I accept that the twenty-first century is a century of revolution. That our print-based, elites-centred models of representative democracy have run their historical course. That the model of society which gives a small group the exclusive right to rule over a large one, with minimal checks and balances which can be activated by the large group, needs to be re-examined and remodelled. That the tools we now have at our disposal—tools for public education and public participation—have opened the door for more participatory forms of governance, and that we must move with the world in that direction.And so this election, I do not consent to participate in this old, flawed model. I know it's a crazy idea. I know it's illogical. But I don't believe it's wrong.Read More
Educated FoolishnessLast Thursday, the Out Da Box movement introduced itself to The Bahamas. Ian Strachan, Alicia Wallace and I began the discussion about spoiling the ballot as an option in the upcoming general election on Guardian Talk Radio, and (to my considerable surprise, but not to the others') the discussion took off. What madness were we suggesting? Spoil the ballot? Why on God's green earth, at this critical juncture in history, would anyone ever think of doing something so stupid?And the discussion continued far beyond the morning show. It was taken up again at noon by the Revolution, and then at 5 on Freedom March, and it seemed to continue again into Friday, with more radio discussion on the weekend as well. Almost all of the discussion disagreed vehemently with the position that we've taken: that if, like us, you don't feel you have anyone to vote for, register anyway and spoil your ballot.The "stupidity" of the idea centred around two main points:
- the concept that anyone in their right mind would, or should, go to the polls and stand in line in the hot sun, wasting their time and energy and patience, to go into the voting booth just to choose no candidate at all; and
- the idea that doing this would change anything about the outcome. If 90% of the electorate spoiled their ballot, the next government would be elected by the 10% who did not, and the politicians would not care one whit about the rest.
The general refrain: this will achieve nothing, so why even suggest it?Method in the MadnessWhat much of the discussion seems to have missed about the movement is that its focus is not on effecting quick, immediate change in political rulership. Rather, it is on building citizen power.For too long, we have accepted the idea that "democracy" consists of going to the polls every five years--or, more recently, whenever a referendum is called--to cast a vote on a pre-selected slate of candidates or a pre-determined set of options. The result has been that we've developed the habit of treating election seasons rather like football playoffs--people have their teams, they wear their paraphernalia, they trash talk about the other guys. Like football playoffs too, we have evolved a binary way of looking at political options: it's an either/or scenario. And it's a spectator sport for the most part. We may study the plays and talk about them, but we do not contribute to them. The game is plotted out in the locker room, behind closed doors, between coaches and players. As with football, we seem to accept that this is the way things are done. All we do is cheer them on when we see how well they work, or groan when they don't.But democracy is not like football. Government FOR the people BY the people means, very simply, that the citizens of any democracy are in fact its governors. At the moment, we operate in a representative democracy, which means that at specific moments in time, citizens vote for the people they will send to represent them in the legislature. That's why the gallery is in the House of Assembly. These representatives are ideally supposed to be the voice of the citizens--the governors--when the time comes to make laws, and also one of the checks to the power of the executive, many of whose decisions should be reported to or ratified by the House of Assembly.The result of treating elections like football playoffs, though, means that we tend to assume that what happens in the House of Assembly is the politicians' business. We often miss the point that the politicians work for us. For a long time, we have given them too little oversight, too little direction, and they have developed a culture of entitlement, a culture of disrespect for the citizenry that is only now beginning to be checked with the advent of social media.The Out Da Box movement seeks, quite simply, to change the thinking of the citizenry. To shift the discussion away from trash talk to what it means to operate in a democracy. To recognize that a citizen's vote is the one bit of direct power that citizen has, albeit very small.We believe that there is power in withholding that vote, because democracy depends on the consent of the ruled. We recognize that withholding our consent will not change the immediate outcome of the election. We know that it may be ignored or discounted by the people who do get elected. We know that the government that is formed after the 2017 election will probably forget that they do not have the mandate to make decisions on behalf of the citizenry that they have come to expect.But showing up to withdraw our consent is the beginning of a new way of being governed. It will take more than engaging in the spectator sport that our democracy has become, but it will be worth it in the end. By showing up to spoil our ballots, to withdraw our consent to be governed, we, the citizens, will be pledging with that one small act that we will show up again and again, collectively. We will do the work it takes, as the true government of our democracy, to contribute to our legislative activity. And we will learn and exercise skills that our representatives seem to lack or to have forgotten: reasoning skills, the skills of dialogue, respect for dissent and dissenters, and the skill of constructive negotiation.Out Da Box believes that the very first step to that collective action can be spoiling the ballot--withdrawing our consent to be inadequately ruled--together. Stupid is as Stupid DoesSo back to the educated foolishness, the stupidity of the act of spoiling the ballot.
- Why register, go to the polls, stand in the hot sun and waste time, energy and patience, just to spoil the ballot? Because WE are the government. The people we elect work for US. The fact that they hold their allegiance to their parties--their teams--above their responsibility to be the voice of the citizenry is unacceptable to us.
- What will spoiling the ballot achieve? It is an act that citizens can take together to lay the foundation for a more participatory democracy that we have today.The fact that we take the time to withdraw our consent is a demonstration that we are going to show up for other, more visible exercises that reinforce the citizens' power.
So the foolishness of this movement boils down to one primary idea. Citizens acting together to withdraw their consent to be ruled will lay the foundation for a better, more participatory, future.
It's impossible to let this day pass without writing something about this title. I let Brexit go by because, well, I was stunned; I said my piece on the Bahamian gender referendum because I was disappointed. But not to say something about this election, which was historic, yes, and not the way I had wanted, would be a travesty.So let me say this: yes, I am disappointed. Profoundly so. But can I in all honesty be anything else? I am not an American. I could not vote. I had to leave it up to the American people to do their democratic duty, and they did it. As with Brexit, as with the Bahamian gender referendum, people participated in the democratic process the one way they were able. They had one vote, and they used it. And into that vote they channelled everything that they felt about themselves, their times, their nation.I'm entitled to think that, as with us on our referendum, as with the British on Brexit, the American electorate as a collective got it wrong. The world is heading in one direction and the voters in each of these three nations have chosen not to look that way. Rather, they all turned to look behind them at the world we are all leaving behind, while time inexorably moves us somewhere entirely different. The journey forward for all of us will be taken blindly: we're looking back. We're passing through twenty-first century reality and its challenges remain unseen.I don't think that this is accidental at all. I also don't think that it could have been avoided. Because what is happening across the world is that people are voting against their status quo. They are entirely aware, on a molecular level, that things have changed, that the ground has shifted beneath their feet, that the world they find themselves in is not the world for which they are prepared. But because their leaders have been unable or unwilling to articulate these changes, or perhaps even to acknowledge them, they are voting for a return to the past, or for a maintenance of an obsolete system. In Britain, the voters sought to withdraw from the collective of Europe in search of lost (possibly imperial?) times; here in The Bahamas, the voters chose to maintain legal inequalities between men and women in an effort to negate or neutralize women's real power in our nation; and now, in the USA, voters are electing to "make America great again"—this greatness being exemplified in the shaking of a big stick, the glorification of white skins, and the subordination of the female.But in not one case were the voters given a constructive choice. I'm pretty sure that those people who, like me, wanted different outcomes will rise up indignantly at this idea. What's not constructive about Hillary Clinton/the European Union/equal rights for women under the Bahamian constitution? But in imagining these things to be positive because we believe they are, considering them unquestionably as being absolute goods, we miss the point. For democracy is not about absolute and opposite goods. It is about dialogue and discussion—about true debate. If democracy is government by the people for the people, then all the people need to be involved in it somehow.What was critical and revealing about these three contests in 2016 was that there was very little debate involved. There was plenty of talk, and a lot of argument. There was plenty of threat and plenty of ridicule and lots of tearing down but very little building up. Democracy was not at work throughout the process. These elections were crafted the way reality shows are crafted: emphasizing the extreme differences in the matters (many of them, like the bogeyman immigrant and the spectre of gay monogamy, semi-fictional inventions) for the entertainment of the public rather than engaging in the full implications of the choices to be made. The media in each case focussed more on the sensational surfaces of the contests than on the long-term implications of their outcomes.In every case, the contest went thus:
- an issue—two referenda and one presidential election—was fought on a national scale;
- the stakes in each were historically critical;
- the issues were presented in a binary fashion as though the contest was a clash between absolute good and absolute evil, without any attempt to find common ground between the two options;
- the stakes were not discussed in any historical or global context, and the implications of potential outcomes were not presented in any thoughtful or measured fashion.
Now the critical thing about the democracy we currently inhabit is this. Ultimately, the only power an individual has comes down to his or her ability to cast a vote. We have constructed systems in which the individual voice is reduced to a single moment in time, a moment when a choice is made, and that choice, in every case above, was a choice between two irreconcilable opposites.Voters vote they only way that they can. They make a choice. But they do not make free choices. They choose the thing that seems most right to them, most right for them, but they have no control over the ultimate outcome.The collective result, in every case I have mentioned, has been a step away from equality, from kindness, from civility, from generosity. In every case I have mentioned, the result has been a shrinking of self, a turning away from greatness.It's been protectionist. It's been risk-averse. It's been desperate.It has not been great.Let me make my position perfectly clear here. I am not seeking to belittle what has happened. I'm seeking to understand it on my terms, to recognize that in every case that has dismayed me, people have used their democratic right in good faith. And they have had the absolute right to do so. That they chose differently than I would is immaterial. That they chose differently from what will help them survive in the twenty-first century, though, is critical. And it raises the question. Why did so many people make choices that will not help them in the world we are entering? What went wrong?My conclusion: it's not their choices that were wrong. It's the system that made sure these were the only choices that were available. It is a system that divides those who disagree by a chasm that seems only crossable by violence and destruction. It's a system that suggests that "democracy" has nothing to do with self-governance for the common good, but rather consists of a battle between two demonized adversaries, in which the winner takes all and the loser is crushed.So am I happy that Trump won this election? In no way. I have absolutely no confidence that the persona that he performed on the campaign trail has any resemblance to the man he actually is, and I think that we are all, Americans and the world alike, about to be royally screwed, God's will notwithstanding. But do I think that the "American public" were wrong for voting for him? Not at all. Each individual voted the only way they could: for themselves, for what they believed was the greatest good (for them). The outcome was beyond their control.Brexit, the Bahamian referendum, the American election: it's not the voters who are at fault in any of these events. It's the way we perform "democracy" that is the problem.
It's been a long time since I was one for debating politics. I'm not saying it never happened. I am a Bahamian after all. But I've since recovered from that particular illness. There is little to debate. There is little that is happening worth debating.OK, so I know that the pundits and the newspapers might disagree with me here. After all, you have only to open a computer or a newspaper and you will see drama splashed across the page or screen. Hit men. Foreign investors. Referenda. Rogue politicians insulting people. The wry satire of political one-liners. The rabid hate of, well, haters. And crime, crime, crime.But there is nothing to debate about these things. There are simply facts. They are sobering facts. They tell us very serious things about who and where we are as a people and a nation. And yet we do nothing about the facts. Rather, we use them for entertainment. We use them to point fingers at public figures, to rack up Likes on Facebook, to provide "commentary" on what we generously call "politics", to delude ourselves that engaging in that kind of conversation is making any kind of difference.We are in decline, because we spend too much time talking about people and situations, and too little time doing anything to bring about change. We continue to assume that those people who present themselves for election to public office can make any kind of dent in this decline, and waste hours and breath bigging up or tearing down this or the other of those people.We willfully ignore another fact: that far too many of today's public political actors are either devoid of any shred of integrity or compassion or intelligence, or else have compromised so much of themselves that integrity, compassion and intelligence have been bartered away for nominations, political ascendency, power. We disregard the very clear truth that virtually all the people we're currently faced with electing have had to choose between their personal convictions, their values, their goals for their nation (assuming they began with these), and their place in their particular political party—and that virtually all of them have made the wrong choice. What we see in the political sphere are greed, truthlessness, cowardice, megalomania, and lunacy. When last did we see our politicians display qualities like honesty, humility, or common sense? These days, party politics are a corrosion which destroys everything it touches.And so I have absolutely nothing to say about political parties. Do not ask me to say anything; do not ask me to comment on any one of them; they are all compromised, all tarnished, all corrupt in many ways, big and small. One or two individuals stand up head and shoulders above the crowd; but even these have sacrificed their ability to bring about real change for the perceived security of remaining tethered to their parties.But I do have something to say about this:
We need a movement.I am the first Volunteer.I am not going to create a new initiative. I am going out from the studio everyday, and I am going to help those who are already helping others; I am going to serve our people and I am going to ask you to send them what you can to help, but more than that, I am going to ask you to join me.Simply put, My Fellow Bahamians, we are in the midst of an unprecedented national emergency. A crisis of faith, a crisis of conscience, and ultimately, a crisis, not just of leadership but of servant leadership.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: "Anyone can become great, because anyone can serve. In service is our greatness". Therefore, my friends, I will do everything in my power everyday from here forward not to permit any Bahamian child to go to bed hungry, homeless or in fear.I am going to live Dr. Kings message.And, I am asking you to join me.--Jeff Lloyd
Amen. I am on board. It's a new day. Talking about a revolution sounds like a whisper, and I'm whispering.