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Dare to Hope: Saving American Democracy Hardcover – August 24, 2005
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Subsequently, the only thing which many people knew about the Greens was they did not like either Republicans or Democrats. These voters had no idea how they differed from the two parties though.
The young mayor of New Paltz New York took a genuinely radical strategy when he ran as a Green. Jason West instead focused on 'bread and butter' issues of the people in his community.
His campaign went door-to-door promoting tenant rights, affordable housing solutions, a healthy environment, and a more open government. This unglamorous grunt work is what builds up common people's trust in any political party.
West wants to make government more accountable to people. He proposes to do this through Instant Run-off Voting (IRV). Allowing people to rank their preferred candidates in order of preference, IRV is already being used in the City of San Francisco. He also supports Proportional Representation; parties should get whatever percentage of seats they received votes for. Many European countries already use this system and it's inherent nature requires more parties to have a say in the government.
In 2004 West made international headlines for marrying 23 same-sex couples. Although the charges of performing marriages without a license were finally dropped in 2005, they provided inspiration to me. This public official was standing in solidarity with GLBT people AND personally willing to challenge the bigoted marriage statues which were allegedly enacted to protect our heterosexual unions.
Even though I am a Democrat, I really liked this book. West isn't throwing around 'progressive' and 'grassroots' to draw attention to him; he really wants an inclusive and genuine democracy. This book is good reading for anybody on the left genuinely interested in working to make our governments much more responsive and accountable to the public.
Now in his book Dare to Hope, Jason has, with the help of Susan Bell, set out for us some of the principles that inform and express his sense of justice and his hope for the future of democracy in the United States of America. It is a small book for such a huge purpose, expressed in the subtitle: Saving American Democracy. But it does cover a lot of territory.
First, it exposes the truth that American Democracy in the dawn of the Twenty-First Century is still very imperfect, and, in its perpetuation of the two-party system, denies everyday Americans the right to effectively express their preference in the electoral process.
Even in the immediate wake of the catastrophic failure of the U.S. electoral system in 2000, when the conservative Supreme Court was allowed to decide the outcome, no one made the clear case that besides being an outmoded relic, the Electoral College system is a deliberately anti-democratic institution. It was designed, in fact, to blunt the effect of direct election by the whole people, as was the original Constitutional provision that the members of the upper house - the United States Senate - would be selected by the legislatures of the several states. This particular flaw was not corrected until 1913, with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
So many practical matters concerning our American experiment with democracy have had to be corrected over the brief two centuries since the adoption of our Constitution (its protection of slavery, disenfranchisement of women and those deprived of real property, and, in the beginning, the lack of a Bill of Rights, to name just a few), that one wonders why we've tolerated such a flawed presidential election system for so long - a system that frequently delivers us a president NOT elected by a majority of the people.
In his book, Jason takes pains to explain something called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which apparently works well for certain European democracies. At the very least, we should have a provision for a traditional runoff election, to avoid unelected presidencies (e.g. George W. Bush's first term) and presidencies "elected" by less than a majority of the voters. Such a system is needed also to allow third- and fourth-party candidates to be taken seriously as spokespeople for serious issues instead of as vote-robbers from the candidates of the two major parties.
Finally, along with fair elections, proportional representation (as opposed to Gerrymandered Congressional districts designed to stay forever Republican or Democratic), simple justice for gay citizens, and - notably - the importance of taking steps to create sustainable communities that protect the global natural environment, Jason also informs us of some of the reason for the seemingly incomprehensible, vehement resistance to international trade agreements and the development of the WTO.
The world press has done a poor job of reporting the fact that, whereas it does make sense for countries to compete freely and trade freely in order for the natural advantages of each national or regional economy to be put to global use for the profit of all, much of this is being accomplished at the cost of local democratic control over local institutions. I have to admit that I was completely puzzled as to the reasons behind the constant demonstrations against WTO and others, assuming wrongly that if there had been a good case for all this uproar the press at least would have hinted at it.
This book is a concise and illuminating glimpse into the profound idealism of a new generation of American reformers, and it's well worth the price for that insight alone. But it is also an exposition of the principles of one young man whose actions, along with those of others in the effort to establish simple justice for gay men and lesbians in this country, have helped to light a beacon of hope for the future.