Saturday, February 24, 2007

Democracy Matters

Sparse posting this week. I am buried under work and trying to shake off a nasty cold. I wanted to alert readers to an organization I just discovered, Democracy Matters. The Executive Director, Joan Mandle, spoke in my WS course about the movement toward getting private money out of elections. I appreciated her visit because given how demoralizing much of the information in WS course can be, this organization is trying to target undergraduates, in particular, to make a difference.

Mandle's thesis is that much of the economic inequality in this country can be attributed to political inequality. When it takes $7 million to run for Senate and this Presidential race will cost $600 million, who is likely to get enough money to run? White, affluent men. Mandle pointed to the success of a state like Maine that went to "clean elections." If you take the private money out of elections then those who get re-elected (incumbents) will be re-elected because they did a good job. As long as private money runs elections, then our elected officials are quite simply not accountable to us and therefore democracy doesn't really exist. Clean elections, therefore, restore real competition to races and thereby ensures (ideally) that the best person gets elected.

Last week SteveG commented on the apathetic views of my students, who believe that the world is not getting better. Perhaps one reason why college students are so disillusioned and apathetic is because they cannot fathom how they can make a difference. The problems and corruption seem so ubiquitous and intractable that it is best to focus on one's own life/self-interest. Part of the inspiration of starting Democracy Matters (the founder is NBA player Adonal Foyle was to show this generation how they can get involved and make a difference. Mandle pointed out that college students have always been important actors in social movements in this country, and so her focus is precisely on those students who seem so disillusioned and demoralized by a broken political system and growing dispartity of wealth.

Part of what was appealing about Mandle's pitch was she connected, quite concretely, for students how many of what seem to be their "personal problems" really amount to political decisions, i.e. how much interest they pay on their student loans or how much public education costs.

Lastly, Democracy Matters is a non-partisan organization. The desire to see real competition and real accountability in our elected officials, thereby restoring democracy, should know no party.