Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Immigrants: A Shot in the Arm for Our Ailing Democracy by David Andersson - Room Eight

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I think this is a wonderful idea and urge Speaker Quinn to bring it up for a vote in the City Council ASAP... 

We are about to witness a new and a rather unconventional contribution of the immigrant community in New York. This time, it will not be with work and cheap labor, or with cultural art and entertainment, or even with food. It will be by resuscitating our old and paralyzed democracy.

The state of affairs of our democracy is in general pathetic, and even worse at the local level. Only about 15% of the registered voters participate in local elections. The elections are already decided days before the voting booths open; the parties and lobbies place their candidates, make deals and control the outcome on Election Day. People are not stupid - they don't want to waste their precious time doing something useless! Everyone knows that voting in local New York elections is meaningless.

For the well being of the majority of the New York's residents, the situation has to change. We need to increase the representation and participation of everyone; we need to destabilize the political status quo and to form a dynamic multicultural voting community. The rights to affordable housing, to a decent minimum wage, to quality public education, and to adequate social services are possible, but only if our democracy changes, and represents everyone.

We are not just in an economic crisis. Everywhere we look, we can see that violence is gaining ground, the tensions between groups and communities is increasing, and the situation is getting crazier by the day.

This is a difficult but opportune moment to come forward with real and sincere proposals - proposals that will unite and reconcile - proposals that will have as their central tenet nonviolence, both as a personal attitude and as a social form of action. We need to come up with proposals that are coherent, and open to the future.

This past November, a bill was introduced to the New York City Council that is designed to do just that. The bill, Intro 410, proposes the right to immigrants, who are lawfully present in New York City, to vote in municipal elections. This legislation would grant voting right to over 1.3 million New Yorkers (for more details, see www.ivotenyc.org).

The legislation, proposed by the Chair of the City Council Immigration Committee, Daniel Dromm (D-25), has already received endorsement from 21 Council Members. According to Mr. Dromm, “…It is time for our evolving democracy to embrace voting rights in local elections for all residents. We are all stakeholders in our community and should have a say in important local issues. In the words of the Revolutionary patriots who put their lives on the line for the freedoms we enjoy today, 'No taxation without representation.'

Of course, this is not the magic bullet that will resolve all our problems. However, it is a step in the right direction. This legislation is something that could change the political map of the City, and give representation to a larger percentage of the New York's population.

If we have to remember just one thing from our history, it is that we have no democracy without participation. Our rights depend on our democracy. And our democracy depends on our participation. Without you, I lose my power and my ability to choose the conditions under which I live. Are we willing to give that power away?

David Andersson
Director of NYC Chapter of the Humanist Party and the coordinator of the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights (iVote NYC).