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Our participatory democracy is on life support

We call our country’s political system a democracy, but is it really? The Google definition of a democracy is “a system of government by the whole population typically through elected representatives.” Merriam-Webster’s definition is “a government by the people in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representatives involving free elections.”
 
One of the key words in both definitions is “representatives,” which is “a person chosen to act or speak for others, a spokesperson or an example of the group.” I think most of us will agree that in today’s political climate, most of our representatives do not speak for us.
 
Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or an independent, it has become nearly impossible to look at anyone in our Congress and say, “He/she holds similar beliefs, he/she understands my struggles and he/she is working for me.”
 
Many of our politicians come from political families where money and power are the norm rather than the exception. That doesn't mean these characteristics are necessarily bad, but when having money or a certain last name becomes the only path to a political office, it is bad.
 
We can thank Citizens United legislation for allowing corporations to funnel endless amounts of money and influence into candidates’ pockets. Since its passage in 2010, the government can not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce candidates in elections.
 
We also can thank hundreds of corporate lobbyists in Washington, D.C. for our loss of representation. But we, the citizens of this country, must assume the guilt for our lack of “participation” in the political system of this country. According to voting data, “America is one of the least active voting populations among developed countries, ranking 31 out of 35 for voter turnout.”
 
Today, most of us do not participate in our democracy. Instead, we watch from the sidelines as if we are helpless to change anything. Yes, we are busy. Yes, we have jobs. Yes, we have families. But only we have the power to turn this country around. Certainly we have the numbers, but do we have the political will to do so?
 
Right now while we are busy waiting for warm weather, watching sporting events or planning our vacations, some democracy-killing pieces of legislation are winding their way through Columbus. One, introduced in the fall and proposed for the May 8 ballot, is House Joint Resolution 5. This will make it even harder for the average citizen to participate in Ohio’s political system.
 
If passed, this resolution would make it difficult for the people of the state to amend the Ohio Constitution. It would make it harder to “repeal laws that we find unjust or oppressive” or pass laws to ensure our safety and health. Remember that the people of the state repealed SB5, the bill that would have limited collective bargaining for public employees in 2011.
 
Currently 10 percent of Ohio’s registered voters (in the last gubernatorial election) must sign petitions to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. This new law would require 12.5 percent of voters. It also would require 60 percent of the votes, not 50 percent plus one vote, to pass a law proposed by the people.
 
Additionally it would require 3.75 percent, not 3 percent, of registered voters’ signatures to propose legislation to the Ohio General Assembly and require a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
 
This resolution is being represented as a way to stop “moneyed special interests from hijacking our Ohio Constitution.” However, it is quite the opposite and will make it more difficult for the people of the state to maintain a system of checks and balances on corporate special interests who are co-opting our state.
 
It is already a daunting task for citizens to get any legislation on the ballot in Ohio. I know of many people who have participated in this process. They take it on themselves, using their own finances to print out materials, canvass voters in horrible weather and spend time away from their homes and families, all to make changes in laws or create laws to protect their communities.
 
Other bills are threatening our democracy including an anti-protest bill that is aimed at prosecuting people who protest against oil and gas infrastructure. Last year’s brutal actions and arrests aimed at protesters at Standing Rock were a sobering example of how far corporations and certain political entities will go to trample on citizens’ rights and freedom of the press.
 
This Ohio bill has the blessing of the same corporation that has repeatedly spilled massive quantities of drilling mud into Ohio’s waterways.
 
Ohio’s legislature is trying to pass SB210, which would “prevent villages and cities from placing a fee on items like single-use plastic carryout bags.” These fees help local governments to reduce waste and pollution.  
 
This bill would go against the principle of Ohio home rule, which says “local governments can govern themselves concerning local matters.” Given that Ohio only has about 40 year’s worth of landfill capacity, any action that reduces wastes is a beneficial one.
 
It is time for us all to step up and participate to the fullest extent in this country's democracy before it is neither participatory nor a democracy.
 

Published: February 9, 2018
New Article ID: 2018180209967