Oh, to be in Greece – or at least to be aware of what is going on there. Greece, the birthplace of democracy (the derivation of the word comes from “demos” which we normally translate as “city-state”.) This Sunday the Greek people will vote to elect new members of Parliament. The vote is widely viewed as a referendum on whether or not Greece will continue as a member in the European Union.
A few months ago while the Greek government was negotiating with its counterparts in the EU you may remember that there was wide-spread rioting and protesting going on in Athens. It reminded me of a scene from what we used to call a “third world country” – certainly not something I would have expected to happen in the capital city in a Western European nation. But it happened nevertheless – and it happened in the birthplace of democracy. Why are the events in Greece important for those of us in the United States?
There is a lesson to be learned from the Greek experience. It is a simple one – in fact, it is one which most of us already know as individuals. That lesson is that you cannot continue to spend more than you earn for eventually you will consume your savings and there may well be no one who is willing to extend you credit to continue your profligate life-style. That is true for people and that is true for countries as well.
The Greek nation is now at a point where it has exhausted its own ability to remedy its problems and must look to the generosity of its neighbors for assistance. If you’ve ever been in the position of having to go hat in hand to a friend or relative for financial assistance because of a personal situation, you know how humiliating and stressful that is. Perhaps the cause of your problem was of your own doing – perhaps something that was out of your control occurred. Irrespective, you are now at a point where you must literally, “beg, borrow or steal” in order to get by. That is Greece’s situation today.
The Greek people are upset, worried and, perhaps a little too late, they are motivated to express themselves at the ballot box. That expression of their opinion is at the heart of the democratic process and concept of government. And that is the reason for this post.
In Nevada on June 12, 2012 we held an election – a primary election. As always, I shared my opinion with my fellow Nevadans by casting my vote. I participated in something which was new to me since I moved here – it is called “early voting”.
Once upon a time when you voted there was only one day to do so – that was on election day itself. A few people who were conscientious and knew they would be out of town on that day obtained absentee ballots and would be able to express their opinion through that vehicle. But that was a very small percentage of the votes cast. For the rest of us that meant finding a little bit of time on election day so that we could participate in the democratic process and vote for those whom we believed would be most capable of representing us.
By contrast, Nevada voters have it easy. Early voting lasts for almost two weeks and is available at wide variety of locations – including many supermarkets which we would normally frequent as part of our shopping. When I went in to vote, it took approximately two minutes to identify myself and register and another five minutes to accomplish the task. I then went on to buy some groceries.
A few days later I wanted to see if any of the candidates for whom I had voted were going to be on the ballot in the general election this November. In the course of trying to accomplish this, I happened on a statement made by our Secretary of State in which he said, “We were hoping for an eligible voter turnout of at least twenty percent – but I don’t think we’re going to make it.”
That statistic shocked me. Less than one in five of us who are registered (and who knows how many of us don’t even bother with that) actually took a few minutes of our time to express our opinion at the ballot box. According to all the polls, that can’t be because we think that the economy is terrific and we’re all wallowing in more wonderfulness than has ever shone its face on the North American continent.
No, there’s a simple if disturbing explanation for this. We’re just too damn lazy, too complacent and too apathetic. We’re too self-centered and too egotistical. We believe that we are entitled to the best of everything (without having to do anything to obtain it) and that things will always be great for us because we’re “special”.
That’s the way life in Greece has proceeded for several decades. That is, until the rude awakening came that the world doesn’t work that way. It didn’t work for the Greeks and it won’t work for Americans either.
It may be true that when you vote, you don’t necessarily get what you thought you were getting. But if you don’t vote at all, you certainly get what you deserve.