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.