by Greta Browne and Guy Gray
Is your participation in the electoral process limited to voting on election day? Maybe in the primaries too? On the other hand, do you remember a time when you felt hopeful, fascinated, enthusiastic, inspired by a political campaign or a national movement? Or perhaps you remember feelings of outrage that shook you to the core?
To quote from a reader’s letter in The New Yorker magazine, March 1, 2010:
For decades we have been content to look after our own interests, avoiding serious discussion and politically hard decisions. We have used our government services and have looked forward to our government entitlements. We have entertained reform but have let it end at talk. Because of this, we have now driven this country into an economic, political, and social ditch. (Bradley Kennedy, Middleton, Wisc.)
Most of us who are a part of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities have an understanding of our personal responsibility to play a role in the health of our communities. One of the principal ways to do this is to become involved in the political process: electoral work, voting issues, lobbying, holding our representatives (elected officials) accountable. We need to help develop ideas and policies and support candidates that promote sustainability, environmental sanity, and social justice.
It’s not always easy for Alliance members to work together this way. We belong to a variety of parties or no party. Some of us are cynical and angry, or discouraged and hopeless. We rant and rave, or we withdraw into our private caves.
What would inspire us in the Lehigh Valley to become more engaged in politics? We would want politics to be more fun, more respectful of everyone, less acrimonious and ruthless. We would like to see money play less of a role in elections. In a culture that tends to make everything into a commodity, political office is just as affected—and infected—as other parts of the public sphere. We need to see political involvement through a more idealistic perspective.
We need to believe in the common good, the common wealth, the common space—and we need to create it if we don’t find it. We look around and see indifference, corruption, lack of common sense, greed, conflicted values, and ignorance. How do we rise above all this? How do we act as citizens who have inherited the vision and values of great statesmen and women, and the most effective and the most outrageous activists? How do we reclaim our democracy?
Steven Hill, in his book 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy, argues that our systems of elections and governance stifle change and make us lose hope in our government. Much of the world has rejected our winner-take-all system in favor of proportional representation, which ensures that one party can’t dominate a district to the extent that other parties and independents just give up trying to be represented. Ranked systems such as Instant Runoff Voting would remove the “spoiler” effect and encourage supporters to vote for, say, a Green candidate who has campaigned for a paving moratorium while still being able to rank and help elect a more likely winner. The votes for the more progressive candidate show how popular stopping new highways really is, perhaps ten percent, and keep that idea from dying altogether. (For more info see fairvote.org.)
Together in the Lehigh Valley we can promote increased awareness and vigorous dialogue through letters and articles, films, forums, and world cafés. We can identify issues and actions that deserve our attention and participation. We can encourage greater attention to campaigns and elections and to the pursuit of alternatives to the current system.
With this kind of collective interest, we might inspire more people within our ranks to run for political office so that our ideas can be discussed openly during campaigns, and even taken by victorious candidates into the councils and chambers where the decisions and laws that govern our communities are made. We can combat the dominance of corporations and help renew a failing political society. Our future depends on it.
Greta Browne and Guy Gray have both run as Green Party candidates for office at the local, state and federal levels.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)
(Published in the 2010 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)