AS THE MILLENNIUM TURNS by Evan Ravitz
On May 18, the Boulder City Council holds a hearing on placing
the Voting by Phone Initiative, apparently the most popular petition
in Boulder history, on the November 2 ballot. We think it's important
for the future of democracy. Here's why:
Royalty dies hard as the millennium starts to turn. We got off to a good start in 1042- the Dark Ages lightened up a tad when the Magna Carta gave Royalty's subjects a few civil rights. U.S. history is one of increasing democratization. Until recently- as the millennium turns we seem to be regressing to new forms of aristocracy. Some examples and analysis:
On Good Friday 1993, CU Chancellor James Corbridge didn't show up as advertised to preside over the World Affairs Conference session "The State of the Crown". If Corbridge had presided in one of the paper Burger King crowns the speakers wore as they crucified the Royal Family, it would have been true burlesque, like Coach McCartney in drag.
Corbridge at May '92 graduation spoke of "the need for each one of us to think about respect for our environment", the same Corbridge who resisted providing seriously needed bike racks 2 years running at CU, saying he didn't like their looks. CU spent 13 million instead on two new parking garages, promoting the pollution and traffic that are, our Mayor says, the most pressing problems in Boulder. Parking fees don't even pay for maintenance, so we will be subsidizing the garages till they fall, even those of us who practice what we preach, environmentally speaking. Nothing personal, Jim. Everyone does it, right? Wrong. CSU in Fort Collins is phasing cars off campus.
Also on Good Friday, in the Camera Open Forum, Patricia Nelson Limerick, CU's noted historian and Official Fool, more kindly and gently nails CU administrators to their cross of folly.
She says most administrators are "..quarantined and insulated from the people who compose the University." Totally. And not just by their spin doctoring. CU's lawyers have shown that CU is legally, in the Colorado Constitution- above the law of Colorado- a "Sovereign Entity"! The ruling class can and do have secret meetings, fly their wives to Buff games, pay top administrators secret bonuses, etc., all in violation of Colorado law; all at taxpayer and student expense. If CU wants to join the real world, they will have the integrity to ask the legislature (or the voters) to make them subject to the same laws we citizens are.
Hypocritical CU, what are you teaching by example?
Perhaps Boulder City Manager Tim Honey has the answer. He gave a talk June 24th last year to the Win-Win Business Forum about The Big Problems of Government. He said they were 1. fiscal irresponsibility 2. an ethical crisis and 3. too much PR, covering up the other problems.
When I was a boy, we used to call these, in reverse order, lying, cheating and stealing. I believe these are becoming not so much the problems of governments/CU administrators but Standard Operating Procedure. Here's why, according to Plato: "The punishment suffered by the wise who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of bad men." (and women.)
Nowadays the best and brightest usually don't take part in government: it's just too vicious. (Let us pray the Clintons are the exception.) Here's what the 20-something generation says in The Baffler, a literary journal published by graduates of the University of Chicago: "(We are) deaf to your non-politics; hopelessly estranged from your cult of 'professionalism'... your best and your brightest want nothing to do with you."
So instead of best and brightest the top dogs are mostly what I'll call the pathologically clever- and increasingly confused. They just don't get it. How can we stop them from "trickling down" on us? (Like the U.S. Revolutionary motto: "Don't Tread on Me.)
Let's make the political playing field more level- making it easier for citizens to initiate and pass legislation the way representatives do. 23 states already have initiative laws. But it's mostly special interest groups that pay petitioners to stand in front of supermarkets all summer that can collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. In Colorado last year, 46 groups filed as petitioners with the Secretary of State, 16 submitted petitions and 10 made the ballot of which 8 paid petitioners- the voters rejected 5 of the 8; 4 of the 5 promoted gambling.
Andrew Jackson said: "If there is a problem with democracy the solution is more democracy." Recently an attempt was made to triple the signatures required for Colorado initiatives. We think the way to streamline the initiative process is to reduce the signatures required. There will be less hassle at the grocery. More petitions will make the ballot. And we will have more choices, an alternative to growing gridlock in government.
What makes this all practical is the economy and availability of telephone voting, first demonstrated 6/20/92 by the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia, as an alternative to driving to their convention to select their party leader. 7000 voted in 4 hours, 4 times as many as had ever come to the convention. In my next column I will show why phone voting is much more economic, ecological, convenient, and especially secure, than our current system.
This is no Elephant and Donkey game, this is about having faith in yourself and your neighbor, democracy and saving the planet. As George Gallup Sr., the world's leading pollster said, "On most major issues we've dealt with in the past 50 years, the public was more likely to be right--based on the judgment of history--than the legislatures or Congress."
Boulder is fast approaching gridlock, in traffic and politics. It's like the San Andreas Fault. Something's got to give, soon. We ask our leaders to learn the very first thing in Robert Fulgum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: "Share Everything." Share the power and the responsibility. Then you won't be so "quarantined and insulated" from us. As Bill Clinton said during the campaign: "The American people hate the political process." Perhaps nowhere more than in Boulder, now.
According to a Daily Camera column The City now has a number of 'Czars' in charge, much like the Federal Drug and Energy Czars. Russia gave up on its Czars two revolutions and 76 years ago! The last of this Romanov family died in early April in Toronto.
Where's this country going? As Patricia Limerick hints, we need a sense of purpose. This life is so out of balance ("Koyaanisqatsi" in Hopi- a fulfillment of their ancient prophesy), that a violent revolution could happen, similar to the armageddon that is foretold in the Bible. It would be a sight- 15,000 nuclear weapons and 200 million handguns in the hands of the most violent and incarcerated society in history. JFK said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make a violent revolution inevitable."
In Loco Parentis doesn't work in government/CU administration any more. Let's not give up on a whole millennium of democratization. It just needs a little resurrection. You can write us, The Voting by Phone Foundation, 1630 30th St. Suite A307, Boulder CO 80301. Call us at 440-6838. Come to the Council meeting May 18!
Evan is the director of the
Voting by Phone Foundation