Reader’s Forum — Al Bell

A Review of Unrigged: How Americans are
Battling Back to Save Democracy

Al Bell

Al Bell

The fundamental problem with the Democratic and Republican parties is that neither party has any interest in governing the America that actually exists. Rather, they wish to govern an America that has never existed and never will.

The power to change that no longer resides within either party. Their DNA needs some serious splicing from the outside even if they manage to remain the dominant structure for choosing our elected leadership. Until that happens, effective governance will have to occur by means of citizens who are not beholden to the existing party power structures, whether they are party members or not. That enterprise is underway. Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy celebrates some of the loyal Americans who are making it happen.

The revolution Thomas Jefferson talked about is now a work in progress.

David Daley cares deeply about America. He joins the ranks of numerous writers these days whose books are directly relevant to our dilemma. I learned things from his first book, Ratfucked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count (sorry, David, I prefer to just say it; I accept that you no doubt had practical reasons for the asterisks in place of uc) that I could not have found out any other way.

I am reading his new book in installments, absent the luxury of binge reading from cover to cover. And, for the first time ever, I am writing a review as I go, not at the end.

A sentence in Mr. Daley’s introduction jumps out at me:

Keeping a Democracy, it turns out, requires lots of work.

Yes, just as Ben Franklin warned us about a few years ago. It will always require a lot of work, and one reason there is so much heavy lifting right now is because too many of us allowed our civic muscles to atrophy. In fact, it requires sustained work over years or even decades. It took 123 years to finally enable women nationwide to vote. The shadows of slavery are still with us at least 455 years after beginning in what is now the United States (St. Augustine, 1565; Virginia, 1619). More work still to do.

A democratic republic is not designed for civic laziness. I interpret Mr. Daley’s introduction as setting the stage for a lot of folks who are anything but lazy. I suspect he will introduce us to some impressive people who climbed some pretty steep civic hills. I expect to be inspired by most and outraged at why those hills exist in the first place. I respect his dedication to taking us on the journey.

I owe anyone reading this a full disclosure. A prism through which I view America is that we are a highly interdependent society and nation; myths of self-made men and a certain kind of American exceptionalism may have some truth, but are universally inaccurate and misleading. Labeled, with a narrowly defined accuracy, as an Independent Voter, I am actually a lifelong Interdependent Voter. But that’s a mouthful, and I’ll leave it at that. Fully independent in a broader sense, it turns out, does not exist, because it cannot. If ever we needed proof of concept, our encounter with the novel coronavirus should resolve the matter.

Before heading into Chapter 1, I am compelled to highlight Mr. Daley’s summary of the Supreme Court decision to declare that gerrymandering is a subject beyond the Constitution’s reach. By a 5-4 vote. Many of the most significant rulings by the high court in recent decades were determined as well by a one-person margin. If ever we needed reminding that one person can make a difference, this should be it. If ever we needed a reminder that united we do not always stand, it’s hard to find better evidence. In each case, a profoundly consequential decision shaping American lives was made by a single person with lifetime tenure! Ponder that.These are smart people; they are also anything but omniscient.

As a foundation for the adventures we are about to share, Mr. Daley’s stories demonstrate the fact that we don’t need to seek agency from some authority to act on democracy’s behalf. We already have it. That one truth defines a centerpiece of the Great American Experiment that, with all its faults and failures, is sheer genius. Granted, perhaps it shouldn’t be so difficult. But it is a long way from impossible. And it is always appropriate to ask, compared to what?

And now, on to Chapter 1 and a lesson in why paying a bill should always generate a receipt stamped Paid in Full.

In this chapter, entitled “Second Chances and Rights Restored”, we learn of the amazing struggle in Florida to enable felons to regain their voting privileges after satisfactorily serving their sentences. We are also admitted to some of the underbelly of past agendas for dehumanizing black Americans and current practices of arbitrary, obscene toying with people’s lives—just because it can be done. Astounding.

Perhaps one of the most useful insights presented in the story of how ex-felons in Florida finally have been allowed to get a second chance in life is the discovery by their advocates that it isn’t what your message is that counts as much as how you say it. Specifically a single word—in this case, eligibility, of all words!—enabled connection with people of vastly different political persuasions that could have been turned off by just the wrong word. Amazing. But not surprising in our superheated public space.

Particularly poignant to me was the reality that, even as startlingly successful as the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative was, a category of felons had to be thrown under the bus. They remain outliers for reasons that even a highly motivated array of reformers had to accept. Even this monumental breakthrough affecting almost 1.7 million Floridians did not quite get the job done. Intentionally. By its sponsors. My sense: it may never.

My highlights leave out a great deal more insight revealed in only 22 pages. Would I be inclined to move on to Chapter 2? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

Politics for the People Zoom Call

with Author David Daley

Sunday, May 31st


Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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