How to own your government

How to own your government

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power." "
Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a message to Congress in 1938

The American people own and operate the United States government. That's the underlying truth of our democracy, even when the reality is something quite different. Just about everyone agrees that the current state of our government is ugly and dysfunctional, while everyone blames someone else for the mess.
But it's all our fault – yours, mine, and the folks next door, too. We let special interest groups pay lobbyists to bribe entertain members of Congress with lavish gifts, and we allow politicians to accept bribes contributions almost without limit. Those elected representatives of the people then vote on behalf of those special interests, and we re-elect those same folks the next chance we get.
Whose fault is that?
It doesn't need to be that way, because it hasn't always been that way. There have been moments in history where a Nation or a People reasserted common ownership of government, changed the course of history and made life a little better for just about everybody. We can create one of those eras any time we choose, and 2015 is looking like a very good year to start.
Over the next few weeks, this column will try to describe a path that could help us reclaim ownership of government and control how it functions. A certain kind of map exists for us to follow, even though it's a rather rough map and a bit thin on details. Drawn over centuries of time, it can be seen in the historical record as well as the modern world, with guideposts marked by some of the finest thinkers on the planet.
We don't need to overthrow our government or invent a new one, we just need to liberate the process of self-governance from the people holding the keys. That won't be as difficult as it seems – after all, we gave them those keys, and we can take them back whenever we're ready.
The most important key, however, is one that we've held on to all along but don't use enough and seldom use well. We need to vote in greater numbers, and we need to vote smarter. Neither of those things are as hard to do as they sound.
A full one-third of all eligible voters stay out of every national election. In the 1960 presidential election, only 63 percent of the eligible voters in America actually did. When it comes to exercising our civic duty, that sorry number is also the best we’ve done over the past fifty years.
Our typical national voting rate is between 50-55 percent, which is no way to maintain a democracy. It’s also the primary reason government doesn't respond to the will of the People – because it doesn't have to.
Voting smart is also easier than you might think. We need elected officials who are committed to representing all of the people while, at the same time, acting in accordance with the wishes of the majority. Politicians who promote one specific philosophy are seldom able to forge agreements with people who think differently. That's been the downfall of our current system; political parties have become fortresses full of politician/warriors who defend their beliefs instead of seeking sensible solutions.
The actual process of voting needs a lot of repairs, too, but it all can be done with tools that already exist. Two things need immediate attention: the process of drawing district boundaries according to political demographics instead of population and geography needs to stop right away, and we need to get rid of electronic or digital voting machines that can be hacked. Paper ballots offer better vote security, while mail-in ballots offer voters a better opportunity to vote smart.
A full rehabilitation of the American electoral system probably equivalent to a 12-step process, with every citizen making a full committment to vote as the first step. The next few steps involve making better decisions about who we elect, how we elect them and what we expect from the politicians we choose.
We need to start talking about those aspects of our system and devising the necessary repairs instead of accepting a choice between candidates who are supported by – and beholden to – Democrat or Republican party power brokers. In 21st Century America, that's usually a vote to maintain the status quo. In a society where democracy is dying from neglect, that kind of partisan approach towards government no longer works.

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