Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What does American democracy look like?

The US Congressional election has certainly inspired reflection on the nature of our democracies – both in the US and in Australia and elsewhere. For instance, WorldChanging asks the question on many minds: What Does Democracy in Action Look Like?, and points to the Polling Place Photo Project, which
is a nationwide experiment in citizen journalism that seeks to empower citizens to capture, post and share photographs of democracy in action. By documenting their local voting experience on November 7, voters can contribute to an archive of photographs that captures the richness and complexity of voting in America.
Some of the photographs (such as the one above) are fascinating. But most of the ones I had time to look at are hardly celebratory or glamourous. In fact, they are predominantly plain-old shots of what polling stations, and the ephemera that accompanies them, look like, and a few of people in them – working, volunteering or voting. Very pedestrian. But that is what democracy is like.

As Emily Gertz, in her WorldChanging post on the project, says,
the idea is to create an alternative to the typical images that glut the mainstream media during an election day, and also to make transparent what this most basic of American actions looks like. By the very nature of creating a photograph of it, that action gets elevated into something noteworthy…
The voter backlash against the American right, George Bush and the war in Iraq has led a great deal of hand-wringing, back-peddling, blaming, and sour grapes amongst American right-wing pundits, who I suspect hate or fear the 'people' whom they've realised they can't control - forever. At the heart of it, though, is the fact that people in America walked into polling booths around the country and cast their vote (or tried to, as the case may be where they had trouble with voting machines etc). And this is also laudable in spite of my, and other 'left-wing' or 'progressive' misgivings about the Democrats taking power and the poverty of America's two-party system.

In its post-election rallying cry to its conservative faithful, right wing website Eject! Eject! Eject! (thanks to Stephen for that link in the comments to my previous post) at the very least acknowledges that the people have spoken:
"And most especially do not blame the American people. They are not idiots and they are not sheep."
Amen for that.

[Image from Polling Place Photograph Project, taken in North-West Pasadena, California]

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