If, like me, you spend a good chunk of your day on the Internet, than you know that British comedian and notorious bad boy, Russell Brand, may have recently started a revolution.
In his capacity as guest editor of the New Statesman's recently-published revolution-themed issue, Brand recently had the opportunity to discuss his radical politics with BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman, express his frustration with the status quo and explain why he's never voted in his entire life. He did so with intelligence and disarming charm.
I'm an unapologetic Russell Brand fan. I find him extremely engaging, hysterically funny, and an undeniably lucid and informed critic of our times. Because he's a comedian and an entertainer, who most people only got to know through his ill-fated marriage to Katy Perry and the occasional starring role in movies that never really did justice to his intellect, it's only natural that we'd all find ourselves leaning in a little closer into our computer screens, when confronted with his obvious intellect and his use of big words. Mainly, because such astute social commentary isn't supposed to come from the mouth of a rock star celebrity, with a once-upon-a-time heroin problem and a preference for tight leather pants.
But the truth can come from mysterious places, and so why not him?
The reason Brand's video quickly went viral, of course, isn't just the unexpected source of the message, but the fact that his disillusionment and disappointment at the system perfectly mirrors everyone else's. Who amongst us hasn't found themselves in the midst of an electoral campaign or in the voting booth, attempting to pick the least terrible of all options, wondering if it's all not just an exercise in futility...
Time and time again, while discussing politics, I've heard people say "But I don't like politics! It bores me! They're all crooks. What's the point? Nothing will change...". I understand the anger, frustration, confusion, loss of hope, and downright disillusionment over a democratic system that's not only hopelessly flawed, but most days appears to fumble along on the brink of broken.
Apathy is understandable because so much about the electoral process leaves so many unable to see themselves adequately represented, and therefore wanting to participate and cast their vote.
Brand's message of wealth redistribution and social revolt is enticing, but nothing new. His radicalism reflects the frustration and disillusionment of the Occupy and Idle No More movements, and of the Quebec student protests; where people like you and me (the 99 percent) saw that something is profoundly wrong with our economic and social systems and voting, perhaps, hasn't done a damn thing to change that.
Because, we look around and observe that, even though a democracy is powered by the majority, it's still a small minority that seems to be calling the shots. The game feels hopelessly rigged. You can almost hear Leonard Cohen's lyrics echoing in the background. "Everybody knows the fight was fixed. The poor stay poor, the rich get rich."
And in the meantime, economic disparity, the destruction of our eco-system, global warming, the gap between the haves and the have not's blatantly continues.
Voting statistics corroborate Brand's frustration and voter apathy. The number of people who choose not to vote -- who feel that opting out is better than selling out -- is disturbingly high, particularly among young voters. This is a disconcerting statistic because numerous studies confirm that if someone doesn't exercise their right to vote initially, they almost never do later on in life.
Michel Venne, founder and director of Quebec's l'Institut du Nouveau Monde, referred to this as the "political suicide of a generation." "Political suicide" because an entire generation is consciously or unconsciously choosing to renounce its influence and power over the kind of government they'll end up with, and ultimately putting in jeopardy our ability, as a democracy, to collectively decide on issues that matter to us all.
The trouble, however, with Russell Brand's call for a revolution is, while it may speak to people because it sounds terribly dangerous and sexy in a "fuck-it-all, let's start from scratch" kind of way, it offers no real solutions. It feels like action in a time where politics seems to have stagnated and is intent on producing more of the same, with the tired old results and the same people spewing out slogans and excuses on why nothing's resolved.
The trouble with this logic is that we're blaming the system (a system that doesn't always work in neat, linear lines) while failing to understand that it's our abdication of our responsibilities within the system (our lack of active and conscious participation in it) that have created most of this mess.
You think spoiling your ballot sends a message? It sends no message at all!
Nick Homer, Executive Director of Good Citizen, a U.S. non-profit organization that teaches young people how to be good citizens, once said: "The 'Silent Majority'? There is no 'Silent Majority'. It's an oxymoron. In a democracy, when the majority is silent, they are the minority."
It's not by rejecting democracy that you create change, because, in a democracy, change can only happen within the system. Voting is where the buck stops; where it all culminates into something concrete and tangible. Power-hungry, opportunistic politicians thrive on voter apathy. Your lack of involvement enables them to stay in power, to pass laws that don't benefit you, to encourage corruption. They like it when you're not paying attention.
But, ultimately, it's about more than just voting, and Brand alluded to during his interview. It's about voting and participating in democracy from an informed, conscious place.
Ancient Greeks believed it was a citizen's responsibility to not only vote, but to educate oneself on civic matters. Both are integral to the process, because the former is worthless without the latter.
According to Wikipedia: "A good example of the contempt Greeks felt for those who did not participate in politics can be found in the modern word 'idiot', which finds its origins in the ancient Greek word ἰδιώτης, meaning a private person, a person who is not actively interested in politics."
It's easy to shrug our collective shoulders and abstain from voting because it's not the perfect process we wish it were. It's easy to be lazy and simply check the box we've always checked because it's familiar and feels safer. It's easy to rely on the rhetoric, the fear-mongering, and the sound bites on the 6 o'clock news, the allegations, the scandals, and the Twitter faux pas, to make up our minds.
It's much harder to take on the tedious -- and arguably, more boring task -- of educating ourselves on each party's platform, in order to choose the one that best represents us and our values. But it's what we owe it to ourselves to do. Because ultimately, we can't afford to mistake slogans for solutions, and if we are to demand accountability from our politicians, we must demand it from ourselves. Do your homework. Make your choice. Cast your vote. Don't be an idiot.
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