Chapter Seventeen

The Price of Nonparticipation

The facts are unmistakable that millions of Americans are not participating in the most fundamental exercise of the democratic process: enrolling on the list of eligible voters and then turning out to vote on election day. The phenomenon of nonparticipation exists throughout the country, but is most prevalent within those segments of the population most disconnected from the rewards and the values of a system which has always promised unlimited opportunity. The urban poor, the young, Blacks, Mexican- Americans, the American Indian -- groups with the largest stake in social change -- have the least connection with the political structure which is the supposed instrument of orderly change. The angry and articulate elements among the oppressed and excluded citizenry more and more challenge the assumptions of representative government as practiced in a modern, industrial society. The moral legitimacy of government is weakened when so many in nominal control of a system of sell-government are so obviously not involved in its electoral rituals.

It is not that 100-per cent participation has ever been reached or is even a desirable objective. Compulsory participation, as practiced in dictatorships and attempted in some Western nations, is a mockery of the benefits of involvement. The right


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The Disconnected


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