Evidence of the power of the common person was seen recently in the United Kingdom elections. After passing on their democratic rights by not voting in the Brexit referendum a year ago, many young people got out and voted on June 8, nearly bringing down the Conservative government by voting overwhelmingly for the Labour Party.
Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn has a long track record of speaking out for the rights of the disadvantaged, of supporting social and economic policies that benefit common people, and of supporting international policies that bring about lasting peace and development. This is what drew young voters, despite the massive spending on advertising by his opponents.
Corbyn has a lot in common with Bernie Sanders, who could well have become the president of the United States had he gained the support of the powerful leaders of the Democratic Party. Sanders initiated programs that benefit ordinary people throughout his political career in state government, and brought that same desire to pursue what’s right to the U.S. Senate. Despite a lack of corporate support and mainstream coverage, Sanders drew millions into his camp during the recent Democratic leadership campaign.
The rise of Corbyn and Sanders also points to a shift in the media. While information was once controlled by a few corporate giants, the Internet has allowed for the rise of multiple news sources. Past elections may have been won through high-cost, mud-slinging ad campaigns but that strategy has clearly turned off many voters. Many noteworthy candidates in recent years, including Sanders and Corbyn, have instead simply stood upon what they believe and what they practise.
The key to democracy is to embrace the spirit of the French philosopher Voltaire. “I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it,” he wrote. When we can meet and debate in this way, we form good laws that move humanity forward in a positive direction. When this principle is compromised, we begin to compromise democracy itself.
As a high school teacher, I often point out to my students that they will soon be voting and when they do, they need to choose the candidate who they believe will best serve them. I also express the need to hold representatives accountable once they’re elected, regardless of how we may have voted.
Politicians are ordinary people. We can contact their offices, talk to them and lobby for what we believe is important. We can join political parties, help decide who the candidates will be in an election or even run for office ourselves.
Corbyn and Sanders make it clear that there are options to government dominated by the powerful elites. Voters decide who will represent us and when someone comes along who lives the ideals that we hold dear, we will support them.
The key is for citizens to be informed and involved. If we’re not, those who can profit from our lack of engagement will do so. It’s not because they’ve taken our democratic rights from us, it’s because we’ve handed them over.
We’re powerful as individuals and we’re even stronger when we stand together. In the end, truth, justice and integrity always win.
The only thing that can hinder the progress of humanity is good people choosing to forfeit their rights.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.