Friday, June 25, 2010


Practicing Democracy: More from John Hill at the US Social Forum in Detroit


Wasserman and Fitrakis on Ohio 2004 election travesty

My afternoon workshop is presented by Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis of the Columbus Free Press (, authors of a book claiming the Republicans stole the 2004 election in Ohio, a story called “most censored” by Project Censored. I haven’t read the book yet, and am reserving judgment on whether their assertion is true, although everything I have heard and what they discuss in their workshop makes this plausible to me.

In any case, they have chronicled many cases of dirty tricks, voter intimidation, mysterious “technical failures,” people in suits masquerading as officials, huge lines in poor neighborhoods, and so on. Many of their sources are mainstream. Their account is sometimes merry as they relate levels of malfeasance so preposterous that you can only laugh before maybe bursting into tears at what a mockery was made of democracy. They also relate the abject surrender of the Democrats in the face of this and the inability of some in the left press to take the story seriously while offering no compelling reason why they have not done so.

Some might consider this a dead issue now. But to me it is instructive in that it helps us see exactly some of the reforms necessary to restore integrity to our voting process.

They call for two main remedies, if I'm getting it right: publicly counted paper ballots everywhere and the universal registration of every American citizen when he or she reaches the age of 18.


The commons

Another enlightening cab ride to the forum in the morning. The cabbie says Detroit is worse than he’s ever seen it. He recounts a story of taking a desperate woman to the casino so she can try to win enough to keep from being thrown out of her house. She wins a thousand dollars to start, then loses it all. He picks her up later. She's in tears and doesn’t even have the cab fare.

But...I refer readers to Democracy Now’s coverage of the hope being brought to the city by the work of Detroit’s young activists.

My morning workshop is an interesting one about the “the commons.” This is a concept that goes back to Roman law, was in the Magna Carta, and came into English common law after that. It is the idea in part that aside from public and private property there is the commons, which consists in part of natural resources used by all, such as the air, water, and forest land. The commons provide a shared space, a resource that is shared within a community. The presenter, from the Alliance for Democracy, tells of how now, because our legislators and regulators are “compromised,” the public must often sue to gain use of these commons, which properly should be available to us as a “public trust.”

In the main hall at the Cobo Center, there are frequent cultural outbursts, enlivening the proceedings. I have seen a circle of people playing and singing traditional Mexican music (beautiful), a song and dance routine of people protesting the unfair practices of a local restaurant, and a drum troop parading through the hall and out into the street.

All's well that ends well?

My afternoon is taken up with a peoples’ movement assembly on building a nationwide progressive movement that will propose resolutions to be presented to the national peoples’ movement assembly at the end of the forum. This PMA is maybe misnamed, being mainly a discussion on what Greens and progressive Democrats and others can do together.

The workshop reveals to me a couple of enduring stumbling blocks of this segment of the movement. One is that there is still considerable disagreement among some as to whether to work with the Democrats or not, the other is that our deliberative processes in the movement are frequently chaotic, undisciplined, and not strongly facilitated. To me, this hinders democracy and weakens our effectiveness. If we’re trying to bring about democracy on a big scale, shouldn’t we be experts on its practice on a small one? To its credit, the assembly does achieve consensus on quite a few useful resolutions.

Sisterhood is powerful

Feeling a little burned out and ready for a break, I find myself accidentally at a delightful dinner with the some of the national staff of the Womens’ International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF), a 95-year-old organization which finally realized they would get nowhere lobbying our legislators if democratic reform is not brought about. Seizing an opportunity, I write out a contribution check and hand it directly to the director of development. Now, although technically not a woman, I am a proud member of WILPF.

John Hill has been an organizer, fundraiser, and activist working on many issues of social justice. Also a singer, songwriter, and musician, he now works to end corporate rule in the United States and to establish a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

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