Be involved in the actual “system” if you want to effect change. Once you are there, master the rules of the organization and the unspoken ways that any – especially a political/government – group functions. The two best pieces of advice I learned early on, dating back too many years to even mention here.
Mastering the rules of the game – I had some of the best teachers, most of them who have since passed on, including the township supervisors and city mayors/managers in some Oakland communities in the 1970's period. I have them to thank for my understanding of how the government functions.
The first principle – involvement in the “system” – I learned in the 1960's. You could protest in the streets over Washington policies, particularly as it applied to the unpopular war in Vietnam. You could even boycott university classes (which, for the record, I personally paid for) and live in a tent city on campus (yes, we did) to give dramatic emphasis to drive your message home. All of this public clamor helped raise the national consciousness and that of my parents' generation, which surely helped influence the course of events, much like we have seen in recent years with the Occupy Wall Street movement. But nearly 50 years later the fact of the matter remains the same – the day-to-day decisions on government were – then and now – controlled by elected officials we send to our county meeting places, state legislatures or Washington D.C. to carry out our wishes – sort of.
So it is with some fascination that I follow the current Republican Party fight for delegates in the presidential race, where the 50 states have as many varying rules governing how, or even if, the public popular vote will be honored when it comes time to determine at this summer's national convention who will be the standard bearer for this party.
Michigan will have a total of 59 convention delegates in Cleveland this summer. Trump is guaranteed 25, and Cruz/Kasich get the remainder, 17 each. I am told that the delegates are bound, on the first ballot at the convention, to support the candidate to which they are pledged. After the first ballot, delegates are no longer bound.
Some observers say that the current Michigan GOP rules, as complicated as they are, prevent the stealth activity we see in other states where a candidate wins the overwhelming popular vote but ends up with only a small part of the delegates.
Once again, mastering the rules of the game and commandeering delegates in case of an open or contested convention is part of the process. It has all the appearance of a game skewed for system insiders and those candidates with the capital to hire the best of political strategists. But these are the rules of the game.
The current presidential race is a good reminder of the most important fact about our government – we don't live in a democracy. We are a democratic republic. Still the best, but it has it's idiosyncrasies and imperfect outcomes, including the basic fact of life – representatives we send off to reflect our views don't really do that. In fact, in some cases, only occasionally. They go and carry out only some of our wishes because they all bring their own agenda on key issues, even if out of sync with the majority of residents in a district.
And this much heralded yet imperfect system was dealt an even more severe setback when the U.S. Supreme Court court in 2002 (Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission) basically struck down as unconstitutional the McCain-Feingold law that sought to restrict soft money in campaigns and limit the flow of funds from corporations and unions, basically opening the financial flood gates in the election process that we are seeing unfold in 2016. It's not the first time that the courts, dating back into the 1970's, have ruled against attempts to limit the influence of money in the electoral process but it was one of the more damaging blows against past attempts to prevent our system of governance from becoming an oligarchy or, worse still, a plutocracy where the leaders are chosen by the rich class and take their orders from those who paved the way to election victory with unrestricted contributions.
An imperfect system? Yes, but still one of the best. Can it be improved to reflect more of the wishes of the majority of the population? Yes, but not anytime soon. It would require that first we get a larger percentage of the population to participate, at least marginally, in the system by casting an informed vote in every election. It would require that the general population demand that the rules of the game are simplified so that the insiders cannot control the outcome, sometimes against what the popular vote dictates. And then there must be a constitutional amendment to limit the influence of money. Tall orders, indeed.
But only then can the true interests of the majority be better served by those we send off to represent us.