and we must win.