Writing

Democracy Isn't Just Elections

Originally published in The Overcast before the NDP squandered their lead and the Liberals crushed them and the Conservatives.

“If you don’t vote you don’t get to complain.” You’ve definitely seen someone post this on Facebook between cat videos and Minion memes as election season approaches.

Voting is our voice in a democracy. If you didn’t take the opportunity to officially put your voice out there, where the hell do you get off having anything to say any other time? They mean well of course, and getting Stephen Harper out of office is pretty goddamn urgent. But when people don’t vote it’s because their voice isn’t part of the conversation to begin with.

A recent Ipsos poll showed that 40% of voters didn’t see much difference between the federal party leaders. Who cares if Harper is a crook if every other politician is a crook too? What if the whole system is crooked?

In the past few years progressive candidates have been capturing the attention of voters and then letting them down as soon as they’re in power. Barack Obama’s election in 2008 had even some of the most jaded progressives crying tears of joy.

Seven years later the US is bombing the Middle East and Africa more than ever (drone strikes went from 50 under George W. Bush to roughly 500 under Obama–don’t forget he’s a Nobel Peace Prize winner), Guantanamo Bay is still open, and government surveillance keeps growing.

Earlier this year the electoral success of Syriza’s anti-austerity politics in Greece became the disappointment of major austerity concessions to the European Union. This comes after a national vote to reject the EU’s austerity measures, leading Prime Minister Alex Tsipras to resign and call for a snap election. His approval rating went from 61% to 29%.

Right now Canada is in a similar place as the US was in 2008. We’re almost a decade into an untrustworthy right wing government and the spectre of a progressive government is haunting the country.

But so far during this campaign Tom Mulcair has backed out of the women’s issues debate, to much criticism; he defended his earlier praise of two of Harper’s biggest inspirations: Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan; and the party kicked out a Nova Scotia candidate for speaking out against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

If it seems unfair that I’m targeting Mulcair’s NDP when the Harper Conservatives are doing their damnedest to undermine everything we hold dear about the Canadian myth, that’s the point. Any positive changes that will come from getting rid of Harper will never be more than a mere starting point when even the progressive voice in our electoral system is pulling to the right.

Electoral politics are limited by the social and economic structures that pervade every aspect of our lives. So what is to be done? Voting isn’t the only form of democracy.

We have to engage with social movements that challenge those social and economic structures. Movements that are working class, feminist, queer, indigenous and anti-racist. No matter who forms government we need to organize within and between these movements.

Voting should come with the understanding of its limits. Behind every progressive government policy throughout history you’ll find a social movement that forced their hand. So by all means vote, but much more importantly, organize.