Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Voting in a (so-called) Democracy (Part Two)

This post is part two of two (or three depending on how much sleep the author feels like getting) of the author's experiences and opinions of voting during the European Elections of June 2009.

The first part of this post was actually written at the same time as part one - it was just getting a bit too long so I chose to split it into parts. There's just been a bit of time since I updated it...busy with school and stuff...but since part one, the election's results have been published, the BNP got two seats, and Iran has expressed another version of democracy...

2) When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. (continued from Part One)
When I entered the polling station with my mask on the room went quiet. I heard a few people mumbling. I presented my polling card to the person at the relevant area and they asked who I was going to entertain. By way of response I remained silent. This had the desired effect of unnerving the people behind the desk. I stated my name and took my ballot paper.

As I began to draw on my paper, I noticed someone walking to my left. Clearly one of the unnerved officers was 'checking' on me. Alright - I concede that I was taking my time because I was taking photos of my ballot paper - but by law the voting process is meant to be private. When it happened again to my right, perhaps I was right to hurry up.

I wrote a Rage Against the Machine lyric on my paper across the voting boxes: "No escape/ from the mass mind rape". I also drew the symbol 'V' uses in the graphic novel.

I then proceeded to cast my vote.

After that I started to read the regulations on voting that are posted at every polling station. I took a picture of it, and was then approached by one of the officers. She then asked me what I was doing. I told her I was reading the regulations and that I wanted to take a picture of them. She responded by saying she would have to check if I was allowed to do this.

I waited (of course not mentioning I already had a picture). I heard her on the phone with phrases like "a man wearing a mask" and "he wants to take a picture".

After she finished, she spoke to me in a more formal and serious voice saying that if I wanted a copy of the regulations to call the number on a slip of paper she handed me. It was a number for the local electoral services.

She then said that if I tried to take a picture, she would call the police...

At that point - after the look of surprise showed on my face behind my mask. I calmly put my phone away, thanked her, and walked outside. That was completely unexpected!

I then realised, I didn't have any pictures outside. The two people I'd come to vote with had left me behind long ago (understandably embarrassed at my shenanigans) so I thought I'd wait outside and ask someone to take a picture of me on my phone.

A rather unassuming man appearing to be in his late forties left the building and I stepped forward requesting a picture on my phone. He did a terrible job of hiding his shock/ surprise/ wariness/ fear. (I wondered at the time if he thought I was some kind of terrorist...well I did have brown hands - so I was obviously some kind of foreigner...) I had a slight concern that the photo wouldn't come out clearly if his hands were shaking...but it was fine.

It was only after I saw this picture, that I noticed how strange it is talking with someone who's face doesn't change. I realised it has the unsettling effect of making them faceless. Perhaps that's all we are - just a faceless group of people being governed by a bunch of criminals.

People are scared: of each other, of their government.

After he took the picture he went on his way. People were walking in and out of the polling station. A lady came up to me and asked, "which political party are you from?" I was actually completely thrown by this! I replied, "I'm not from any political party." She then went on to ask who I was supposed to be. I told her I was from a film 'V for Vendetta', which she'd actually seen...although I was skeptical.

More people were entering the polling station, and staring at me, and then looking away trying to pretend I wasn't there. My overwhelming sense was that people were confused. Many of them sought to hide their confusion by laughing or dismissing me as a 'nutter'.

The unknown scares us all.

One lady of a pensionable age said I was going to scare people away. As she entered the polling station I recited the rhyme "Remember, remember the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot".

It was only afterwards I wished I'd said: "People are already scared - so few people actually bother to vote".

3) An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern.
So, surely then the government should fear us? Surely we should get on with each other? Why can't we all just get along? I always love the two laws from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure:
Be Excellent To Each Other and
Party On Dudes...

What a cool way to live life! (I always knew there was more to Bill and Ted...maybe that's why George Carlin agreed to star as Rufus).

I hadn't actually planned on staying very long at the polling station, but after the old lady went in, one of the officers came outside - ostensibly for a cigarette - but when he started chatting to me, I knew the real reason.

He knew what I was doing, and what I was making a reference to. He asked me why I was doing it. I just explained how I felt the political system only provides us with the illusion of choice. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and those in the middle are hamsters on a wheel. Expenses scandals anyone? No accountability anyone? An uneducated electorate anyone?

He completely agreed with me, but also asked what difference I hoped to make - could one person actually make anything happen? Well surely if we exist in a democracy, then one person can make the difference. I told him it actually came down to walking the talk. If I was going to go on about democracy, politics and spout my opinions to everyone, how could I do that with any authenticity if I wasn't actually honouring what I was talking about?

That's why I took a reduction in pay to change careers and become a teacher. I wanted to do something vaguely useful with my life before I move on to the next world.

To quote George Carlin: "People are fucking dumb". That makes them easier to govern. (Most of) The young people I teach don't care about anything much other than themselves. Or they take on the prejudices they're fed: brown person with beard = terrorist; terrible 'country' full of starving people = Africa; immigrants = bad people; etc. etc. etc.

Turns out a few people around me didn't know about spoiling ballot papers...and would have done if they knew about it...

I think of it like this. Currently, only 35% of the people who could vote actually fucking bothered. Imagine if 95% of the people who could vote, actually did bother.

But then - what if - from that percentage, 60% of them spoiled their ballot papers? It makes a fucking joke of democracy.
(Oops is that repetition, deja vu or a glitch in The Matrix?)

4) The day is dark/ There's only one solution/ I'm a one-man revolution

Well after the response to the pictures on Facebook I'm seriously considering setting up a group to do something at the (impending) General Election. What would ten of us dressed as the character V turning up at the local polling station do? All spoiling ballot papers?

Actually, there's something to be said about Facebook groups. There's a group called '1,000,000 United Against the BNP' that has recently passed over half-a-million members...not that it's going to make that much of a difference...

I pose the question: how many members of that group...bothered to actually vote in the European elections...even registered to vote...have been to a polling station...have ever voted...understand the point of a democratic system...etc.?

The very reason the BNP got seats was because people didn't bother to vote or even register to vote. If only 35% of the electorate actually vote, guess which kinds of political party are going to do their damndest to ensure their ENTIRE membership registers and votes? Guess which kinds of party are going to have no trouble actually achieving this?

It's not hard to work out...

But seriously...the BNP getting seats from the European Elections...that's just child's play. Who's REALLY in power? Who REALLY controls things? I don't think 'they' consider the BNP a serious threat to their hegemony. In fact, there are some political/ media analytic theories (Chomsky anyone?) that would say the whole BNP episode is just 'flak'. Just distraction. Misdirection. A media furore designed to keep our eye one thing, whilst something else is happening.

I don't know if that's true or not, but perhaps the question to ask would be: who would benefit?

So what effect is joining a Facebook group going to have if you can't be bothered to register your right to vote in the media-controlled, flak-driven democracy we live in? How does Facebook contribute to the political process?

Perhaps it will make something happen if people actually take action.

Action produces results, not thinking about it, not talking about it, not joining a Facebook group to show all your Facebook friends that you are 'enlightened'. (All that last one shows is that you're pretending to care).*

Facebook might be quite good at mobilising people, getting awareness up...but it's much harder to translate that to grass-roots action at a particular time.

So maybe my idea of setting up a 'V for Vendetta' Facebook group would fail. But should I talk myself out of it before I've even done anything?

One person has said to me they would join the group - but not dress up.

But they will go and spoil their ballot paper...

That's something...but in this media-driven, news-as-it-happens, internet-linked-up world we live in, something with some drama behind is more likely to capture people's imaginations.

And even if I'm the only one, I know I'm walking the talk.

Films like Inside Man (and of course V for Vendetta) make interesting watching about what one man could do to an establishment (especially as that's a Spike Lee film!)

Tom Morello - as a Political Science graduate from Harvard; as nephew to Jomo Kenyatta; as a son of a member of the Mau-Mau; as guitarist in Rage Against the Machine; as someone with a well-thought out political philosophy - uses music to communicate his viewpoint.

He's a one-man revolution.

So now what? Anyone got ideas?

*Of course there are some people who join the '1,000,000 Against the BNP' Facebook group who actually did register to vote, and actually did vote, and do give a shit. I don't want to offend everyone in one go.