Whilst I am habitually much more interested in politics than the average person (the average person currently needs to significantly lift their game in order to preserve our democracy), I recently decided very reluctantly after weighing up many salient concerns that my obligations for civic duty towards our democracy would be better served by me spending much of Election Day on the couch, watching Netflix (more specifically a new rom-com about brash hot American babe finding love with a Jackaroo on an Australian vineyard) and napping, and letting market forces take their proper course.
So hence, in my deliberately disengaged state, I did vote on the second day of pre-polling, not that my vote will make any difference in a safe Labor seat. (My investment in Thursday’s Powerball draw did not come off, so I am very likely to still be living in this same safe seat in 3 years’ time.)
Hunger cravings did overcome me around 4.30pm, so I put on my overcoat and wandered down to my local polling booth (ie the local primary school) to grab a ‘democracy sausage’.
Democracy sausages have been a part of our language for at least the past decade, but the whole tradition of some concerned local citizens doing a fundraising sausage sizzle at the local polling booth has been in existence a lot longer – I recall it in the 1998 Federal Election at the very latest.
But alas, I was too late. The sausage sizzle was over. It had all fizzled out.
Perhaps the local polling booth sausage sizzle turning into a fizzle like that is metaphorical for the state of our democracy at the moment.
We need to do better, much better. And that is not just in terms of what our political leaders do for us, but what we as citizens need to do to become more engaged, more responsible, and to actively expect better from our political leaders and their parties.
The deliberate inaction that I chose to exercise at this election, as someone who considers himself normally to be a highly politically engaged citizen, is something that I consider as a drastic step – one of staying silent as the best way of expressing my disapproval.
I do not recommend it as a sustainable solution.
The major sin that we as supposed citizens commit is that of Apathy. It has many faces.
Within Apathy, the most appalling aspect is Ingratitude. The poor mug punters standing out there on Election Day handing out how to vote cards, regardless of which party they are supporting, are worthy of our thanks. They are out there, unpaid, in all sorts of nasty weather, actually supporting some party or candidate they believe in, leaving themselves open to verbal abuse from all sorts of irresponsible morons who are angry at being forced to vote to avoid a fine.
This activity by those people, the very few, is the mortar that holds together the bricks that comprise our democracy, and they need to be thanked for that the same way that we applaud volunteers for any charity.
Irresponsibility is another aspect of our current democracy prevalent amongst our fellow citizens. So many people vote informal, either because there is no major party which appeals to them in particular, or because they are so mindlessly indifferent as to take their democracy for granted.
To them I just say this: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran.
Ignorance is a common face of apathy. I can laugh at the misinformation contained in spam texts from a certain billionaire, or when that same billionaire pays for a folksy country theme song to serve as the new ‘anthem’ for his vanity party in place of the Twisted Sister song he blatantly ripped off 3 years ago.
However, the amount of blatantly inaccurate information which circulates, with motives ranging from the militant to the insidious, and which is inadequately called out, is a problem.
But it only coalesces as a threat to our democracy when we choose to be ignorant, to either believe such nonsense and to accept it, or to choose not to be more informed and responsible as citizens.
It is our civic duty, particularly in an educated and wealthy nation like Australia, to be informed and responsible citizens. We need to actively think about what our politicians and would be politicians are doing and saying and promising, and to try and establish some semblance of truth.
And finally we suffer from Acquiescence or Complacency. We take our democracy for granted that it will always be there, the same way that I took the local democracy sausage sizzle for granted this afternoon.
This is despite the fact that democracy takes hard work, over many generations, to achieve and to maintain. There are many flaws in whoever is our elected government at any one time. But we don’t need to acquiesce that their flaws are just endemic to the system and shrug it off til the ballot box. We should not shrug off the behaviour of our elected officials for three or four years.
What we need to do is to take account of their flaws, to determine whether their behaviour amounts to misfeasance or an unacceptable and unprecedented level of corruption or abuse of power, and then to talk about it. Talk about it with your family, your friends, your colleagues, your social media contacts.
Apathy is the many faceted major flaw of our democracy at the moment. So what do we as responsible citizens need to do?
First, STOP WHINGING! I hear so many people complaining all the time about the current government (or its predecessor), but they have never belonged to a political party, or volunteered on Election Day, or signed a petition, or participated in a protest march, or donated to a cause.
There is no right to whinge. This is the mark of the politically apathetic and impotent. Whinging does not make a difference. Try to find a more constructive outlet for your concerns.
Second, GET INFORMED. There is no excuse for ignorance. Learn what the underlying political philosophies and platforms are, and what the politicians are saying and doing. Only by knowing what they are meant to stand for and what they are actually doing, are we able to take steps to hold them to account.
Third, GET INVOLVED. As I have written previously, political party membership in the 1950s was about 5% in a much smaller population. We probably, in a population two and a half times larger than then, have less actual political party members in numbers, let alone as a proportion of the population.
Democracy involves work, and that involves people actually signing up to their party of their preferred choice and showing up to meetings and paying their membership dues.
Chinese billionaires affiliated to the Communist Party have been making heaps of donations to both major parties until very recently. Does this worry you? It worries me. The only way to fix this, and the other problems with the appalling way that our major parties operate and treat their rank and file members at the moment is for the actual supports of each party to join up and be active voices in those parties.
So, fellow Citizens, it is time we all got off our butts.
Let’s work to preserve the democracy and free society we have inherited.