Ferguson and What It Says About American “democracy”

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Like many Americans I am outraged by the Grand Jury decision in Missouri not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown. But I was not surprised. What is surprising is how inhumanely Prosecutor McCulloch mishandled this. From his announcement alone it is clear he saw Darren Wilson as the victim, not Michael Brown. From a quick search of his professional record it is clear McCulloch never should have been anywhere near this case. He never wanted an indictment and all but said so. Beyond the fact that nothing will be done about Michael Brown’s death, the way the state of Missouri has handled it is nothing short of disgusting.

But what happens now? What is going on in Ferguson is just a microcosm for very real issues in America: racism and inequality–the assumption made in this country that one’s right to live is determined by skin color. It is an issue that goes all the way back to before America’s birth. Americans of all races are slowly waking up to this fact–and are angry. But what do we do about it? Ferguson has captured the world’s attention. Within the United States people have taken to the streets all across the country including mine, stopping freeways and causing disruption.

Acclaimed professor and intellectual Dr. Marc Lamont Hill said on CNN that “this is what democracy looks like.” With all due respect, I disagree. I’m glad people especially in my generation are so motivated but protests on their own will not change anything. Real change will come when power is in the hands of people truly committed to change. That is what democracy is. People only protest when they are unhappy with the way things are. Yet there is a burgeoning awareness that many in power are not about the people, but their own interests. 38_00392Americans are slowly realizing the country is divided and governed by a political elite that is not concerned with the best interest of the country but overpowering the other and their own self-interest. Earlier this year MSNBC discussed a study by professors at Northwestern and Princeton universities that found that policy decision-making is in the hands of the wealthy and business elite, backed by the US Supreme Court in recent decisions allowing easier political spending, translating to increased political influence of the most affluent at the expense of the majority. It then follows that the US is not a democracy but an oligarchy–power by the few.

Thus, people protesting in the streets is a demand for democracy. It is not democracy in itself. At this point the government does not need the consent of the governed to govern. Policy-makers are not accountable to the people. As long as this remains the case, the situation will remain the same and nothing will change. The militarization of the police will continue and black and brown Americans will be treated as second-class citizens.B1EmrIjCQAER1NM

Ironically, American leaders and citizens alike tout our country as “greatest on the face of the earth” and praise American democracy for championing the principle that every individual is “equal under the law.” But is America really the greatest? Racism and disenfranchisement were the genesis of America’s founding. The land we live on was taken away from the Native Americans and our economic success came on the backs of American slaves–my ancestors. Hundreds of years removed from these atrocities, the status quo remains the same. Clearly the American government does not practice what it preaches. My final question then, is how long will we, the American nation, the people, tolerate being governed by a oligarchy in democracy’s clothing?

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Midterm Elections in America–the Morning After

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Yesterday was midterm election day in the United States. Just as many analysts predicted, the Republicans picked up enough seats to gain control of the Senate and retained their hold on the House of Representatives. It is a well known fact that when voter turn out is high, Democrats tend to win. But when voter turnout is low, Republicans are successful. Preventing the loss of the Senate depended on Democrats’ ability to motivate voting blocs that tend to vote Democrat to “get out the vote.”

Herein lies the problem. Midterm elections never produce as high voter turnout as in presidential elections. In his speech this morning President Obama revealed only one-third of the electorate voted yesterday. Unfortunately for the president, the groups that he needed to get to the polls, African-Americans, Latinos, Millennials and women, likely either did not cast a ballot or in the case of women, voted for the GOP; prioritizing a lackluster economy over reproductive issues. After Obama announced he would not use executive action to pass immigration reform until after the midterms, many Latinos were understandably angry at a leader they helped elect precisely because he promised immigration reform. Final numbers have yet to come in but analysts predicted many Latinos would not vote, fed up with Republicans and disappointed in Obama.

African-Americans’ lack of a presence at the polls, is less explainable. Although this morning my social media is full of discussions questioning how African-Americans could not vote, given how our grandparents and great-grandparents fought and died for the right. 25399.previewOthers point out it is our civic duty to vote. My philosophy is that individuals who make a conscious decision not to vote lose the right to complain when they are unhappy with the results. If citizens want change they must use their voice. However for many African-Americans, the political system is broken and many contend that it was never intended to benefit us as a group in the first place. I do not dispute that. If it is proven that Latino voters refrained from voting because of Obama’s broken promise on immigration, it would seem that they have realized this too.

Yesterday a former professor of mine, a registered Independent who admits Democrats are in many ways no better than the Republicans, implored people to vote Democrat because two years of congressional control by the former, would be much worse than the latter. In this scenario the Democrats are the lesser of two evils. But from talking to Americans of all races, many are tired of having to always choose between the lesser of two evils because the line between them rapidly diminishing. The political situation in the United States today is one of anger, frustration and disappointment, transforming into apathy, indifference and pessimism. Voting for one party to prevent the other party from gaining power is no longer enough to motivate voters to show up at the polls.LyndonJohnson_signs_Voting_Rights_Act_of_1965

And as much as I believe that citizens have a duty to use their voice, I also believe that citizens have a right not to participate in a political system that only benefits those in power, rather than the people they serve.

As much as Americans are disillusioned by the president, the Republicans do not fare much better. When the race for 2016 begins, they will have a much bigger battle to fight if they want to take the White House. The Republicans cannot continue as a major political party without expanding their base beyond older white men. Some Republicans like Rand Paul and unsuccessful California gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari are reaching out to African-Americans and Latinos, keenly aware of this fact. But whether these efforts will translate into presidential votes remains to be seen.

ETA: On CNN this afternoon, John King highlighted that the Republicans’ victory yesterday does not mean the country ‘loves’ them. Majorities of Republicans in GOP controlled states want a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants and a higher minimum wage unlike many GOP lawmakers.