05 April 2011

risks to democracy

I voted today. In a sense there is nothing remarkable about that, the first Tuesday in April is when Illinois conducts elections for certain classes of local government, school boards, municipalities and townships. In other senses, it is a big deal.

Living in America where for over two hundred years, elections have been peaceful and more importantly the resulting transfers of power have occurred peacefully; it is possible to forget how rare this is. Only a few countries, England, Iceland, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada come to mind; can claim that long a period of successful democracy.

I am becoming a rare thing, someone who remembers the destruction of wars that have been fought to keep the right to peacefully vote and transfer government authority for us. I was born shortly after WWII. I had classmates who were fatherless because of the destruction of the last days of that war, scoutmasters and teachers who were injured in it. My children do not have those memories nor the memories of how devastating the revelations of the Shoah and fear of Marxism impacted the culture.

America, England, Australia, New Zealand and Canada survived all of that. America developed but survived the excesses of McCarthyism as well. One wonders if any of us can survive indifference?

We can vote, we can decide. We know that we have a major problem with indifference. Consider that 21% of Californians did not vote in the "prop 8" referendum and less than half of the eligibles are expected here in Illinois today.

There are new arising risks to democracy.

Mr. Jefferson famously observed that if he had to choose between government without the press or press without government, he would choose to have the free press. Ben Franklin noted that a minimum requirement for democratic success is literate voters. Soviet Russia considered photocopiers security assets. China and Saudi Arabia limit and control access to the internet.

Democracy requires freedom of communication and literacy. Ideas must be published and read. In years past, I have read local press reports and editorial endorsements before the election. Illinois law protects my right to take an endorsement page from a newspaper into the voting space and read it while voting. The problem is no one is publishing! I cannot read the local papers if they are not printed.

The internet is killing newspapers. Survivors are making it by being electronic. The problem being that the economy of scale for electronic publications is national or global. I cannot meet and interview every candidate. Even if I want to, they are not interested in giving me that much time. So who is going to listen and question and endorse? Without that service performed by newspapers, how do we evaluate the candidates? I do not know and that troubles my voting experience today.

We need to develop a locally focused, financially viable electronic press.


1 comment:

Christal said...

I agree with you and Ben Frankling on this post!

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