Op-Ed

What does OWS want? Real democracy

Pundits' heads are spinning not knowing what Occupy Wall Street wants. They are surprised by the movement because it does not have any demands. The reason pundits are at a loss is simply that they are not paying attention. You only need to hear the battle cry to see that occupiers have one very important demand.

"We are the 99 percent, yet the government keeps neglecting our needs. We are the 99 percent yet we have no health care while the few make billions out of people's medical needs. We are the 99 percent yet we have no jobs while the 1 percent makes billions sending jobs overseas. We are the 99 percent yet the financial system is rigged to allow the elites to kick the people out of their houses. We are the 99 percent yet ..." You can fill in the rest. It would look like these are many different demands when, actually, they have one single demand: They want democracy.

They want a system in which the needs and wants of the majority take precedence over the profits of the few. Part of the reason pundits and intellectuals can't see that OWS supporters are simply asking for democracy is that Americans have been hoodwinked into believing that we have the most perfect democratic system possible.

Representative democracy was a pretty good idea back in the late 1700s, but its time has passed, and the world needs a new, more advanced democratic system.

In March 2008, then-Vice President Dick Cheney was confronted with polls showing that two thirds of Americans said the fight in Iraq was not worth it. To this Cheney replied, "So?"

The problem was not only that Cheney was a bad representative (which he was); the problem was that the representatives are elected by the will of the people, but they are not bound to it. That is representative democracy's flaw. The people write a blank check to an elected official, and the elected official does what he or she wants to do with it. But there is a solution: participatory democracy.

For most Americans, participatory democracy only means getting involved in politics, writing to elected officials, participating in demonstrations or even running for office. All that is fine and well, but the representatives are still the ones calling the shots. They are not servants of the will of the people. We depend on persuading the representatives to do the right things while the corporate elites line those representatives' pockets with election campaign money to go against the interest of the people.

Real participatory democracy is a substantially different political system in which there are representatives, but they do not make decisions for the people. The people can have a vote on the important issues and override the politicians.

If the United States had a participatory democracy, we would not have to beg the government to protect Social Security and Medicare. We would have a vote and force it. The representatives would not have the power to go against the majority. The people would not have to write their representatives imploring them to let the tax cuts for billionaires expire, they would mandate it with a binding referendum.

In participatory democracy, you do not have to lobby or try to negotiate with representatives to enact universal health care. We would vote on it and make it happen.

Not everything would be up for a vote. Decisions that infringe on the rights of people are off the table. You would not be able to vote on banning gay marriage any more than you can ban interracial marriage or Catholics from holding public office.

No doubt someone would argue that running the country needs knowledge and preparation and that we cannot entrust the important decisions to the poorly educated masses. This is an old argument. Back in the 1700s, when the American Revolution came along, it was also argued that only the royal family had what it took to run a nation.

There is no doubt the masses need to be well-informed to make important decisions and not manipulated by media or special interests. A system of participatory democracy needs to involve a lot of debate and well-informed discussion.

However, I would take my chances, any day, with the decision of a well-informed multitude over the decisions of a few ill-intentioned lobbyists and politicians.

  Comments