Here is a lady with a keen mind and a great attitude...
Published on Thursday, October 28, 2004 by the Capital Times / Madison, Wisconsin
Citizens Reinventing Democracy This Election Year
by Margaret Krome
Last week I took our kids and their friends out of school for two hours to participate in a backward walk to symbolize the direction of Bush administration environmental and labor policies.
It's less than a week until the most important presidential election in years, and the pressure is on to make campaign phone calls, distribute literature and perform countless other tasks that aren't quite as fun as marching backward to a live New Orleans jazz band. As in 2000, the race's outcome is completely uncertain. But the election will be remembered not only for its victorious candidates, but also for the spectacular citizen recommitments to democracy.
Certainly the year has also showcased abundant failings of our democratic election system. For starters, there is ample evidence of irregularities in voter registration, absentee and other ballot processes, and the great possibility of electronic voting machine failures in more states than Florida.
Even nonpartisan groups predict a loss of voter confidence. The United Methodist Women, for example, describes a "serious questioning of the electoral process by members of minority groups and a loss of confidence in the ability of U.S. election processes to operate fairly for all citizens."
The nature of the 2004 debate has again been filled with faulty facts, fear-mongering and slander. When President Bush suggests that Sen. John Kerry isn't reliable to protect the nation's safety, he's guilty of the same fear-mongering that he protests when Kerry says that Bush's poor strategy in Iraq has made restoration of the military draft more probable. Both campaigns have made inaccurate factual statements. And slanderous attacks against Kerry's Vietnam War record have set a new low.
Election-year reporting by the increasingly consolidated media continues to focus debate on human values issues, away from the substantive policies that affect the country's well-being, and toward a dangerous sameness on issues where diverse opinions would well serve the nation and globe. Also, a Fox Channel interview I happened to see whose heavy Bush bias was barely disguised reminded me how little serious challenge communications licensees fear by federal oversight bodies.
Notwithstanding failings in the system, this year's campaign is most notable for its striking and exciting resurgence of citizen democracy. Living in a swing state, I've been especially conscious of this flowering of popular, grass-roots initiatives by individual citizens.
My friends Diane and Tim decided on their own to raise funds to air ads aimed at Latino voters, wildly exceeding their goals. Another friend organized a group to publish a full-page ad expressing political issues voters should consider. My niece helped register more than 2,000 new voters at her university. Kat decided to deliver voter registration literature to factory workers at all shifts. John is putting signs up in ethnic grocery stores. This is all in addition to the increased numbers of citizens volunteering to make endless phone calls, conduct literature drops, and serve other standard functions of political campaigns.
At least as exciting, citizens seem to have lost tolerance of media manipulation of elections. When Sinclair Broadcasting last week dramatically reversed its plans to force affiliate stations nationwide to air an anti-Kerry "documentary," it was a direct result of Sinclair stockholders' objections and reflected a growing citizen commitment to more rigorous media accountability.
Faulty facts have swarmed like starlings, but this year it has become standard for many news organizations to fact-check political speeches by the candidates.
And finally, Colorado and other states are beginning to reconsider the winner-takes-all approach to their state's participation in the Electoral College system.
I certainly hope that Kerry, Edwards and my other candidates win. But even if they don't, historians will look back on this election as the one in which millions of people assessed the political landscape, created new campaign strategies, opened pocketbooks, engaged children in political issues, and reinvented citizen democracy.
Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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