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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Isn’t It Ironic? But You’re Still Free to Vote

I don’t much care for irony. There’s always disappointment involved, and sometimes outright betrayal. For example, the same season that has brought about so many grass-roots movements for freedom in the Middle East has seen elected officials in First World countries in the West dispensing with constitutions and overriding the established rule of law. It’s happening right here in Michigan, where the first onslaughts made possible by Michigan’s new law—the law trumping, apparently, our state constitution as well as local jurisdictions—have begun. I call that ironic.

Ignorant, misguided acceptance is easier to understand than apathy and indifference, but there’s plenty of both to go around. Way too much. Murray Dobbin, writing of Canadians’ lack of political involvement, warns that “minimally engaged citizens are not equipped to deal with politicians who are willing to actually destroy the foundations of democracy and violate its most basic principles.”

The little village of Northport has had its problems and struggles in recent years. Would we lose our local school? Was the new sewer project too expensive for village residents? Could one township employee hold down three government jobs at one time? What can we do to strengthen the economic base of our community? The conversations around these issues can be difficult, but Northport keeps having them, because this place sees itself as a self-governing community. I’ve always said, if you don’t like participatory democracy, you won’t like Northport. In fact, you won’t like Leelanau County, because no one here, I think, would be content simply to cast a vote for governor every couple of years and then go home and let the governor dictate the future for our village and township.

But does everyone in Northport and throughout Leelanau County and the state of Michigan realize the possibilities inherent in Michigan’s new law? Where’s the value in voting if all you’re doing is choosing the next dictator? Has the evening of democracy come to the West? Will we cling to the forms and let go the substance?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pamela. This is a really important moment. We watch the erosion of protections that are cornerstone to 20th century American values and social wellbeing. Protections, safeguards, laws that regular people fought *tooth* and nail for. These practices and the values undergirdign them are in fact being washed away by new laws.
We regular people probably should be starting to make a long, big noise fuss in as many ways as possible. Once existing laws are ignored, and old, foundational laws are changed, it's like lashing the "pendulum" of political movement to the right side of the frame. Each law, each overturn, is another rope freezing movement in society. We need the movement in order to have democracy.

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you for the supporting comment. I think you're right: we need to make a big noise. Spread the word!

BB-Idaho said...

Presumably, the Mich guv
doesn't know where Northport is, so you may be safe. Now, if your town
was across the lake, the Wi
guv would likely just sell
you to the Koch brothers...

P. J. Grath said...

It might be comforting for folks in states other than Michigan and Wisconsin to see our situations as anomalies. If only that were the case! And what’s happening all over this country is happening in Canada, too.

dmarks said...

How much worse is the new law compared to the existing emergency-manager one we had way back from Blanchard?

P. J. Grath said...

You're asking me a question I can't answer. Reference numbers for both laws (I believe the new one is PA 4 and 7 of this year) and complete text to compare would be helpful. Do you have?

dmarks said...

Anon, what are you specifically afraid of happening?

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, dmarks. I don't know who this Anonymous was or whether or not he or she will return to find your question. I hope so. For now, I can tell you that my big general concern is that voting could become an empty gesture. Remember high school? Voting for class officers? It was a popularity contest that had nothing to do with the way the school was organized and run, and that made sense then, because as high school students we were hardly equipped to organize and run a school. We're not in high school any more. Did you know that township government is the oldest organized (European-style) form of government in the U.S.? If townships are no longer self-governing, what happens to self-government in general?

dmarks said...

Much of the opposition seems to come from hardline union backers, because this law would make it so unrealistic union contract demands could be ignored, say, in order to keep schools open, roads, plowed, etc. So I have tended to see it in these terms before. But now I see the broader issues involving local democracy.

P. J. Grath said...

I'm glad you bring that up, dmarks. I've been very frustrated by news coverage, not only nationally but within the state of Michigan. Reporters have leaned on the union stuff, leaned on cuts to education, but I haven't seen radio, television or newspapers (with a few stand-out exceptions) informing the public about the basic constitutional issues.

Sarah (not the dog) said...

I agree with you, Pamela; to me, this whole thing has from the start been a constitutional issue, and I can't understand why lawyers haven't been all over the governor on this one. Sarah (not the dog)

P. J. Grath said...

My limited legal understanding, Sarah, is that a lawyer cannot directly challenge the law but could argue a case from that position, which would throw it eventually into the state Supreme Court. An alternative is to have the legislature repeal the law, but since they're the ones who passed it, not much chance there. If I'm wrong on this, please, someone, set me straight.