Democracy Conference, NYC

Democracy Conference, NYC

The Democracy Conference was held last weekend. It was sponsored by The Nation and the New Democracy Project (founded by Mark Green, Robert Kennedy, Jr., and others)

Email from Melanie Votaw, (author, photographer, wordsmith)

“Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr gave the kynote address. His main point was the Democratic Party needs to do more than just be united “against” the Bush administration. The Party needs to have a vision large enough to unite the liberal and conservative factions of the Party. He emphasized the most important issue is citizens’ rights, especially since the Bush administration and right wing is fighting to amend the Constitution in the area of rights on almost every social issue, rights that have been hard won.

He said that Democrats see themselves as the protectors of the Constitution, but they need to fight FOR something that will sustain the party over time. He called for a more far-reaching vision that included fighting for new rights. The right to vote, for example, has never been added to the Constitution, and any right not in the Constitution reverts to each state for decision.

In my opinion, his most compelling statement was that the right of every American to have health care and an excellent education should take precedence over the right to carry a gun.  He discussed the travesty of allowing states to handle their health care and educational systems, which is unlike systems in Europe. He used the analogy of our rail and highway systems, talking about the fact that we have been able to build connections between states all the way from California to Maine without difficulty. The same types of track are used, the same types of stop signs and street lights, etc.

 The State of Vermont, for example, hasn’t said, “we don’t want railroads here. You can only cross our state in a hot air balloon.” His premise, of course, is that the Federal government should oversee education and health care so that equality can be achieved. As it stands now, Americans only have a right to an Arkansas education, or a Kentucky education, or a California education, etc. Thus, the quality of education you receive depends upon your state’s budget to provide it.

In another panel, which included authors and politicians, it was disclosed that a Democratic senator admitted he was offered a certain amount of money to vote for the Medicare bill. In another story, an attorney who was advocating to keep a tax break was told he had to pay the Republican constituency a certain dollar amount in order to get that vote.

Election reform was also discussed, such as allowing people to register closer to the elections when they become more excited about it; allowing the polls to stay open for several days rather than one day; allowing for easier absentee ballots; instant runoff voting; a Federal agency as in Australia for monitoring the vote; standardized machines; primaries that focus on one region at a time (a national primary, it was concluded, would become too much about the money and the media.) In most countries in Europe, citizens are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18, and they receive an ID card to that effect.”