It starts early. Possibly it was when my teacher in kindergarten, Sister Mary Malida, asked for a show of hands from her young charges on the picture book we would like to have read to us.
Maybe it happened when my mother, trying to get her gaggle to go in one direction at the park, asked us to decide what we would like to do first, swings or slides.
We learn to express our opinion through voting, early on.
In doing so we continue the millennia-old development of democracy. Rule by the demos or people has its roots deep in recorded history.
Some cite the Babylonian written legal code attributed to Hammurabi in the 18th century B.C. as a starting point (www.fordemocracy.net) but it drew on even earlier Sumerian laws which in turn represented an advance over tribal customs that had been passed on orally over uncounted generations.
During the ‘golden age’ of Athenian democracy, from the 5th to 3rd centuries BC, the citizens of Athens met about 10 times a year to discuss key community matters.
Open debate of the issues before them became a hallmark of their deliberations. This had its autocratic opponents then as it does now.
“Instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all,” argued Pericles, the Athenian orator and statesman,
Of course, these early steps were flawed.
Over a quarter of Hammurabi’s code had to deal with the control of women and another quarter on questions concerning animals.
In Athens foreign-born residents, slaves and, of course, women were among a large majority that had no rights of citizenship in that fledgling democracy.
Slowly, inexorably over the centuries humanity has moved towards greater inclusion.
Remember in western democracies women generally didn’t win the right to vote until after the First World War.
In Canada First Nations people on reserves couldn’t vote until 1960 and the homeless just won this basic right in 2000.
Though voting, it would seem, is in the very marrow of our society, a growing percentage of our fellow citizens particularly the young, statistically don’t appear to place a high priority on it.
The current campaign doesn’t appear likely to change this fact.
“This election, to be honest, if I could ignore it, I would,” said Ilona Dougherty in a recent Maclean’s article by Nicholas Kohler.
The 25-year-old Yukoner living in Montreal and “founder of Apathy is Boring a non-profit group aimed at trying to bring young people back to the democratic process” points to a deeper concern.
“I don’t think we should just be encouraging youth with ‘rah-rah, go vote; it’s your civic duty.’ We really need to look at fundamental systemic reasons why young people are not voting.”
Perceived powerlessness against corporate agendas, a voting system that doesn’t reflect the will of the majority, or a host of other factors may contribute to opting out.
We have to resist the trend towards cynicism and despair.
Groups like Apathy is Boring are working for change.
Fair Vote Canada noted at the outset of the current electoral campaign that if “the election produces a phony majority and one party gains unfettered control of Parliament with 40 per cent of the vote or even less, look for a backlash and skyrocketing pressure for reform.”
Locally the Electoral Reform Committee is meeting just after the federal election on January 26 at 7 p.m. in Gartner-Lee Offices at 2251 2nd, Ave. (Same building as Rogers Video).
Remember “the job of the citizen is to keep his/her mouth open,” noted the German author Günter Grass.
But first things first, make sure you are heard. Vote.