Editorial: This is not what Democracy looks like

Local resident Ashley Zarbatany posted in Tideline a fierce remonstrance with vandals who have been removing or destroying campaign signs on the island:

You have now destroyed at least three NDP signs that I’m aware of. You have also destroyed Green signs. You drove into at least two and you were obviously motivated to destroy this newest one.  […] This intolerant and antidemocratic behaviour is part of the breakdown of civil discourse. Civil discourse or debate is essential in a democracy and without it people are unable to make informed or wise choices. 

Indeed, vandalising or removing campaign signs for parties or politicians who are not one’s favourite, is anti-democratic behaviour. An inability to tolerate the expression of opinions different from one’s own is an inability to function in a democratic society. As Ashley goes on to say:

We need to be able to respectfully engage in conversation and debate in order to make the best political decisions possible. We should be able to respectfully disagree with each other without resorting to vandalism. 

Destruction of signs one disagrees with seems to me a textbook Slippery Slope phenomenon. It’s an expression of anger and violence. It’s also anonymous, and hence easy and cowardly.

How far a step is it from destroying a campaign sign by the side of the road, to destroying one on someone’s property? And how far from that to vandalising someone’s car because it has the “wrong” bumper sticker attached? Though sign vandalism is a trivial annoyance, it’s a symptom of a troubled and troubling mindset, one whose reaction to disagreement is rage rather than negotiation, compromise, or tolerance. That mindset seems to be gaining traction in a worried world, as we can see from the newsfeeds all over the planet.

If we can’t approach something as impersonal as a Federal election without resorting to violence when we disagree, how on earth do we propose to negotiate far more personal and immediate disagreements within our community? If someday our water resources diminish and we face shortages, are we to start fighting each other over them? Or will we negotiate peacefully and cooperatively, like good neighbours? Of all the responses to a tense situation, violence is the most likely to make things worse.

I ask us all to consider for a moment that the outcome of an election — however passionate our feelings about it — is less likely in the long run to bear directly on our health and well being as a community, than our relationships with each other. It’s our relationships as neighbours that make us fail or succeed as a community.

So I ask us to respect each other’s voting choices — not to bully or pressure each other into voting in the “right” way, but to allow each person to follow their conscience at the polls. Anything else is less than democracy. Anything else is just another face of the kind of intolerance and impatience that destroys campaign signs.

It is far more important that we respect our friends and neighbours, and that we respect and perpetuate the values of a free and democratic society, than that we “win” any particular election or carry any particular issue. If we lose those democratic values — if we become an island of bullies, anonymous vandals, snitches, cheats, liars and win-at-any-cost operators, then we have lost far more than any Federal election could gain or lose for us.

What democracy looks like is people shaking hands and agreeing to disagree, without carrying resentment and anger away because they could not control how their friends and neighbours voted. What democracy looks like is accepting the result of a legitimate election and the will of the majority of one’s fellow citizens. What democracy looks like is campaign signs remaining in place and undamaged until the election is over.

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