Democracy at Work on the Footpath

Participating in an election campaign is a great way to learn about how the democratic process works. Despite all the silliness and tomfoolery that goes on in the media around election time I still feel very lucky to live in a country where the democratic process works well.

For democracy to be effective, everybody has to “play nice” which means respecting each others right to hold and express opinions different from your own. Political assassinations, kidnappings, beatings, tear gas attacks and worse are obviously NOT playing nice. Fortunately in Australia its safe to hand out How to Vote cards or post political views on Facebook without fear of reprisals. I wish others around the world had this opportunity.

Standing outside the Early Voting Centre and handing out How to Vote Flyers means entering a microcosm of the political landscape. At the Centre I have been attending the people representing the different parties help each other pack up and carry the placards and boxes of flyers upstairs. The Electoral Commission who run the election allow us to keep our materials stored in their foyer, so we don’t have to carry it all back and forth every day. They also allow all the candidates to leave How to Vote Materials on a table near where people are voting so that they can access the information they need.

This basic level of cooperation is possible because there is adequate trust between parties and a shared commitment to a fair process on all sides. There has been a problem in the past with people trying to vote but using the wrong numbering method, in which case their vote does not count. Giving them access on information about how to vote according the recommendations of their preferred party serves a useful purpose because helps people have their say with a valid vote.

Early voting runs for three weeks before the election day and manning the polling booth during this time is a big effort, especially when so many people can’t help because they are at work. Representatives from the two major parties are out in force, and smaller parties sometimes have someone there when resources permit. Because their time is more flexible, retirees and students play a big role in doing the footwork in the lead up to the actual election day.

Although there is a very slight frisson of tension in the air, on the whole I have found there to be a good atmosphere amongst the people handing out How to Votes for the different parties. I try to keep things friendly, respectful and upbeat. The unaccustomed heat of the warm spring weather is making everyone sweat, and the setting sun is glaring in everyones eyes, regardless of their political affiliation.

What a bunch of characters we are. Some of us want to talk politics and engage in good natured stirring. Mostly its given and and taken with a smile. Now and then some of us grow weary of the unrelenting youthful arrogance of one character who just won’t give it a rest.

When its quiet I get roped into interesting side conversations that accidentally veer onto controversial topics. I want to say “Keep your voice down!” when people start loudly bagging out the opposition during our private conversation which is being held at full volume on the public footpath. Even so, the side talk is valuable.  I learn things I don’t know from political long timers who are happy to share their story about why they are there.

My favourite moment was when I arrived at the Voting Centre in the late afternoon to help out for an hour before closing. A lady from the party that was the furtherest from mine in outlook came up to me, welcomed me with a smile, and introduced herself. In many respects her conservative values reflect a very different outlook to my more progressive views. But we agree on one thing. Treating other people with a basic level respect and acceptance is how democracy should be done.

Australian Language Notes:

To be roped in = to be engaged in an activity by someone else on the spur of the moment
Bagging Out = Criticising
Stirring = stirring the pot, teasing. A great Australian passtime.
Give it a rest = Shut up. Stop going on about it.

Notes on Australian Language Notes:

Rather than neutralise or Americanise my vocabulary my policy is to write as I speak in the Australian vernacular and explain any terms that might not be familiar. Having said that, I don’t always know what is uniquely Australian English or for that matter UK English so its going to be pot luck on the definitions.

  1. LindaMay said:

    As a follow up, this afternoon I shook hands with the former Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. He was at the polling booth in support of the candidate for his party. I noticed the street was a sea of light blue. There was a big bus parked opposite and a excited buzz. “John Howard is coming.” And there he was, standing in front of me. He thanked his people, but also made a point of shaking hands with workers from other parties. Life on pavement gets more and more interesting! I was keen to ring and tell someone, but my mobile phone was out of credit. Duh!

  2. Thank you for sharing, Linda! This sounds little like the process in the US. I have never been involved in a campaign, but it appears that our parties cannot get along or even fake it and the election process is a joke where some votes really do not count. And the Aussie terms are much appreciated. Any thinking person would love to learn new words whether they be uniquely Australian or not. Have an intriguing one!!!!

    • LindaMay said:

      Thanks for your comment. I sometimes think that I am coming across as being a bit naive being friendly to everyone, but I’d rather keep lines of communication open than end up in opposing corners bristling for a fight.

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