Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Isn't Freedom, Equality and Democracy Worth Enough to Fight For?

The passing of the REAL ID act gave me pause this morning. Just how far have we come and what will it cost?

We have come a long way in the last 5 years or so. I thinking of boundaries, of lines crossed, of things somehow forgotten. If one were to wake up, after having been in a coma, would they recognize the United States today? How would we explain how we got here and what the future holds?

I remember that deep feeling of general unease and anger when the Supreme Court appointed George W Bush as our next President. My stomach sank that day because I knew things were going to change. The various discussions that happened over the next week or so conjured images of gloom and doom that have not even come close to the reality we see today. I don't think any of us realized just how many lines we were about to cross and how difficult the task of stepping back would seem in the years ahead.

That was the first line. Our Supreme Court failed to honor the will of the American People and uphold the decision of their Florida Supreme Court. On that election day in 2000, the American people chose Al Gore as their next President of the United States. The Supreme Court ruled that our votes don't count and that the party with the best legal team wins the prize. We were told our votes don't count and everyone was OK with that. The Supreme Court knew what they had done too. They wrote their opinion and included specific language to try and limit the damage in that their poor decision applied only to Gore -vs- Bush. They picked the president, ignored our vote, and didn't want to set precident. They didn't want to cross the line, but they did anyway.

I've thought a lot about the fragile nature of democracy since then. Democracy is about trust. A democracy is only as solid as those who participate want it to be. Our founders gave everything to establish ours. That meant something. It meant enough to carry us over 200 years. It does not mean as much now.

Despite, great efforts to bury the story, Bush did feel public pressure to fix our election crisis, thus HAVA was born and with it came Electronic Voting machines. We struggle with this today in that most Americans don't value their democracy as they used to. We have been lulled into trusting untrustworthy processes that govern our democracy. In this we have largely lost the power our founders intended us to have. That's another line crossed.

We have placed our trust into untrustworthy processes and people to handle our votes, count them and tell us the result rather than do the work ourselves and be assured the result is true and just. Everybody knows the importance of accountability. That's why we vote. Our government is supposed to be a representative one that works in our best interests. We have checks and balances to help keep our human nature from getting the best of us.

We don't have that anymore because our votes are counted for us by machines that we cannot understand or oversee. By trusting what is untrustworthy, we lose our ability to control our own future as a nation.

That's the fix George Bush brought to us. Rather than actually work to make sure the democratic process works for everyone, he chose to exploit a crisis in order to erode and transfer our chain of trust to third parties, more than able to manupulate our democracy for their own ends with most of us none the wiser. For those few who can see what has happened, a compliant and willing media works to brand us with names and labels that marginalize our cries for justice and trust.

So many lines, so little time...

Another line crossed happened after 9/11. I am sure every American wants to see those responsible brought to justice. I want that too. The line we crossed that day was one of fear. Call it the culture of fear if you will. Our fear of terrorism, under a true leadership would bring strength and unity to the American people. We have been here before and worked as one to defend our core American values; namely, equality, freedom and democracy. And we won.

Sadly, we have crossed that line too. We have crossed into fear where our values are not worth the risk anymore, or that's what they tell us anyway. Rather than leverage and focus our fear and anger toward justice, our administration cultivates it with banners, colors and other devices that keep us aware of it. Under that fear we have been asked to yield many rights in return for safety. We crossed that line and got the Patriot Act in return.

Fear and false trust brought us another failed election. This time it was stolen, largely outside the courts and media. 30 percent of our votes cannot be proven to represent the will of the voters. We have no way to go back and see the true will of the American People as we did in 2000. There is no story to tell of how our democracy went wrong because we cast our votes and our trust into machines that did not keep either sacred for accounting later.

9/11 castrated our national mainstream media too. Everyone wants to support the President in a time of war. War on Terror. Is it even possible to have a war against an idea, a technique?

Somehow, we have lost the ability to question our leadership because the threat of terror demands we follow blindly or be struck. That's just not the America I grew up in. The Americans I used to know would fight to the last to uphold our democracy and freedom. Today we yield it piece by piece in the name of protecting ourselves from terrorists.

Lots of little lines crossed. Getting them drawn in the sand took everything we had. Stepping over them is so easy now. Looking back is tough too. We know what it took to earn our soverginty and the rewards of freedom and democracy. How much will it take to get it back? What would those who gave so much say of us today?

Now we have a national ID system in the works. This system is supposed to help us find out who the terrorists are among us. One central record will be made for each American. God only knows what will be attached to that record and what it will be used for.

Some say there is hope. We have checks and balances right? We can hold the listkeepers accountable right? Nobody will abuse the system because it's only for identification right?

Look at the lines crossed together and a different picture emerges. Our national ID can and will be used to validate all sorts of things we take for granted today. Travel, banking and other critical things will all require this identification system be carried at all times, or risk a strike from the terrorists among us. Do any of us honestly believe they will just step up, get their ID and then be found out? Is the fear so great as to make, "Your Papers Please" worth the false relief it will bring?

These ID cards will likely feature remote data transmitters called RFIDs. They allow the ID to be read at a distance. We have provisions in our law that prevent unwarranted search and seisure. We give lip service to the idea of privacy in ones own person. The Patriot Act lets our government brush those things aside in the hopes of finding terrorists. Again is that false relief worth it. Will a little card, broadcasting your personal information to passers by really do anything to prevent terrorism? What about this coming election? Will your electronically processed vote be tied to this ID you will very likely have to show in order to vote? What about your banking, things you buy, places you go?

One day in the near future you might have trouble finding a job. In the back of your mind, you wonder just what your personal record says about you. It will be kept a secret so nobody is at risk, but that means you will have to carry a device that holds information about your own person that you cannot see or read? What if it says you are gay, for example? It's like a nasty rumour that you are clueless about, but everyone else knows.

Are these things worth the false relief from fear they bring?

The way I see it, we have one more shot at fixing things. The upcoming mid-term congressional elections are the best shot we have at re-establishing a two party government while we still can easily do so. Large portions of the country are still not fully converted to electronic voting. We have a chance if we vote in record high numbers for change. We can still audit our elections and reveal fraud and manupulation. There is still time.

There is one more time.

We have crossed a lot of lines. Grave damage has been done to our democracy. Our founders saw this day and gave us the power we need to put our nation back on a solid path. They gave us the vote. We have nearly given it back to those who govern us, but there is still time.

What to do?

Simple. Stop the bickering and blind party loyalty. Stop giving away the farm so gay people can't get married or women can't have abortions. These are little things we can work out once we have earned the right to persue them. Right now, we are being lead, not represented. Right now, our best interests don't mean much because our government does not fear our accounting. We are weak and divided, confused and uninformed. Our votes don't matter because we don't want them to matter.

Here is the solution. No matter your party affiliation or social values, you need to vote a full Democratic Ticket in '06. I used to be Republican. Now I am simply an American asking you to join me in getting our checks and balances back. I am asking you to not sweat the little things and vote for the greater good.

Are the Dems perfect. Hell no. They are no prize and have just as many problems as the Republicans do. But I have learned something over the last few years that is very important and that is we need at least two sides to the discussion. Ideally we would have more, but we can't afford that right now.

One party government means absolute power over us. We have seen what that does time and time again. Will we sit and watch it happen to us, here today right now, because we are stuck on some silly issue? Will we let our freedom be taken one value at a time while we feel better that some of us can't get married, or that our church supports a president that will legislate our beliefs on the masses?

Vote a straight Democratic Ticket. Put the checks and balances back into our government then hold all of them accountable with the fear of our votes. Only then will we see legislation that helps us all improve our lot as Americans.

Do it. Cast your vote and cultivate a little healthy fear with me. We both will be better for it.


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