Is compulsory voting in a democracy a contradiction in terms?
That is the question some Australians have been asking since voting became required by law here nearly a century ago, reports the BBC today.
“The right to vote is a freedom fiercely sought by people all over the world, but Australians do not have a choice. The continent is part of a small minority of just 23 countries with mandatory voting laws. Only 10 of those enforce them.
“Registering to vote and going to the polls are legal duties in Australia for citizens aged 18 and over, and failing to do so can result in a fine and potentially a day in court. Opponents of the system like Libertarian columnist Jason Kent say this stifles political freedom and threatens the basic principles of democracy.
“People have been sentenced to jail terms for not voting. It’s disgusting. It’s far from being democratic. We are not a democracy if we can’t vote democratically.” But Dr Peter Chen, who teaches politics at the University of Sydney, warns that this type of heated rhetoric blows things out of proportion. He says showing up to the polls every so often is not a huge burden.
“The system demonstrates a social expectation that at a minimum everyone needs to participate every few years and that’s a good thing.”
“Failing to vote in Australia may result in a fine or a day in court. Although small, the A$20 (about $18, £12) fine is enough to drive voters to the polls in substantially greater numbers than countries with voluntary vot Supporters of the system say Australia boasts some of the highest civic participation the word over, with a reported 94% voter turn-out in the last federal election, compared to about 65% in the UK’s 2010 general election and an estimated 57% in the 2012 US presidential election. Continue reading “Compulsory voting in Australia”
Much has changed in the past 50 years, since the height of the Civil Rights movement. But how do you teach the Civil Rights to kids who haven’t ever experienced it? In Jackson, Miss., Fannie Lou Hamer Institute’s Summer Youth Workshop tackles that question, reports NPR today.
“Take 13-year-old Jermany Gray, for instance. Gray and his fellow students are all African-American, and many of them are from Jackson. They’re familiar with the struggle for civil rights — they read about it in text books and saw it in museum exhibits. But for most, it’s a story that ended long before they were even born. Gray has no problem talking about what the Civil Rights movement was back in the ’60s, but when asked what it means to him these days, the answer doesn’t come as easily.
“What does it mean? I’ll have to think about that question,” he said. “Maybe I can answer that at the end of the week.”That’s the typical challenge, according to Michelle Deardorff who is the chair of political science at Jackson State and who also helped found the Hamer Institute. “The image I give when I talk about this is a tree, and the tree is democracy. And a chain link fence was around it,” said Deardorff, who used the idea of the fence to represent racism and slavery. “And as the tree grew, it grew around the fence. We’ve now pulled the fence out… but the tree is shaped by it forever.” Continue reading “Teaching the civil rights movement”
Over 50 years ago the United States launched a comprehensive embargo against Cuba, aimed at isolating the country and bringing it to political and economic ruin.
But Cuba keeps chugging along, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and its other bigger friends.
And yesterday they just had another election, as reported by Al Jazeera:
“Ailing Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has made a surprise appearance in Havana to vote in parliamentary polls, expressing confidence in the revolution despite a decades-long US trade embargo. Castro’s visit to the voting precinct in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood was the main event in Sunday’s elections, during which Cubans chose 612 members of the National Assembly as well as deputies of local legislatures.
“The 86-year-old is said to have spent up to an hour talking to other voters and the media after casting his vote. About 8.5 million Cubans took part in the polls that featured no opposition candidates. Continue reading “Fidel’s revolution continues”
Right wing bloggers have long been concerned with the U.S. birth rate, for a number of reasons. As Roy Edroso writes in today’s Village Voice,
“For one thing, they worry that if America doesn’t outbreed its enemies, democracy is in peril. ‘The Islamic world is reproducing at a rate far above replacement level,’ Continue reading “Falling birth rates worry conservatives”
In the Facebook universe the big news is that after signing up half of the world’s population, the company is going for even more subscribers. The smaller story is that Facebook is poised to eliminate democracy (i.e.,voting) among its users. As the LA times reports,
“ Facebook Inc. is finding out just how messy democracy can be. Continue reading “Facebook, democracy, and world domination”
Anyone paying attention to conservative media in these post-election days has heard this refrain: America has changed, the country’s ideals have been subverted, and something has gone terribly wrong. Of course, it’s possible to write this off as one more set of conservative delusions––one more Romney alternate reality. But this incredulous response runs deeper than that, since it signals a rejection of the very basis of democracy itself and the founding principles so many Republicans claimed to hold dear
These issues are explored in a thoughtful essay by Dinesh Sharma appearing in today’s online edition of Asia Times, entitled “Transformation of the American Mind.” Sharma writes that “with President Barack Obama’s reelection it is increasingly clear, as I have argued in my book Continue reading “The opening of the American mind”
Outside the bubble of American media, nations around the globe are responding to the news of Barak Obama’s reelection. See “World Congratulates Obama on Victory” in todays edition of Al Jazeera: “World leaders have hailed President Barack Obama’s sweeping re-election, with allies pledging to deepen cooperation with the United States on fighting the world economic slump and maintaining security across the globe.”
Remember that opinion outside the US had favored a second term to the incumbent U.S. President by a five-to-one margin, as reported in Worlding.org (See “World Opinion on U.S. Election.” Oct. 24, 2012)
As Al Jaeera continues “Congratulations poured in on Wednesday from across the world, including fellow UN Security Council members Britain, China, France and Russia as well as its staunch Middle East ally Israel and Obama’s ancestral home in Kenya.
“Russia President Vladimir Putin, whose relations with Washington have often been frosty, sent a telegram congratulating Obama on his victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.”
“We live in an era of democratic contradiction. As the Cold War recedes into history and the apparent triumph of liberal democracy spreads around the globethe domestic state of democracy within the United States remains in jeopardy,” writes David Trend in A Culture Divided: America’s Struggle for Unity. Echoing sentiments expressed in last night’s acceptance speech by Barak Obama, an excerpt from A Culture Divided follows below:
Rather than a nation where citizens feel empowered in their common governance, the U.S. has become a land of where growing numbers of citizens feel alienated from the democratic process. Voter turnout for the 2012 U.S. presidential election was nearly 20 percent less than in 2008. Massive anti-incumbency Continue reading “One Nation: Divided or United?”
We’ve all heard the expression “think globally, act locally.” This aphorism holds a particular potency today, as many people feel powerless in the face of huge corporations and bureaucracies. But what does acting locally mean, actually? In the type of micro-politics advocated by radical democracy proponents like Chantal Mouffe, this mean being political in every aspect of everyday life. So local doesn’t just mean becoming an activist in ones town. It also means being political at the breakfast table, with friends, or at school and work––or on your laptop computer for that matter.
The Platform for Good initiative is a new project to encourage kids to think about social change. The simple premise is that thinking about what is “possible” (as opposed to what exists now) can start at any age. So why not encourage young people start making things better. As discussed on the Smart Mobs blog, “A Platform for Good initiative builds on Change.org in order to integrate and promote youth social activism in the classroom. The younger generation definitely has a voice, as proven among others by the Chilean Penguin Revolution, and a right to express their beliefs and personal preferences concerning the direction toward which different things go in the world. Change.org is a wider platform where people and groups of all ages can start petitions on issues they want to solve by gathering and harnessing social support. If enough support is obtained, the battle for the respective change is won.
The Platform for good makes use of these online collaborative resources with the goal of cultivating among students a sense of digital citizenship and involvement in social activism by initiating social movements for change at the level of local and national communities. On the website, links are given for successful projects like the First Woman Moderator of the Presidential Debates in 20 years, the Lorax Petition Project (with an environmental message built around the movie Lorax), and the Crayola Recycle Markers Project. Such examples educate and inspire students to believe in their power to make their country and the world a better place to live in.
The economic recession has had one weirdly positive effect on the art world: democratization. Increasingly, museums and symphonies find that they can no longer get by on the generosity (or lack thereof) to an elite minority. Large cultural institutions need new audiences to justify their existence and to qualify for public dollars. Venues that once couldn’t care less about attendance now anxiously await busloads of kiddies and seniors. “Education” and “outreach” programs have exploded in recent years, with many places literally giving away tickets to boost admissions. Aside from benefitting “social practice” artists who have always occupied the fringes of art world, the is move to larger and more democratic approaches to audience has favored genres that are more friendly to the public.
Enter performance art. In the old days, performance was a marginal affair because it was edgy and conceptual––but also ephemeral. Continue reading “Performance and the new cultural democracy”