21 December 2011

Whither democracy now?

[The 7th of a series of articles on the US Presidential Election 2004, titled 'Love Notes to Democracy', written while in that country as a member of an international team of election monitors]


Sometime during the early afternoon of November 2, while moving from precinct to precinct in Southern Florida with a team of international election observers, I mulled over the following question: “After the election, what next for ‘democracy’ in the USA?” 

I did not have any illusions about “American democracy” when I came to the USA, all the way from Sri Lanka.  I did not have illusions about being able to witness malpractice for fairly obvious reasons: I knew that the electoral process did not begin at 7.00 am and end twelve hours later; I did not have any access to the “before” nor the “after”, which are as critical as the in-between in the matter of obtaining the much-celebrated “free-and-fair”; and even in the “in-between”, we were accorded, in South Florida, very limited (and grudging) access.

More importantly, there were systemic flaws that had not changed despite the fiasco that was Florida in 2000, flaws that were neither limited to Florida nor that particular election: that the election was not being conducted by an independent authority, that there was an appalling absence of uniformity across and even within states; and that there were too many ill-trained polls workers who were, sadly, supervised by partisan election officials.  Add to this the introduction of “computer voting” and collation amenable more to human interference than to human error, especially given the surprising reluctance to complement the process with a paper trail that could act as back up in case of dispute, and we get an election that was structurally too problematic for anyone to write a fairytale report about. 

So no, I did not have any illusions about the process.  This does not mean I did not have hope.  Indeed, I asked myself the above question because I had seen, albeit in a limited way, an incredible outpouring of democratic intent among the people of this country.  In Southern Florida, for example, I saw the energy, hope and resolve that community organizations brought to educate voters and to ensure that no one interferes with their right to vote.  It was encouraging to see that people had understood that the present and future of democracy lay in their hands and not in those of presidential candidates. 

To my mind, John Kerry and the Democratic Party conceded not just the election the very objective of making-every-vote-count which was the rallying cry of hope in this country, the “world’s oldest democracy”.  The “before” and “after” issues alluded to above seemed to have gone underground and the media by and large seems to have glossed over the persisting questions pertaining to democratic process.  Predictably, everything was brushed aside by one word, one name, one horrendous exercise: “Fallujah!” 

I talked to people from Miami Dade, Florida to Waterville, Maine, and from Manhattan to San Francisco, not forgetting the so-called “Red States” or “Jesus Land” as some have dubbed this region.  Many seemed to have taken up permanent residence in that strange and sterile land called Comfortably Numb.  Yes, I was disappointed.  

“Whither democracy in the USA?” is the question I wanted answered.  I did not expect an answer, however, when my sister, a citizen of this country, took me to a meeting of the Waterville Area Bridges for Peace and Justice a couple of nights ago.  Listening to people articulate their concerns, their fears, and their outrage, renewed my faith in the democratic spirit of this country. 

Encouragingly, they were less upset not by the possibility that Kerry had been robbed but by their democratic voice having been mugged in the process.  The question was not one of whether a computer “glitch” not having an impact on the outcome, but that such errors need to be addressed and corrected if the franchise of every single voter is to be protected.  “Conceding” without resolving these questions, translates into the following: “we really do not care about democracy, we only wanted the White House and the people in the streets were but a means to that end”. 

“Waterville Bridges” is a small group, but they seem to have realized that the democratic process is not something limited to a day in early November in years divisible by four.  If John Kerry or the Democratic Part is not interested, “fine”, they seem to be saying.  “We are interested and we will be heard,” is what I heard them say in various ways.  They seem to be done with the mandatory period of mourning and happily, are not focusing on 2008 and the next Democratic Hopeful, but on today, the American Voter and the future of their children and communities.  They want full investigations into all allegations of malpractice in every precinct.  They are “local” enough to want that, responsible enough to be appalled by the subversion of the democracy question by “Fallujah” and international enough to see the connections.  Simply, they felt that the right to wage war is also predicated on earning the right of representation. 

Waterville Bridges is admittedly a small group, but then again so were the Founding Fathers.  Waterville Bridges is a small group, but they comprise an “America” that holds hope for this country and the world, and they are but a Maine articulation of a phenomenon that is fast becoming the “mainstream political” of this country, and a political that no one aspiring to political office can afford to ignore and probably too numerous to be crushed using brute force.  As a citizen of the Global South, I am thankful that this “America” is so resilient despite the many reversals it has had to suffer.  I leave this country in a couple of weeks, and when I go home I will tell my friends back home, “we have friends, even in the USA”.      

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was listening to your comments at the Asia Society, Sri Lanka's Civil War and append my comments:

- No truth in you statements
- Trying to cover up war crimes and human rights abuses
- No truth in the International Community and organizations, means there is no need of UN, ICC, etc

- over 60 years Sinhala leaders have failed to resolve the Tamil issue and now there is no chance it will be solved
- Like IPKF , a UN Force or foreign force must be on the groud to ensure safety of tamils
- You say people are safe now, but since the end of the war several Tamils are abducted, raped and murdered including Tamil Meadia staff.

- You say that Sri Lankans want to handle the issue the they want but failed for the last 60 years. Tamils have no confidence in the Sinhala and their leadership. Transnational Govet of Tamils will fight for independence from overseas until Tamils achieve it.

Tamils are claiming their homelands and not any land from Sri Lanka or Sinhala Lands.

Finally you do not seem to be independent but another Sinhala nationalist or supporter or an agent of the Rajapakase regime.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

You are making claims here but without any substantiation. and it is telling that you say nothing of the LTTE.

there was no 'tamil issue'. there WAS an issue and it is resolved. there was also a 'tamil MYTH' issue and that won't be resolved ever because lies are not resolved. time you woke up.


thanks for visiting the blog. please keep visiting and tell your pals about it, ok?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Malinda.

I do not know what to say when you say that there are no problems for the Tamils although there is no Rule of Law, R2P, Human Rights, White Van abductions, Grease devil, no independent judiciary, and no equality.

Tamils are living peacefully in many nations including in the Western countries, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia and in India successive Sinhala Apartheid chauvinistic regimes have been discreminating the minorities. It was the mistake of the Tamil leaders who participated in the independence talks, failing to demand for separate Eelam for the Tamils like Mohd Jinna demanded for a separate Pakistan for the muslims. Colonialism has created so much pain and horror for several communities and the British and other powerful nations are aware of it now. Tamils had their Kingdom in Eelam and also in South India. Even the last Kandyan king was a Tamil.

Without independent international investigation, accountability and justice, there is no chance for reconciliation. We hear that india is patiently watching events of the Rajapakse regime and only time will tell what they will do. The corrupt Congress regime is kicked out Tamil Nadu and also will be out of other states in the next election. Mrs. Indra Gandhi and MGR wholeheartedly supported the Tamils rights and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has demanded the Central regime to declare Rajapakse as a war criminal. Eelam Tamil struggle has moved to Tamil Nadu and overseas and gaining strength.

Tamils are busy in communication and writing to the International Community, Media, community leaders and online media including blogs and thus they may not write to your blog. For example, Srinivasan Ramani in New Delhi, Ramesh, a Malayalee in Boston, US and several others are having blogs and post news on Eelam Tamils.

Lastly please read the book - "Hard truths" written by First PM of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew and he blasted the Rajapakse regime on it. Singapore is a success story for the eelam Tamils where several senior ministers are Tamils origin.Now Tamils involved in politics and several Tamil politicians are already in Europe and Canada; this will increase in the next coming elections;

Be independent, demand for Rule of Law, Justice, Transparency, R2P, independent Journalism and media, Equality and respect for humanity!!

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Yes, they are all living peacefully in these countries (except when Eelam Tamils rob, engage in human and drug trafficking, arms smuggling, credit card fraud, extortion etc)...and perhaps that's because they are not tossing grenades and taking hostages. :)

there's no history here that warrants a separate anything except a separate loony bin. get real.