There is much talk about apathy during this election and there has been in many before. The suggestion is that people are negating their responsibility and forfeiting their democratic right.
There is perhaps another reality. There is the belief that has been perpetrated that democracy is about a vote. That is far from the truth. Many countries, some even the worse dictatorships, allow people to vote; albeit as directed.
It has been my belief that democracy is much more than a vote. It is about engagement, participation and shared responsibility. It is more importantly, about mutual trust between those governed and those who govern.
My experience over the years and my work in many countries suggest that people are most apathetic when they are not engaged, when they feel not listened to and when they can’t participate meaningfully.
They become resigned when they realize that their opinions and views have little value.
They are disempowered when they realize that all the power lies somewhere else, controlled by the will of a few.
This, historically, is the way people have been controlled. This is not unique to government and has little to do with governance. It is evident in most religious orders and organizations. It is pervasive in commerce. It is this way with those who wish to control and manipulate systems in order to overwhelm and overpower the masses.
That is why the concept of democracy, especially that which is defined as government by and for the people, holds so much promise and hope for so many. It is why this concept is so dynamic. But, it is also the reason that it is so fragile and requires cultivation and nurturing by the many.
The promise and hope of democratic governance now appears relegated to those oppressed. Democratic systems elsewhere are under duress: captured by ideologues and those who would control.
People appear willing to forfeit real democracy and its promise, for the security of control. This kind of security provides comfort for those who are beneficiaries, but it is usually short lived.
“Better security than hope” was the mantra of the current president of Ukraine, far from a democrat. It was also that of Hilary Clinton in her campaign against Obama (whether he survives the power brokers to enliven real hope again in America is still in question). It is also the basis of the ideology of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement.
It is much evident, though unspoken, in the current conservative campaign in the Canadian election. But, Canada appears much further along the road of democratic decline and centralized control is much more rooted than in many other countries.
This is evident by the lack of real engagement. It is apparent when people are vetted at public political rallies, then expelled by the RCMP, with hardly an eyebrow raised. It is obvious by the lack of real dialogue and discussion, with tightly scripted and controlled messages for those running.
Even an attempt to provide voting booths at universities and colleges for their convenience was scuttled.
A recent report compiled by Samara Canada from interviews with former MPs voiced their concerns about our fractured system. The former MPs compared elected members to “potted plants and “trained seals”. Decisions are made for them and they must comply.
This whole approach to governance has little semblance to democratic process. It is dangerous at best and at worst will lead to democratic destruction.
What is considered apathy is, perhaps, more contempt. People recognize that the current system has been manipulated so badly that there is little possibility for change by voting.
What is required, as in other countries, is a movement for change. This won’t happen while the majority is still comfortable. It will neither come through the false promises of politicians, nor the security of someone else’s control.
But, it eventually will happen, when the young and the marginalized (and they are growing) realize that their only hope for a better future is through their own engagement and participation in their country’s governance.
Minor, even major, tinkering to our current system will not be enough. But, as articulated in my article “A Societal Imperative”, a shift is required from “representative democracy, which has been captured by the few, into participatory democracy where everyone has the opportunity to influence and contribute to the betterment of the societies in which they live!”
Written by Bill Pardy
April 24th, 2011