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Metro Detroit Greens (Wayne, Oakland & Macomb Counties)

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On August 30, I circulated a request for articles written for this web site. The next day, I got this reply.
- Art Myatt

Hi, here is a piece the NY State Greens have had posted since 5/98, written when I lived in Vancouver (the other one -- in Clark County, Washington, just across the river from Portland, OR). Feel free to post this on the site if you like. Thanks!

John Gear, FairvoteMichigan@home.com


The Apathy Party

by John Gear

Marcia Wolf's front page piece on the two major parties in Clark County (April 27, "Right stuff has the upper hand") is a great example of how preconceived notions cause trained reporters to miss the obvious.

What did Wolf miss? Only the largest, fastest-growing political party in Clark County: the Apathy Party, the unacknowledged offspring of the Democratic and Republican Parties.

(Although both formally deny that it exists, informally both blame the other for it, when they're not blaming the citizenry.)

By objective measures, Apathy is clearly the lead party nationally and is surging in Clark County. A more accurate headline and subtitle for Wolf's story would have been "'None of the above' has upper hand; once a bastion of the big two, Clark County has shifted to the Apathy Party in a big way."

Why care about the Apathy Party? For starters, if we don't take off our two-parties only glasses we only see through a two-party filter-which means we can't figure out why the Apathy Party is booming.

Of course, it's easy to write the story as Wolf did. Take two parties, two officials, and a handful of soundbites from each "side" (with everyone attempting to use their quotes to spin the story their way), and presto, the story writes itself.

Newspapers love the "two horse race" storyline. It says politics is nothing but two parties jockeying for position. Every issue can be examined for how it helps or hurts one party or the other-regardless of whether the reporter knows little or nothing about the issue. And the horse race model means that reporters need never admit that they don't know something. They can always write a story like Wolf's about "Who's ahead."

Couple this with the "blame the victim" game and you have a perfect recipe for Apathy Party growth. ("Blame the victim" is what TV producers do when they say they produce crappy shows because that's what people want. The consultants who rule the two big parties today try a variant. They all say that, while they would love to focus on issues and solutions, that's not what voters want.)

Which can make joining the Apathy Party seem like a perfectly rational move. A majority of people now see politics as just a Punch and Judy show: two puppets who do little other than beat on each other in response to commands from people hidden offstage-the people and companies who pour money into campaigns.

All is not lost, however. There is something we could try if we want to avoid takeover by the Apathy Party. We could examine our winner-take-all model. We can ask whether it contributes to the low quality of election campaigns we suffer from-and the low turnout that results.

Because our schools and the press act as if it were a top secret, you may not know that most democracies don't use the same election rules we do. They use one form or another of proportional representation (PR). PR is nothing more than a two-word description of how our country's republican democracy is supposed to work: representation according to numbers.

It is no accident that both South Africa and Ireland have recently chosen PR elections instead of winner take all. They know that giving no representation to people who get 49.999 percent of the vote is a sure way to boost the Apathy Party-or even more dangerous ones. But in the US, that's common. In fact, that's the goal of the parties under our system: deny any representation to the other side, even if they represent half the people.

That bears repeating: our winner-take-all system "works"-to the extent that it does-by encouraging the two main parties to do everything possible to prevent any other views from being heard in the halls of power. No wonder so many people feel alienated from politics. Sports are zero sum games, where one person has to lose for the other to win. But politics doesn't have to be; only our winner-take-all system makes it so.

And that system tells candidates "pretend to be all things to all people" and "avoid anything that an opponent can call extreme," because that can lose you votes. This ends up boosting Apathy anyway, because it makes the 5% or 10% of voters who swing back and forth across party lines the most important voters of all. By definition, swing voters don't identify strongly with a party. And the people who don't identify with a party tend to vote based on one or maybe two issues. They know the least about all "other' issues.

It's time that we examined why a party with no candidates and no platform (other than "Don't vote, it just encourages 'em.") is surging in Clark County, and it's time we stopped overlooking the role our election rules have in fueling that trend. It's time to learn more about proportional representation. To find out more about it, write to the Center for Voting and Democracy at PO Box 60037, Washington DC, 20039, or check their website at http://www.fairvote.org


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