Race and Ethnic Conflict: Contending Views on Prejudice, Discrimination, and Ethnoviolence

By Fred L. Pincus; Howard J. Ehrlich | Go to book overview

cratic decision. Except that so long as there are wealthy corporations dominating the media with their money, they can virtually buy a referendum the way they now buy elections.

There is also the idea of proportional representation, so that instead of the two- party system of Democrats and Republicans monopolizing power (after all, a two-party system is only one party more than a one-party system), Socialists and Prohibitionists and Environmentalists and Anarchists and Libertarians and others would have seats in proportion to their following. National television debates would show six points of view instead of two.

The people who control wealth and power today do not want any real changes in the system. (For instance, when proportional representation was tried in New York City after World War II and one or two Communists were elected to the City Council, the system was ended.) Also, when one radical congressman, Vito Marcantonio, kept voting against military budgets at the start of the cold war era, but kept getting elected by his district time after time, the rules were changed so that his opponent could run on three different tickets and finally beat him.

Someone once put a sign on a bridge over the Charles River in Boston: If Voting Could Change Things, It Would Be Illegal. That suggests a reality. Tinkering with voting procedures--proportional representation, initiatives, etc.--may be a bit helpful. But still, in a society so unequal in wealth, the rich will dominate any procedure. It will take fundamental changes in the economic system and in the distribution of wealth to create an atmosphere in which councils of people in workplaces and neighborhoods can meet and talk and make something approximating democratic decisions.

No changes in procedures, in structures, can make a society democratic. This is a hard thing for us to accept, because we grow up in a technological culture where we think: If we can only find the right mechanism, everything will be okay, then we can relax. But we can't relax. The experience of black people in America (also Indians, women, Hispanics, and the poor) instructs us all. No Constitution, no Bill of Rights, no voting procedures, no piece of legislation can assure us of peace or justice or equality. That requires a constant struggle, a continuous discussion among citizens, an endless series of organizations and movements, creating a pressure on whatever procedures there are.

The black movement, like the labor movement, the women's movement, and the antiwar movement, has taught us a simple truth: The official channels, the formal procedures of representative government, have been sometimes useful, but never sufficient, and have often been obstacles, to the achievement of crucial human rights. What has worked in history has been direct action by people engaged together, sacrificing, risking together, in a worthwhile cause.

Those who have had the experience know that, unlike the puny act of voting, being with others in a great movement for social justice not only makes democracy come alive--it makes the people engaged in it come alive. It is satisfying, it is pleasurable. Change is difficult, but if it comes, that will most likely be the way.


NOTES
1.
James Michener, "The Secret of America," Parade, Sept. 15, 1985.
2.
"Remarks of Thurgood Marshall at the Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association in Maui, Hawaii," May 6, 1987.
3.
See Leon Litwack, North of Slavery ( University of Chicago Press, 1961).

-389-

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