My Very Brief Argument in Favor of Direct Democracy
Why can’t we vote with our cell phones? Why can’t we vote online? The security for cell phones is actually quite strong. The phone company knows who owns the phone, they have your bank account information. Your identity can easily be verified. Indeed, cell phone voting is already used to determine one important election: the winner of American Idol.
Security on the Internet is strong enough that billions of dollars of financial transactions happen there daily. If we can securely log in to our bank online, why not create a system where we can log in and vote often on local, state, and national legislation?
Both of these methods would be at least as secure as voting with, say, a Diebold machine with black-box computer code that could very easily be (and perhaps already has been) manipulated to create a different outcome than the one the citizens actually voted for.
The real reason, of course, is because the people who Chomsky calls the “owners of our society”, i.e. the business and corporate interests, don’t actually want the “ignorant herd” to have a say in politics. Properly brainwashed into thinking that a real choice is being every four years, fine. But decision-making on a day to day basis? No, impossible! Are you crazy? Imagine what might happen! All of those things that poll after poll show a majority of Americans are in favor of might actually be enacted into law! Real universal health care, not some watered-down version that was rubber stamped by the insurance companies and healthcare industry. An increase in spending for social programs like education. A decrease in military spending. A more equitable tax system. Legalization of marijuana and the massive decrease in the jail and prison population that would follow. Imagine!
The stakes are high for everyone. The ruling elite must keep real political power out of the hands of the people at all costs. For the last several decades, they have succeeded quite well, primarily by destroying the unions and nipping in the bud any other nascent movement that is actually attempting to organize the electorate. Think of this context as you listen to what the leaders of both political parties are saying about the current Occupy Wall Street protests. Deep down, they are terrified of the people having real political power, because they know their hold on power would end if real change were to come about.
Even most educated people today have so fully bought the propaganda manufactured by the elite that they don’t trust the “masses” (which is to say, themselves), preferring instead to be ruled by the corporate interests who hold the puppet strings of both political parties. This is the question that I put to people these days when arguing in favor of direct democracy: would you rather have important political decisions made by one of these so-called ignorant citizens with a high school education, or by a politician who is bought and paid for by the business elite? For my part, I would trust my seven-year-old more with these decisions than I trusted the people who were holding George W. Bush’s puppet strings. The real important questions are not very difficult to figure out. Anyone with a moral sense can make the right call, whether they’ve got an 8th-grade education or a doctorate.
Critics of direct democracy often point to California’s referendum process as evidence that DD doesn’t work. This is not what we have in mind when we advocate for direct democracy. As former Senator Mike Gravel, a longtime direct democracy supporter says: “Legislating by referendum is not direct democracy, but rather a device used by a representative government to submit a measure to the electorate for an up-or-down vote. As a result, politicians control the process, which they continually limit or corrupt.” 1 The idea is to take politicians out of the process as much as possible, to limit corruption and strengthen democracy. California’s system is just the sterile offspring of direct democracy and corrupt politics, and thus shouldn’t be held up as a pure example of either.
Of course these are not new questions. The elite vs. masses argument was taken up by the writers of our Constitution, for one. Imagine if our democracy had been inclusive and direct from the beginning, with African-Americans and women having the vote from the beginning, and some sort of direct democracy instituted? Can we doubt that the world we live in today would be more equitable? One need only look at the only real-world example of a nation that has functioning direct democracy from the local to the national level to get an idea of what kind of world we might be living in: Switzerland, with one of the best standards of living in the world and which hasn’t been involved in a war for hundreds of years. Imagine.
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