Martin Daws is a performance poet and workshop facilitator. His latest poetry/ CD 'Skintight the Sidewalk' is now available visit Martin's myspace page to order your copy.
Democracy Sucks But Obama Rocks
Behind my deep excitement and joy at Barack Obama’s victory in the US Presidential election last November, I was aware that my happiness presented me with a dilemma – how can I celebrate the election of a president when I have long been a critic of the democratic process that elected him? The question was nagging at me as I sat up ‘til dawn listening to the election results, was still there as I played the acceptance speech to my family on YouTube the next day, and is still here now as I write this piece.
Pre-Obama my position on democracy was that the theory was fine, but the practice left a lot to be desired. This has led me to be absent from the electoral roll in Britain for 20 years because ‘my vote won’t change anything’ and ‘none of the parties represent my opinions’ and anyway, ‘these politicians are blatantly bullshitting us’. My opinion of politicians is not that they have sold their souls to the devil (at least not exclusively), but just that they do not share much of my life experience and have few opportunities to act with integrity; because the system within which they work does not allow for honesty.
My disillusionment with democracy was founded on the observation that it effects a disempowerment of the electorate through allowing people to delegate their social and political responsibilities to elected officials. Basically, you tick a box on Election Day and then you leave it to them.
This process of disillusion is compounded by the media’s focus on ‘important’ national and international affairs, taking our own focus away from local and personal issues on which we can have a direct effect. Truthfully, how much impact will my letter to the Chinese ambassador effect human rights over there in comparison to my becoming a governor of a local school would effect the education of children in my own community? Doesn’t this external focus away from our direct sphere of influence waste energy that could have been focussed on a local issue that we could have direct leverage on?
Because of the battles that had to be fought for universal suffrage, we usually speak of democracy as a right, rather than as a responsibility, but in my opinion, we need to view our politics in terms of a universal responsibility to contribute to the well being of our communities, our environment and our children’s future. Just voting for a ‘suit’ in Westminster and expecting them to do the business for us is not going to fulfil our responsibilities. So, I do youth work, organise cultural events, shop in a local and organic whole food coop, contribute to local networks that disseminate positive information and duck under the radar on election day feeling like with my integrity’s intact – but then along comes Barack Obama and my outlook has to change.
I wanted Obama to win; really wanted him to win because for the first time a mainstream western political leader spoke from outside the established hegemony of a white euro-centric world view. This isn’t just about skin colour; it’s about cultural and political values, about a leader whose life choices back up his rhetoric. But I was troubled, if I was supporting a candidate, then surely I was validating the democratic process. I asked myself what would I have done if this had been happening in the UK and I had to admit that I would have voted and even volunteered for his campaign. So I’d gone from complete dis-enfranchisement to total commitment in one Whitehouse campaign. But such is the power of a water bearer’s arrival among thirsty people lost in a dessert.
So what now? Search the horizon for a British Obama? I won’t hold my breath while I’m waiting… Get involved with a political party and try to influence the system from the inside? Please, do I sound like I’m that naive?… My plan is just to carry on as before, but armed with the knowledge that democracy can, however momentarily, swing into line with my views, and if it swings by here soon I need to have my suitcase packed and ready to go. So you know what? I’m signing on the electoral register, just in case.
Martin Daws: 10th March 2009