Returning to democracy

I learned I don’t matter. I was born in Kansas. I have a Social Security number and pay taxes. I am a registered voter. I like fried chicken and cheeseburgers … I am an American and I … just … don’t matter.

More than all the other virtues of the American ideal, life, justice, equality and liberty, the virtue of democracy reigns supreme. When all the other virtues are under attack, wounded and made frail, it is democracy, the voice and power of the citizenry that comes to the rescue and corrects the trajectory of the long arc of history … in theory.

Democracy is a powerful thing. So powerful there are today and have always been those who fear it. And they should. The will of the people often imposes upon the will of those in position of power. For as long as I can remember, there have been those, within our own democracy, who wage war against it. They weaken it by redefining it, making us believe democracy is something other than what it is. Democracy is not a military. It is not a flag. It is not one race of people. It is not capitalism or a religion. It is a vote. That’s all … a vote. And that vote becomes a majority, the majority becomes a consensus, the consensus becomes a mandate and the mandate becomes a law and the law becomes a nation. A vote is like a single raindrop in union with countless other raindrops becoming a river. That river is democracy. When the value of a vote is diminished, democracy is diminished and the river becomes dammed and stagnate.

When my vote matters … I matter. Unfortunately, I agree with my President … the system is rigged. It has been so since the beginning. But it’s not rigged in the way he suggests.

Even our founding fathers feared democracy. They had a very narrow view of who would matter and who would not matter as much. In penning our constitution they quite shrewdly sought to protect the voice of the minority. Not minorities, but “the minority” …the landed gentry … the aristocracy. They needed a failsafe, a mechanism to protect them against the will of the ignorant and envious citizenry, to protect them against the hand of democracy. So they invented the Electoral College. In doing so, they institutionalized my diminishment.

In our history, it has only been five times that the Electoral College has usurped the will of the citizenry. Once would be too many. As long as the Electoral College exist … I, you, we exist a little less. We matter a little less.

It is a strange thing that it was one of the signers of our constitution, Elbridge Gerry, who further institutionalized the weakening of our democracy. He was the governor of the state of Massachusetts. Like many politicians he was disingenuous, his political principles contradicted his moral values to the point of making him a liar of necessity. One day, out one side of his mouth, he would be calling for an end to the partisan warfare that hobbled government while the next day, out the other side of his mouth, directing his attorney general to go after his enemies. He prosecuted newspaper editors for libel and seized control of the boards of institutions of higher learning in attempts to quiet opposition. But the most undemocratic thing he is known for is re-districting. He was the first to carve up a state districting map to give advantage to himself and his party. The very word “gerrymandering” comes from the joining of his name, Gerry, and the shape of the districts he drew which meandered seemingly mindlessly and looked like a salamander … a gerrymander.

Gerrymandering is a zero sum sort of game. It creates an environment in which for me to matter, for my vote to matter, someone else’s vote must matter less. In the United States, one political party represents 37 percent of the population while another political party represents 44 percent of the population. In a healthy democracy, these ratios would be reflected in our leadership. Somehow, the numbers keep getting flipped. Because of gerrymandering, there is no democratic representation … just manipulation.

I believe in democracy. My vote means something to me. More than an anthem, more than a flag, more than a pledge, my vote is my patriotism, my love of home and country. An equal faithfulness to party and faithfulness to democracy cannot exist in the same thought, in the same value, in the same ideology. One must choose one over the other. I choose democracy.

When the powers that be go about the business of weakening democracy by re-districting, gerrymandering, they use technologies like Maptitude Geographic Information System software. Such tools tell them exactly where to draw the lines in order to most effectively elevate party over democracy. The sad thing is, when the powers that be use such technologies to circumvent the democracy I hold dear, they are making a choice. You see, the same software used to make my vote matter less, to make me matter less, could also be used to draw perfectly representational districts, to make democracy matter more. They choose not to.

This is my fault. It is me, the citizen, the voter who has tolerated this circumstance. I have tolerated being lied to on a daily basis from both the left and the right. I have tolerated being manipulated. I have tolerated my vote being made a joke. I will tolerate no more. It is not a man, not a political party, not the words on a bumper sticker I believe in. I believe in democracy. Because I believe I matter. Because I believe you matter. This is all I have learned today.


James Wares lives in Marshalltown and can be reached at