“Hey, Slick, you got an October surprise for us?” Sid D. Complex greeted me.
“Matter of fact I got a couple, Sid. Where you been keeping yourself?”
“Nose to the grindstone, ol’ buddy, you know how that goes”, declared Sid.
“Are you down with this election?” I asked.
“No point in voting”, said Sid. “As usual, nobody’s running against the local incumbents. Voting here ain’t worth losing time, and catching the boss’s frown.”
“Bryan Kennedy might upset F. James Sensenbrenner in the 5th Congressional District”, I put in. “Don’t you want to take a few minutes to vote for that?
“The 23rd Assembly District representing most of Mequon is contested by Stan Teplin. If we can turn the tables in that and a few other districts, maybe we can finally get that ethics and election reform bill out of the dust bin where it was tossed last session by the majority leadership, without even allowing it an up-or-down vote on the floor. And maybe we can get at least ONE legislator to represent Ozaukee County who will protect our air and water quality, and our outdoor Wisconsin heritage, for a change. Wouldn’t you take the time to vote for a legislator to represent Ozaukee County (at long last) who won’t have one of the worst conservation records in the entire state?”
“I’ll probly get around to it. In fact, I was just on my way to pick up a case of them round tuits.”
“I hope so. But aside from that, you’re right, Sid. The 60th Assembly District, which is most of Ozaukee County, is uncontested, and so are all the county offices, like District Attorney.
“That’s bad because, in effect, local government officials are selected for us by one political party. Citizens have no choice. It’s bad because nobody is keeping a critical eye on those officials. It’s bad because when there’s no competition for elected offices, citizens stop caring and voting. And that’s the first step to strangle a democracy. I dunundastan why people in Ozaukee tolerate this insider trading one party rule.”
“What about those three referenda questions I hear are going to be on the ballot this time? How did those Ozaukee County Public Forums go?” Sid inquired.
“Pretty interesting, Sid”, I said. “We had no secret funding and no sponsor. We depended on word-of-mouth publicity. But more people turned out each time. Everyone is respected. It was a good example of citizens participating responsibly in the process of democracy. It was people thinking for themselves and asking questions, for a change, with no hollering and name calling. It was a breath of fresh air in Ozaukee County.”
“What did you learn at those Forums?” Sid inquired. “I remember you said most everybody at the last couple of Forums said that most Americans would vote “yes” on that War Question IF they read ONLY the first twelve or sixteen words, and they IGNORED the rest of the words in the 52 word referendum question.”
“It’s the same with the Marriage Amendment Question, Sid. Most people agree with the very simple first phrase of that referendum, too. It’s the last half that has actual adverse impact on the rights of real Wisconsin children and families. Most people don’t understand that part and wouldn’t vote for it if they did.”
“Why are those questions worded like that? Why be so tricky?” asked Sid.
“You tell me”, I said. “How the Packers or the Bucks do doesn’t depend on how much you and I talk or think about the problems and choices those organizations face. But if we want our democracy and our revolutionary legacy to survive into the future; if we want them to be passed, strengthened and undiminished, to succeeding generations, then our responsibility begins with thinking carefully about these real issues, and voting responsibly.
“Apathy and ignorance and willful misleading of citizens pose the most important, and persistent threats and challenges to American freedom and democracy.”
“Well,” said Sid, “I don’t want you to think I’m ignorant, but I disremember the actual War Question itself.”
“Not everybody can remember a 52 word sentence,” said I. “Here’s what it says:
“DO YOU SUPPORT the efforts of the United States and its military in WAGING a WAR on terror THROUGHOUT THE WORLD including Iraq and Afghanistan UNTIL such time as organized TERRORISM IS ELIMINATED AND CITIZENS OF ALL COUNTRIES CAN BE ASSURED OF THEIR SAFETY to go about their tasks of everyday life?
“We started each session with a page that included the referendum wording, and several true/false questions** to be answered. Participants were told there were few if any dead right or wrong answers. Instead, I said, answers reflected opinions, and depended on definitions, and we all got our own. Then we polled the answers and discussed things.
“On each of the following three questions, no more than 5 percent preferred to say they didn’t know. And on each one of these questions, 95 percent of those voting true or false at all six sessions held in Ozaukee County believed that:
1. Terrorism has been around since civilization began, and cannot be eliminated by war unless mankind itself is eliminated by the war.
2. The United States is not responsible for assuring the safety of the people of all nations, and should not wage war to try to do it.
3. The United States cannot afford to wage war throughout the world until terrorism is eliminated and the people of all nations are assured of their safety.”
“No surprise there,” said Sid. “Most people share those opinions, and IF they read ALL the words in the War Question, and IF they answer the question that’s asked, this perpetual war referendum won’t stand a snowball’s chance in summer of passing.”
“That’s two big IFs, big guy. Both the War Question and the Marriage Amendment proposal is a sort of reading comprehension test for Ozaukee County. You have to vote up-or-down on all the actual words, not on what you imagine was meant, ain’a? You think we’ll pass that test?”
“Beats me,” shrugged Sid. “I think people should, and will Vote NO on all three of those referenda questions**, as long as they just read and think. But where’s the big October Surprise** you promised?”
“OK. Listen to this. According to U.S. law (Title 22 USC Sect 2656f) ‘Terrorism is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents’. The latest annual State Department ‘re-interpretation’ of Title 22 is that noncombatant targets include armed and on-duty military personnel who are ‘not deployed in a war zone or a war-like setting’.
“According to this daffynition**, neither a nation’s leaders nor it’s military can ever commit an act of terrorism, Sid! The French Resistance against Nazi occupation was “organized international terrorism” by this definition. But Nazi mass murders of civilians to suppress resistance, and the nightly bombings of London by the Wehrmacht were not!
“Our famous Boston Tea Party (involving property damage alone, and no personal injury) would be ‘organized international terrorism’ committed by ‘unlawful enemy combatants’. But rape and massacres of civilians and the burning of farms and cities by the British ‘Redcoats’ and their mercenaries would not be considered terrorism by this twisted, distorted definition.
“No one at these Forums imagined that the official U.S. definition of terrorism actually exempted heads of state, national military forces, and contracted mercenaries” I said. “Is that double-speak definition surprise enough for you, Sid?”
“It’s a surprise, all right. Whether terrorism has occurred should not depend on WHO did it, but on WHAT was done,” Sid reasoned. “The way I see it, terrorism is the calculated use of violence against a civilian population to attain political or religious objectives through intimidation or fear.”
“I’ll buy that definition”, I said. “By the way, write me in for the 60th Assembly District if you want to protest the uncontested elections in Ozaukee County. Okay if I write in Sid D. Complex for District Attorney? And give a thought to why the health care crisis, and the failure of the ethics and election reform bill last session, didn’t get a place on the ballot, while these three bogus questions did.”
* For background on the Death Penalty Question, click on the category “Death penalty” in this weblog.
** If you would like to see the ten actual questions used in the War Question Forum sessions, and the suggested answers and explanations, and the October Surprise, with a verification link, and an explanation of the implications, make a comment on this blog post, and I’ll send it to you by email as a Word document or a pdf file, as you prefer.
October 31, 2006