Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We're Off to Calgary!

Daphne and I will be away for the next four days. We'll be away from our computers, away from Twitter, away from our blogs. Eeek! Don't know how I, for one, will be able to cope.

Anyway, we have been provided a full bursary to attend the Canada Social Forum in Calgary, hosted by the Canadian Council on Social Development. The focus of the forum this year is poverty.

For Daphne and I, it will not only be an event with lots of opportunities for networking and inserting our persnickety views, it will also be four days and three nights of getting spoiled!

We get to fly on an airplane! We're staying at the Hyatt Regency!

There'll be nutritious and bountiful food. Television and radio. Our beds will be made for us. We'll have nice smelly stuff for our baths and showers. Soft lotions for our skin. Gentle shampoos and conditioners for our hair.

We return to our homes late Friday and will likely be back online Saturday.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Unrepresentative Party System Also Blameworthy

It is not just the electoral process but the state of our party system which is causing our democracy to go off the rails.

Representative democracy doesn't appear to work as well in countries as geographically diverse as ours. Along with geography can come cultural differences; place does matter and can have a profound influence on people's values. Add in global travel and the mass movement of people and cultures and the Canada we see today has gone far beyond its WASP roots (for which I, for one, am grateful).

With such diversity, an electoral system which doesn't - and a small elite class which won't - accommodate diverse perspectives will ultimately fail, as we are seeing ours do.

And it's not just members of that elite class who would shut out perspectives other than their own and thus prefer a less than fair system. I was struck by comments from both the host and listeners on a radio program which aired the day before the BC election. There was a lot of talk of "I don't want the Greens in" and fear of "fringe parties" or "wingnuts."

A guest on the program, Shoni Field, pointed out that the Greens were supported by about ten percent of the population. That didn't matter to these listeners or to the host. She also pointed out that with STV, parties unable to garner a decent number of votes wouldn't be able to win seats. That wasn't good enough for these folks either and I was frankly shocked. No matter how much anyone may dislike a party, how can anyone who believes in democracy support a party's exclusion IF it has support of more than five percent of the population?

It's not even about getting candidates of the existing major parties elected either. Many bloggers I've read have done the Political Compass test and been stunned to learn how far the existing parties are from their own values.

Not only is our electoral system failing us, it appears that our party system is too.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace.]

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Want to Lower Ranks of Non-voters? Then Start Listening

Listening requires that voters stop bashing non-voters, belittling us and blaming us for the failure of the system. It requires that they stop prattling on with the same old tired arguments which have done nothing to curb our swelling numbers.

That program hasn't been working, has it?

Some people are beginning to get it, some people have come to the realization that there's something seriously wrong. Some people are coming to understand that accusations of apathy, or laziness, or a failure of moral character, or a disengagement from community and politics more generally, simply don't add up. Such evaluations cannot account for the sheer number of eligible voters who are deciding not to vote.

These accusations are largely WRONG and miss the mark.

An editorial in a local paper is a case in point. It's one of similar editorials written in this paper over the years.
We have a democratic right to be apathetic about, or uninvolved in the process of government. We have a democratic right to speak volumes with our silence and leave what we are really thinking open to interpretation. We exercised those rights fully on Tuesday.

And it’s left to this space to interpret our silence as best as we can.

The editor might start by jettisoning the assumptions contained in his preamble, such as non-voters being "apathetic," "uninvolved in the process of government" or, my favourite, the assumption that people who don't vote haven't voiced their concerns including in letters to his paper. I would write a letter to the paper now but I've seen what is done to them.*

That this editor blocks out what doesn't mesh with his point of view is evidenced in his summary:
We can only draw two conclusions: the typical Cowichan citizen is either okay with the status quo, or does not believe getting involved is an effective way of making a difference.

How simple! Some of us are happy with the way things are. The rest of us are uninvolved.

Well, the editorial missed a few. Among non-voters are those who:
  • care passionately about their communities and a number of issues which affect those communities at all levels of government.
  • get involved in political parties, political campaigns, run for office locally, volunteer on local committees, participate in town halls and government-sponsored forums.
  • advocate through a number of means for a number of causes.
  • volunteer to help the infirm, the despairing, the overburdened, the violated, the frail elderly and others living in conditions which could be improved if only there was the political will.
  • are principled, would never pledge their word without conviction.
  • consider casting a vote tantamount to signing an endorsement in favour of a candidate, and the leader and platform of that candidate's party; for such people, "strategic voting" is anathema to the principles by which they lead the rest of their lives.

When the options offered do not represent your values and you hold voting to be an act as important as putting signature to paper, then you face a hard choice. Either you defy your own principles or you divorce yourself from the process.

* Such letters either never get printed or up to 70 percent of their contents are removed and the hacked up carcass is used to further the editor's (or publisher's) own agenda. An added bonus is that the remains make the letter writer appear unintelligent, whiny, a drain on society and thus unworthy of anyone's attention.

ETA: This is a more balanced article in the same paper. (Krista Seifken has been a great new addition.) However, 'apathy' is again used, this time inappropriately. Has me wondering how many people misunderstand the word's meaning.

Friday, May 15, 2009

P2: Non-voters' Alliance for Democratic & Electoral Reform

The following was originally posted to Challenging the Commonplace....

Well, a couple of hours ago, the Non-voters' Alliance for Democratic and Electoral Reform (NADER) had one member. Now it has four five. Anyone else interested in joining this Alliance should email me with your full name and contact info, including snail mail address.

NADER also has a Facebook group to which members of the Alliance are welcome to join.

To my earlier post, someone couldn't resist dropping off a comment which included the usual arguments. While it was politely worded and I appreciate that, I'd warned that such comments wouldn't be welcome and would be deleted.

Anyone notice the utter failure of those arguments to turn non-voters around or to prevent more people from joining them?

Most non-voters, certainly myself,* have heard all the arguments before. In fact, I used them. The arguments don't work. If anything, they antagonize people further.

Worse is the tendency of voters simply to shut their ears. They do not do what I finally did: stopped yakking and started listening to what non-voters were saying.

Part 1

* I haven't actually not voted yet. My decision not to vote federally anymore was made immediately after the October 14th election. At that time, I also decided I would not vote in BC anymore should the referendum on STV fail.

Non-voters' Alliance for Democratic & Electoral Reform

The following was originally posted, today, to Challenging the Commonplace.

Yep, you read that right. There's a new organization in Canada, just formed, with a current membership of one. The President of this new organization - me - predicts that by day's end, the membership of the Non-voters' Alliance for Democratic and Electoral Reform (NADER) will have ballooned by at least 100 percent....

And I'd no sooner finished typing that when my Gmail notifier dinged. Friend Daphne has just signed up.

Certainly, by the number of tweets, Facebook comments and blog and forum posts I've read, it's reasonable to surmise that the informal membership of the non-voting public has grown substantially since, well, Wednesday. And it's not just in BC that this phenomenon is manifesting itself; there's a quiet uprising of voter resistance from all across this country.

Now if anyone feels compelled to stop by and harangue non-voters for being "apathetic" or "lazy" or "failing to honour those who fought and died for our right to vote" (they fought for freedom, not for voting) or otherwise berate us for not partaking in the farce of Canadian elections, don't bother. Your comments will be deleted.

Shall write more on this topic in the coming days, weeks, months and years; in other words, for as long as it takes. For now, just wanted to get the news out.

More to come!