Are Americans Giving Up (on) their democracy?
By Valerie A. Ibarra
In the last half of the 19th Century, voter turnout in Presidential elections ranged from 69.9-81.8%. The highest year of the 20th Century was its first year, 1900, which saw 72%, but thereafter ranged from 49.2-65.4%. In the 21st Century, that percentage has ranged from 50.3-57.1%. Though a number of factors can affect voter turnout - war, conviction or imprisonment, and other forms disenfranchisement - we must look at what we have and ask ourselves: Are Americans giving up (on) democracy?
When Bernie Sanders calls for a political revolution, he’s asking for people to get involved in their communities, states and nation at large. He’s asking for people to exercise their rights to free speech, to peaceful assembly, and to vote. With a growing 21st Century population and a seemingly low interest in participating in general elections for the highest office in the land, maybe it’s not really a revolutionary idea to actually use the tools – the rights – we have. After all, isn’t democracy the “freedom” that all this fighting has supposedly been for?
Many people casually or indignantly say that voting doesn’t matter because it doesn’t have any effect, or that the whole system is rigged. Yet it is troubling to look at this voter turnout trend and not try to imagine what a larger number of representative voices could look like… and how the establishment might take the population more seriously when taking corporate contributions so handily and making policy accordingly.
Take a look at what happened during Democracy Spring in April 2016. People marched from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. for a week of protests and peaceful sit-ins outside the Capitol. Their message to Congress was, “The American people will no longer accept the status quo of big money corruption and voter suppression.” Fourteen-hundred non-violent protesters were arrested outside the Capitol (check out Lady Liberty in handcuffs!), but it also prompted nearly 100 representatives to call for hearings on voting rights & campaign reform legislation.
Elected representatives inside may be seeing the wolves at the gate, even if the mainstream media largely ignores them. Yet protesters are not savage beasts, but concerned human beings whose livelihoods are affected by the decisions made at a national level; whether it’s subsidizing the Wall Street banks and their insurers (and rewarding them with tax loopholes) instead of bailing out homeowners, or pouring $1.5 trillion dollars into building the F35 fighter jet (which hasn’t proved itself to be anything but a persistent lemon) instead of investing in education, infrastructure, clean energy and the jobs thereby afforded.
If it’s not feasible or desirable to take a week off to cross the country for sit-ins at the Capitol, or for marches during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25-28, don’t feel left out of the process. You can be like the over 1.5 million newly registered voters in California, and vote.
Californians 18 and over can register to vote online:
To vote in the CA Presidential Primary on June 7th - register by May 23rd.
To vote in the General Election on November 8th - register by October 24th.
NOTE: This is an introductory op-ed that I plan to expand upon, and I've rushed to get it out by May 23rd. Any suggestions as to where I should submit it, please leave a message below or on my Facebook page > Women's Magazine with Global Val
Valerie A. Ibarra holds a BA in Political Science & International Relations from the University of California Santa Barbara, and is currently: a Radio Host/Producer for KPFA 94.1FM and MutinyRadio.fm, and an English teacher & administrator at an international language school in San Francisco.