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?