War and the erosion of civil liberties are not practices that I embrace, and I don't think I can willingly live in a country whose government thinks them necessary. I am terrified of inheriting an undemocratic system of government. I am petrified by the thought of having no real choice or say in what happens in our supposedly "democratic" country. This is why I'm so scared for my future.
I recently went to see Dennis Kucinich speak in Carrboro, and he reminded me of someone I had seen speak before. Then, I read in the paper that Ralph Nader would be speaking at N.C. State. Suddenly the whole experience with Kucinich came back to me. Ralph Nader--Kucinich reminded me of Ralph Nader. I had seen Nader speak on the UNC campus just before the 2000 presidential election fiasco. He had spoken out so adamantly against our two-party system, and the lack of real choice and representation in this country's electoral system. He had also gone to great lengths to criticize both parties for their inability to encourage youth participation in the election. This theme was clearly reflected in Kucinich's speech in Carrboro. He talked about the need to make the Democratic Party a viable alternative to the Republicans on all fronts, not just war.
Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich have two things in common that most Democrats and other liberal politicians don't--they both have a natural tendency to reach out to young and alienated voters. Most of the voters they reach for seem to be disillusioned by the centrist tendency of the Democratic Party. They also try to reach out to apathetic non-voters because no one else does, and they need all the votes they can get. Many people, however, feel they're drawing votes away from the prime Democratic candidate.
"A vote for Nader is two votes for Bush!"
"Nader is just a big fake, with an ego to match. He's a spoiler."
All these words still ring clearly in my ears. The funny thing is, people were shouting them four years ago and I'm still hearing them today. I looked up the definition of "democracy" in the dictionary and I didn't see anything that said you could only have two serious political parties in a democracy. I looked up the word "republic" also, and I once again noticed no mention of a limit on how many different parties could represent the people of this nation. On the contrary, I noticed that, according to the definition of a free republic, it is necessary for a government to be truly representative of the citizens of the country. So what happens if the two main political parties in a two-party system don't represent the people of a country anymore? You need to have choice--serious, honest choice. Perhaps something that all these people who throw around the word "spoiler" don't realize is that what people like Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich are doing is what anyone who truly loves democracy would do. They are out there to present an alternative to what a growing number of people are viewing as a broken Democratic Party. They are trying to give people a real choice, not a choice between the lesser of two evils. And they are trying to get real changes made to the way our money-based electoral system is organized.
They are also doing exactly what needs to be done to give America a new meaning to the word "democracy." They are trying to get young voters out there to make their voices heard. There are many corporatized "youth voice"-type organizations out there, but they are more or less mockeries of serious action organizations. A perfect example is MTV's "Choose or Lose" campaign. It seems like an honest attempt at getting youth involved in politics, but too much of the time it focuses on trivial matters such as which candidates like which popular trends. Even if it were more oriented around the issues, it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference. No one pays attention to it, anyway. The "Rock the Vote" campaign obviously didn't help a lot in 2000, and 2004 isn't shaping up to be a lot different. It goes without mention that the only parties that get attention are the Democratic and Republican parties. No third parties or independent candidates get any meaningful coverage.
There are a number of organizations out there that have their sights set on serious change. PunkVoter (www.punkvoter.com ) is one such organization. It is made up of a collection of bands and artists who play punk rock and have a mission of getting President Bush out of office. Another such honest organization is The League of Independent Voters (www.indyvoter.com). It is dedicated to bringing swing states over to a more progressive majority through youth participation.
Voting has become the greatest spectator sport in our nation. For every four eligible American voters who went to the polls in November 2000, six sat at home. Why participate when you don't feel like you have any chance of changing the outcome of the game? A majority of Americans obviously couldn't find a reason. They must feel like there is no party with a chance at winning that actually cares about them, or maybe they simply forgot that it was Election Day. There are people out there who want to give citizens a reason to vote, but you probably won't hear about them. They don't get recognition in the media because corporate interests do not back them. They are trying to invigorate the armchair activist to get out and not only vote, but possibly become involved in local politics. They are asking Americans to reclaim their heritage of democracy, because democracy requires the serious participation of the people.
So I am here asking you to help me out. I want to live in a country where I have a voice in politics, and I think there is something you can do to help. When someone comes to your door petitioning for signatures for a third party or independent candidate, stop and think: What is more important in a democracy, less competition for Major Party Candidate A, or more choice for voters? Maybe you could take it a step further, and voice opposition to un-democratic practices like big-money campaign financing and the distribution of federal campaign funds only to major parties. Then there is always the ultimate move, supporting a third party candidate or at least a major party candidate who supports removing restrictions on choice in elections. Who knows, maybe when Election Day 2008 rolls around and I'm an eligible voter, I'll have a choice on the ballot that I like, and I'll have you to thank.
Jonathan Pattishall is a freshman at Jordan High School in Durham and an intern at The Independent.