DEMOCRACY IS SELF-GOVERNMENT

Harold W. Percival

PART I

THE BALLOT—A SYMBOL

Democracy as it is practiced is not for all the people; it is, therefore, not real democracy. It is practiced as the game or the battle of politicians between the “Ins” and the “Outs.” And the people are the prey of the battlers and they are the audience who pay for the game and who grumble and cheer and chatter. The players battle for offices for personal and party power and plunder; and they exploit all the people. That cannot be called democracy. At best it is government by artifice and expediency; it is a make-believe, a mockery of Democracy. Governments of peoples are emerging from the childhood of savagery. Characteristic “politics” accompany the birth of democracy, as an after-birth follows childbirth.

The success or failure of democracy does not depend on dishonest politicians. Politicians are only what the people make them or allow them to be. The success or failure of democracy, as civilization, depends primarily on the people. If the people do not understand this and take it to heart, democracy will not grow out of its savage state. Under other forms of government the people gradually lose their right to think, feel, speak, and do what they will or believe to be right.

No power can make a man be what the man will not make himself to be. No power can make democracy for the people. If the people are to have a democracy, the government must be made a democracy by the people themselves.

Democracy is government by the people, in which the sovereign power is held and exercised by the people, through those whom the people choose from among themselves to have as their representatives. And those of the people chosen to govern are invested solely with the power given them to speak for the people and to govern by the will and the power of the people, through their people’s vote by ballot.

The ballot is not merely a printed sheet of paper on which the voter makes his marks, and which he drops into a box. The ballot is a precious symbol: a symbol of what is destined ultimately to be the highest civilization of man; a symbol to be valued above birth or possessions or rank or party or class. It is a symbol of the ultimate test in civilization of the voter’s power; and of his courage, his honor, and his honesty; and of his responsibility, his right, and his freedom. It is a symbol given by the people as a sacred trust reposed in each member of the people, the symbol by which each one of the people is pledged to use the right and power vested in him by his vote, the might and power to preserve, under law and justice, equal rights and freedom for each and for the integrity of all the people as one people.

What will it profit a man to sell or to bargain away his ballot and thus to lose the power and value of his vote, to fail in courage, to lose his sense of honor, to be dishonest to himself, to forfeit his responsibility, and to lose his freedom, and, by so doing, to betray the sacred trust reposed in him as one of the people to preserve the integrity of all the people by voting according to his own judgment, without fear and without bribe or price?

The ballot is an instrument too sacred to the integrity of government by the people to be entrusted to those who are opposed to democracy, or to the incompetent. The incompetent are as children, to be cared for and protected, but not allowed to be factors in determining government until such time as they may be qualified and have the right to vote.

The right to vote is not to be determined by birth or wealth or favor. The right to vote is proven by honesty and truthfulness in words and acts, as evidenced in daily life; and by understanding and responsibility, as shown by one’s familiarity with and interest in the public welfare, and by the keeping of his contracts.