IT’S BECOMING CLEAR THAT THINGS ARE MOVING dynamically in this final week in the run-up to the election. Interest is growing. Voters are changing their minds. The media are having a field day.
But on October 20, with the election done, everything settles back into that one great goal: the possession of power. A feeling develops in Ottawa that the winners have been legitimized by a process of voting that now gives them sway to carry out their own designs. It’s as if democracy is all about the vote and never about the four years following.
There’s been much hoopla about the increase in advance voting as compared to the last election, and it is encouraging. As citizens we are coddled, prompted to dream, to trust this party or that, to get engaged, to make a difference. But at midnight of Election Day we are largely overlooked as the focus becomes the power structure in Ottawa once again.
This being the case, it is always a dangerous thing for citizens to emphasize the few weeks of election at the expense of the few years following. Power is not just about voting, but vigilance, and that’s a lot harder to accomplish. The office of citizenship (and, yes, it is an office) is built on the premise that power is really established in the will of the people. But the irony is that citizens most often exercise that privilege during an election and rarely follow through afterwards, whereas the political class panders to voters in the electoral contest while become fixated on the years of political power in the future. If that practice is maintained, citizens will never be able to change anything. The assault on democracy prevalent in recent years will only continue.
Power is not just about the one who wins it, but the many who guard it. Should citizens not want to take part in the long game, power and its use, its winner and losers, will be determined in Ottawa. Citizens don’t like to talk about power, especially as the political structure itself becomes more dysfunctional. But power, and the pursuit of it, is remarkably real, and whoever holds it will inevitably affect the lives of millions. We can go ahead and presume the practice of politics is sordid, but if it causes us to opt out, to remain ignorant of the ways of power, then our future is decided by others, without our input.
It is encouraging to witness the present interest in the 2015 federal campaign. Citizens are showing up in significant numbers in advance polls and it could be an indication that they are feeling enough is enough. They understand that our greatest challenges aren’t being addressed and they are somehow wishing to acknowledge that reality by visiting the ballot box. But that is meant to be the beginning of their engagement in power, not the end of it.
If we as citizens don’t wake up to the realities of power, we will simply be left out of its workings in the coming years. If people desire change, then they must adjust themselves to collectively stay tuned to politics instead of turning away. Elections alone are never enough. Politicians and political parties alike have grown accustomed to returning to the voter every election in order to get their papers to govern again. But our political future will never change unless, following our vote, we remind our representatives that we desire a place at the table – not in Ottawa, but in our home constituencies. We need collective and cooperative meetings with our politicians on an ongoing basis, to demand accountability, yes, but to also teach us the nuances of power itself and how we might play our own needed role – collectively.
Brazilian educator Paulo Freire notes that, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” There is important truth in this insight. To turn away from vigilance regarding political power only leaves those who seek power for power’s sake forever in charge and leaves millions defenceless. .