Guest Post by: Haley Teresa Carter, Budding PR Professional
Democracy. This word has driven numerous human rights movements, from the vote for women, civil rights for African Americans, to marriage equality for same sex couples. Now we must use this word to solve another American crisis, the perversion of democracy itself.
Our founding fathers envisioned a country where each citizen had one vote. Of course, this vision excluded women, African Americans and men who didn’t own property, but it was a promising start to a nation based on equal power among individuals. Countless humanitarian activists reformed our nation so people once excluded from the political process are now included. Yet, I know many young people who didn’t vote in the 2012 election. People worked tirelessly for our votes. Many of us don’t use them. What happened?
My generation feels politically powerless. We know that a political process based on the rule of the people is no longer in our hands. The majority of Americans have no impact on decisions made in Congress. We the people don’t run our government. Those at the top run our government. By the top, for the top.
John Nichols, a pioneer in political reform, and Robert McChesney, a leader in media reform, term this exploitation of power Dollarocracy, and they wrote a book with this title. Dollarocracy means rule of the dollar with one vote per dollar instead of one vote per person. The corporate and business communities spend limitless money electing our politicians. At the 2013 Lucius W. Nieman Lecture, Nichols said, “Money is definition, not ideas, values, political candidates or votes.” This definition has led to political corruption and economic stagnation.
Reading Dollarocracy and listening to its incredibly knowledgeable authors at the lecture was a bit intimidating. Like most young people, I feel cynical about the electoral process. I work as an election inspector for the Village of Fox Point (a Milwaukee suburb) and have witnessed firsthand the mockery of our elections. At the 2012 election, the write-in ballots for the positions of president, vice president, state senator of district 8, district attorney and county clerk included:
- None of the above
- Anyone else
- No one
- No vote
- Aaron Rodgers
- Michael Jordon
- Jack Bauer
- Joe the Plumber
- Ben Franklin
- Zombie George Washington
- And of course, Mickey Mouse
I sought this job out of civic duty. I wanted to take an active role in the political process. It troubled me to see voters turning the presidential election into a joke.
This book and lecture changed my perspective. These voters weren’t creating the joke. They were responding to it. The corporate and business communities had already turned our political process into a joke, spending billions of dollars on toxic TV ads instead of engaging votes in real discussion.
There is hope. The reality of our electoral process is frightening, but its future is not determined. We determine it. Yes, we the people, not we the top. During the lecture, McChesney said, “Our book has some depressing talk, but our history is not one of defeat.” We can win this political war. We can restore democracy.
But how? The solution is multi-faceted and requires the passion and participation of young people. We can’t sit idle while Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola elect our politicians. Young people must lobby for limits on campaign donations and spending. The Constitution has been amended 27 times. We can do it again. Nicholas urges us to take a stand. “We don’t just live in a time of crisis, we live in a time of solutions.” Let’s be the solution.