Last Saturday we all turned out to halls and schools around the state to register our vote for the next four years of New South Wales government.
In Monaro there were 28 locations for voting, not including the pre-poll centres. At every single one of them, the party volunteers were there, in their coloured shirts denoting party affiliation, handing out their candidates' material. At the larger centres, school P&Cs or other local service or charity organisations had cake stalls and sausage sizzles, the so-called 'democracy sausage', to raise money for their work.
In short, elections in this country are about more than putting numbers on ballot forms and electing a local member and government. Elections are a day for civil society: democracy and volunteerism make a powerful combination.
Of course, being compulsory does not guarantee that everyone will vote, but we regularly have around a 95-98% voter turnout. This means that our governments are elected by a true majority of voters. Elections in the US, by comparison, regularly get less than a 50% voter turnout. In such situations, governments can be elected by as little as 25% of eligible voters. Not exactly representative.
During the student-worker uprising in Paris, May of 1968, a famous poster appeared: Je participe, Tu participes, Il participe, Nous participons, Vous participez, Ils Profitent.
Sociology researcher, Sherry Arnstein, asked the question, if we are all participating and 'they' are profiting, how can we view the process of participation and change it? She developed a 'ladder of citizenship participation', an examination of civil society processes beginning with non-participation (manipulation or control by government) and leading to citizen power (partnerships and citizen control of government).
Our democracy places the fate of government in the hands of all its citizens. A civil society is one in which civic participation is undertaken not only with a sense of personal responsibility, but with a sense of community. This was the democracy on show on Saturday. The atmosphere at the various polling centres was cordial and relaxed. People's differing political opinions did not get in the way of a sense of communal purpose.
Our democracy works. We participate. We do so to ensure that 'they' are not the profiteers.