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Opinion – What Does Democracy Look Like?

Opinion – What Does Democracy Look Like?
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So I was reading about the Occupy Houston arrests yesterday and had a moment of cognitive dissonance. During the video, members began shouting “This is what democracy looks like!” I should say that I have an innate bias against people shouting slogans, political bumper stickers, and any kind of gross simplification of complex issues but, in this case, it particularly bothered me. Police were taking away tarps meant to protect electronic gear and arresting people who failed to comply. Now, I’m not sure what I would say in such a dispute but it surely wouldn’t be some knee-jerk chant we’ve been hearing since god knows when. Yes, I get the point – free assembly is a part of any vibrant democracy – fine, but that chant just highlighted the fact that Occupy Houston seemed to be missing a key part of the Democratic picture yesterday – voting.

Look at their website and their Facebook and try and find any discussion on Yesterday’s election. You would think a group of politically active people would have a listing of candidates and issues in their website and bulletins reminding people to vote but no. Search their site for “vote” or “election” and all you will get is some hits from the General Assembly Meetings. Here is about all they could muster in the meeting that took place on the eve of the election:

Raffi: Election day is tomorrow. A lot of people are hesitant to vote because they believe voting is fraudulent or too limited to change things. Asking you to vote tomorrow.

Carl: vote for Amy Price*, she’s awesome.

But Raffi shouldn’t be surprised by the hesitancy as the Occupy Houston own website actually encourages this sentiment in its FAQ. It reads,(emphasis mine) “Since we can no longer trust our elected representatives to represent us rather than their large donors, we are creating a microcosm of what democracy really looks like.” The message is clear: the system is broken, let’s run our own little fiefdom.

Compare this to the Houston Tea Party’s website. There, you will find information on candidates and detailed discussion of Constitutional Amendments. Say what you like about their politics but they are not only engaging their own members and encouraging them to vote but they are also engaging conservatives outside of their ranks in an effort to change things by using a very basic tool of a Democracy – the ballot box. That is what Democracy looks like.

There is a nice speechby Frederick Douglass where he says, “Power concedes nothing without a demand – it never did and it never will”. The problem for the Occupy Houston group is that they aren’t really engaging the public or the power structure it seeks to reform because they are purposefully amorphous. That’s a problem because unless the Occupy Houston movement can actually decide what it wants to stand for, state clear objectives and goals, and engage the public at large with some concrete ideas that it can act upon at the ballot box, it will simply become an empty echo chamber.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Free Press Houston, its staff, or its pets. 


* ed. –  Amy Price is a Green Party candidate who holds all the same ideals and is strong on social justice.  She made a good dent but she should have been endorsed and promoted.  Just one council member makes a good difference.

  • RamonLP4

    I’d like to add on point to all this that goes less to the vote issue than on my commentary on the last paragraph.

    There was a critique of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror that basically argued that by battling a vague concept – the idea of Terrorism – you were, in effect, declaring an endless war. The Occupy Houston movement, in my opinion, shares the same basic problem.

    Today on KUHF one OH member, when asked when the action will end, said “I think it will end when you have genuine change and responsiveness from the city and greater power structure, so it’s an indefinite action. The same question you should have of the Boston Tea Party, when did they think it would end.” Well, the answer is quite clear – December 16, 1773. See, the action he cites took place right then and there after their very specific demands were not met. Other colonies were able to force the tea consignees to resign or to return the tea to England. Massachusets’ Governor told the people gathered to piss off and they in turn gave him the finger with one action. There were other actions, yes, but the Boston Tea Party wasn’t one endless inflexible action.

    The OWS movement currently lacks a specifity of demands which is crucial to affecting change. You don’t just tell the powers that be to fix injustice, you tell them HOW.

    Additionally, OH group shows a lack of flexibility and creativity in its actions that I find troubling.

  • RamonLP4

    And that is a fair thing to note, Greg. I suppose my question really has to do with how they are or are not engaging those that aren’t at camping at Tranquility Park.

  • Greg

    I went down to one of the meetings before the deadline for voter registration was up and there were people there registering voters. I registered that day (the last day) and if I hadn’t been reminded I would have missed the deadline. I voted yesterday as a result, so there’s one.