US Elections: Demanding Participation

The Dow may be back up, but the economic crisis isn’t going anywhere fast. According to a recent poll, American citizens are now more pessimistic about the US economy than they have been in more than four decades, and no true structural solutions are being offered. Not only were the culprits of our failing economy let off the hook, but they were actually rewarded for their selfishness and bailed out- with the American people left to front the bill.

But it is not only the financial system that is failing. Across the US, the American people are saying the same thing, “They don’t represent me!” Everyone – from housewives to truck drivers, inner city resident to small farmers are all mad as hell.

Our system is failing. Homeowners and renters are both out on the streets. Unemployment is rising, so is the gap between the rich and the poor. The elderly are losing their pensions. Millions can’t afford health insurance. Presidential approval is at an all-time low. We’re stuck in an unwanted war halfway across the world, but there is little that most Americans feel they can do about it.

And so tomorrow at the polls US citizens face one of the most decisive moments in US history. We will go cast our ballots, and hopefully we will usher in a new clean slate. But then what? Our political system has degenerated in to a political football game. Polls are churned out showing that one candidate or the other has gained points on the other. We use boxing terminology to describe the debates (“he got a few punches in”) and policy is decided by your ability to persuade US citizens, not to listen to them.

Which is exactly what we must demand. “That government of the people, by the people, for the people,” as President Abraham Lincoln said more than a century ago.

Democracy is not something that happens once every four years when you go vote for President, Senator, governor or congressman. It should be an every day act. It can be participatory, and we can no longer leave important local, regional or national decisions in the hands of our elected representatives alone.

They should be held accountable, not to their campaign contributors, but to the citizens who they are supposed to represent. So when we go vote tomorrow, we should not only consider which of the candidates is going to best represent us, but which candidate will be willing to fulfill this commitment and open up the greatest amount of dialogue and communication with the voters. Which candidate will allow him/herself to be held accountable and responsible for their decisions and their campaign promises? Which candidate will pass power to the American people?

Unaccountable politicians and beltway lobbyists got us in to this mess. Only the American people can get us out.

Michael Fox is a Latin America based journalist, reporter and filmmaker. He is Co-director of the recently released documentary, Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas, which has just been on tour around the U.S., and is now available at PM Press.