There’s a lot of cynicism about elections in the world’s democracies, including Australia, which is a wonderful thing for the rulers of entirely undemocratic places like China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. The more we lose faith in our own processes, the more likely we are to become dictatorships, like them.
Under the onslaught of big money and new media, old democracies like the UK and USA have been teetering on the brink recently, and Rupert Murdoch is also continuing to exert a pernicious influence wherever he’s allowed to – not New Zealand!
We’re in a weird moment in history; just as technology has made it possible for knowledge and goods to be freely shared, making borders meaningless, we’ve also somehow become more divided then ever, both between and within countries.
Even in a country like Australia with a functional, independent electoral commission, the corrosive effect of lies and corruption at the highest level is damaging our democracy, which was always pretty fragile anyway.
The response of many people is to walk away from the whole mess in disgust, but I would argue that now is the time to do the complete opposite, and become more engaged.
Get up, stand up
It’s important to remember there are lots of ways to be a political actor apart from going to a voting booth, or standing as a candidate in an election.
We each vote every time we buy something, every time we read or look at something, and every time we share a piece of information.
These apparently small choices add up to economies, and societies, which the political process seeks to manage, but does not ultimately control.
The key thing is to recognise your own power as an individual, and claim it. Each time you buy something or give it your attention, like it or not, that’s a political act.
Where is your super going? What are you investing your time and money in? Is there a farmers’ market you could support instead of a supermarket? Do you need to buy that thing at all? Are you going to give your mind and attention to that media product or this one? Who are you going to tell about what you’ve learned? Where is your energy coming from?
Consume, be silent and die?
The destructive system which we’re living within loves nothing more than apathy. Take your agency back. What’s stopping you?
Remember that elected politicians almost always follow, not lead. It’s up to us to force them to be their best.
Politicians who have no ideas of their own are a two edged sword. If they’re unethical they are vulnerable to highly paid lobbyists, such as those of the fossil fuel interests who surround the current prime minister, but they can also be swayed by mass movements, and will ultimately go wherever the tides of history take them.
While these people are not leaders in any meaningful sense, they will follow if their survival is on the line.
The pivoting of the LNP government on stimulus spending in the face of the pandemic, and now on climate change as they face a Biden White House, shows that like the Berlin Wall in 1990, they are much less solid and monolithic than they appear.
Cathy and Helen show the way
Another exciting democratic development is the from-below campaigns of outsiders like non-politician Cathy McGowan and her successor Helen Haines in Indi, Victoria.
They ousted Tony Abbott’s lieutenant Sophie Mirabella using techniques which bore many resemblances to the community gasfield-free campaign pioneered here in the Northern Rivers.
In Indi’s case it came down to thousands of small meetings about what mattered to people in the region, house by house, conversation by conversation.
There’s no reason why similar things can’t be done in every electorate of Australia, if people are prepared to do the hard work of democracy.
At its heart, politics isn’t about parties, it’s about ideas, and how resources are shared. That’s something everyone should have a hand in, all the time, not just once every few years.