Monday, May 25, 2015

We feel the earth move under our feet: Ireland voters overwhelmingly voted to legalize gay marriage

Ireland no less. John Nichols in The Nation contrasts what Ireland just did to other countries.

Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country that is often portrayed as socially conservative (and that still wrestles with a host of issues, most notable reproductive rights), has done a very socially liberal, very progressive thing. And it has not done so in small measure. The turnout for Friday's referendum was over 60 percent – a notably higher level of participation than the United States saw in the 2012 presidential election and a dramatically higher level of participation than was seen in the 2014 elections that decided control of the U.S. Congress. The desire to get this thing right was so strong that Irish men and women who are working around the world came #hometovote, creating magical scenes of young people arriving on ferries signing: "It will not be long, Love, 'Till our wedding day."

Why cannot we Americans do such big things? Nichols argues that our political system is rigged against participation by the people in deciding big issues.

The United States does not hold national referendums or constitutional concerns. There are no electoral structures for giving voters a chance to think big, to make bold statements on a national level, in the way that Ireland did this year on the issue of marriage equality, or that Scotland did last year when more than 85 percent of voters participated in a referendum on independence.

American governing and media elites have historically refused to recognize that what matters most in politics is not politicians or parties. It is the great choice making, where citizens are invited to weigh the most profound and consequential issues. Too many issues are taken off the table in the United States, where electoral processes are drowned in corporate and billionaire money and diminished by the negative ads that are the lingua franca of contemporary electioneering.

We have so delinked American democracy from issues that, in 2014, millions of Americans voted for an exceptionally progressive agenda in referendums – on raising wages, expanding access to Medicare, extending paid-sick leave, banning fracking and amending the constitution to limit the dominance of corporations – and then turned around and voted for candidates and parties that opposed the agenda.

The people are not to blame for this. The candidates seek to create confusion, as do the parties. Campaign consultants work overtime to assure that partisanship prevails over principle. That's why turnout keeps declining and frustration with our political and legislative processes grows with each election season.

And that brings us back to what Ireland accomplished in its national referendum.

Americans should want to feel that same sense of hope and possibility. We, too, should recognize that the unthinkable is perfectly attainable. And we should forge a politics that embraces to that daunting and exhilarating challenge. [Irish essayist Fintan] O'Toole sent a Tweet amid all the celebration in Ireland. It read: "To all our US friends watching: this is what 'the pursuit of happiness' means. Go for it."

As Carole King sang: "I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down."

We in the US should aspire to such tremors.

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