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January 17, 2014

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Why Democracy Requires an Educated Voter

by Balaji Venkatraman

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”  Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William S. Smith, dated 13th November 1787.

This is as true today as it was in 1787. We need the tree of liberty to be refreshed in the 2014 campaign season.

I believe that the key to a successful democracy is an informed electorate. Sadly, however, today’s voters are neither informed nor have the time and patience to study the issues and the positions of the elected incumbents currently holding office or the candidates that are trying to replace them.

The media is supposed to inform and educate. But all we get is the inane discussion that passes off as “expert advice” in various talk shows, syndicated columns in newspapers and talking heads on TV shows.

So it comes back to “We the people”. We have to take matters into our own hands and educate our fellow citizens on the major issues affecting us: prudent management of city finances; commitments made to city services; living wages; security and privacy in our homes and neighborhoods, to name a few.  An educated voter is aware of the issues at stake and understands the position of each candidate.  Otherwise, the voters cast their ballot based on sound bites and advertisements in the best case and outright mischaracterization or lies in the worst case.

 The blood that we need is the fresh blood of bold new ideas, born out of a strong conviction and allegiance to truth and justice. We need patriots that will stand up to the politics of divide and conquer. We need to support patriots that will unite the city of San Jose. We need to support patriots that will see equity, justice, peace and prosperity for all residents of San Jose. And for this, we need to go out there and educate our fellow citizens on the issues.

If we don’t do that, then we all deserve the manure that passes for  some of today’s elected leaders.

 “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”  Winston Churchill

So we need to ask ourselves how to raise the awareness and educate the voters? First, educate yourself about the issues and ask yourself these “awareness test” questions: Do I understand the moral underpinnings of this issue? Do I understand the societal impact of this issue? Do I understand the impact of this on an individual (self-respect, constitutional rights, social status, economical rights and wellbeing, etc.) Do I care about this issue enough to be a passionate and effective advocate?

Now comes the counterintuitive part: Listen to your opponents. If they can pass the “awareness test” and are especially articulate about their positions, listen to their views closely. I believe such attention can teach you a lot. At the very best, they can help uncover any blind spots or fallacies in your logic. At the very least, you now know how the best voices in the opposition are framing the issue so that you can develop a better way to communicate your message.

I believe that in most cases, there is a way to forge a compromise. All that requires is some knowledge of the issues, trust, respect and some basic decency to negotiate in good faith.

So in this election, we know what is at stake: the future of San Jose. Rarely if ever do we, as voters, have the luxury of selecting among stark, contrasting visions of the future. Most of the time, it is shades of grey. But in this case, we have to rally behind someone who can unify the disparate stake holders under a single theme: peace, prosperity and respect for and among all residents of San Jose.

 

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