Register to vote: Ambivalence, resilience and democracy
After the sudden passing of a relative a friend was asked the cause of the death. He noted that the proximate cause was a heart attack brought on by the ambivalence of his relative when it came to his health.
Life is a constant struggle for survival and abhors ambivalence. Ambivalence is also the great enemy of democracy. Ambivalence can breed indifference. Ask Hillary Clinton.
Had more of the Democratic base turned out in key states, the United States could have avoided the unfolding Donald Trump horror show, which is going to worsen.
The sluggish voter registration is not only because of our penchant of waiting for the last minute. Compared to the last election, the numbers are lower.
Bahamians are not enthusiastic about the choices before them. The main characters on the political stage have left voters unimpressed. The chaos and twists and turns in the opposition forces left many voters reeling while the PLP enjoyed the drama.
The pox on all houses has taken root in many quarters, as is the false equivalence of suggesting that all the main parties are the same.
Despite the ambivalence, there remains a deep concern about the direction of the country, particularly in the areas of crime, the economy and the preservation of Bahamian land.
Tuesday’s electrical blackout for more than 12 hours in some areas was a bleak reminder that our quality of life has diminished substantially in the last five years: high unemployment, pathetic economic growth, downgrades, unkempt public spaces, pot-holed roads, depressed Family Island communities, massive waste of public resources, new murder records and other examples of a country in decline.
The deal in the making to sell off land in Andros and to grant fishing rights to certain foreign interests alarmed the country. The government’s response about the deal was chaotic and disingenuous. It is clear that the whole story has yet to be told.
The impressive crowd at the We March event demonstrated that Bahamians have not become disengaged from national affairs. But many are worried about the state of the major parties.
There are many elements to a healthy democracy, including advocacy, activism, involvement with a political party and voting, among others. When any of these elements is less than robust our democracy suffers.
The temptation not to register or to vote this election cycle is understandable. But it is also too easy to disengage, to become ambivalent.
It is precisely when life or democracy becomes difficult, deeply disappointing and frustrating that we have to struggle with hard choices, weighing the best option, even when we wish there were other choices.
The main players in the election appear set in a contest between the PLP, the FNM and the DNA. Voters must weigh the leader of each party, the team of candidates and the platform or manifesto of the respective parties. We must weigh also the records of the major parties when in government and the prospects of the DNA.
Given the national issues and the direction of the country, not registering to vote or not voting, would help to drain some of the lifeblood from our democracy.
Former Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes noted in a speech: “Our constitution is replete with institutions and processes designed to preserve our form of government, to ensure our rights and freedoms and to protect us from arbitrary rule and its inevitable abuses.”
The preservation of our democracy requires an active citizenry who use the power of the vote to help guide the direction of the country. Those who would argue vociferously about current affairs but who refuse to register or to vote cannot be taken seriously, though there is no compulsion to vote.
Democratic resilience requires engagement and participation, most especially when we are less than sanguine about our choices at a given general election.
Countries like Australia make voting mandatory. While this is not a law we may agree with, it indicates that countries with mandatory voting see it as a fundamental responsibility of citizenship in a democracy.
Quite a number of black and younger voters sat out the last presidential election in the United States. They said that the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, did not resonate with them. Many catalogued her weaknesses and viewed her derisively as “just another politician”.
Now many of these same voters are moaning and complaining about Donald Trump. But when they had the power to elect his alternative they failed a basic test of citizenship, for themselves and for the country.
One of the goals of those who organized the We March events should be to conduct an extensive drive to get Bahamians to register to vote, without necessarily advocating for whom Bahamians should vote.
Along with its spirit of activism, the organizers should promote voting as a basic aspect of citizenship. Such a tangible effort will help to further enliven the activism of the group beyond an election cycle.
In his farewell address as U.S. president, Barack Obama spoke at length about the nature and health of American democracy.
“Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote.”
As citizens we all have the task of reforming our democratic institutions and processes. Voting is an aspect of helping to secure and reform our democracy, helping to make it more resilient.
Unlike the U.S., there is no widespread voter suppression directed at those whose ancestors fought and died for the right to vote, a right we should not take for granted.
Our church leaders should also make a strong plea to their church members to register to vote. As citizens, we should encourage our co-workers and neighbors to register. Not voting will only help to make our current political difficulties even worse.