The Velvet RevolutionOn November 8, 2003 Krist Novoselic announced the New Wave of American Politics at Portland State University. The conference of the Western Public Interest Research Group, heard Novoselic lay out the vision for a Velvet Revolution that aspires to break the logjam of American political stagnation.
I'd like to thank the Public Interest Research Group for having me speak today.
I am delighted to address you all as I recognize the PIRG's as being on the front lines of democracy here in our nation.
There is so much cynicism and apathy toward our democracy these days. When I was invited to speak, I accepted because I am prone to go where the action is. If involvement in our democracy is deficient, PIRG activists help keep our hobbled democracy going.
Idealism is the counterweight to cynicism. There are so many events these days that attack what we believe. We must value our ideals and hold them close.
The 2000 Florida recount and Texas re-redistricting are just a couple of events that strike us, we who believe in democracy, right in the heart — the place where he hold our ideals.
It’s hard to believe in democracy in light of such bold abuses. Cynicism is easy. It’s easy to look down at our democracy as a game where the winner, indeed, does take all. It would be easy to join the tens of millions of our citizens and just drop out of participation.
It is certainly easy to point out the inequities of our elections here in the United States (I’ll get to that) and before I propose some solutions, I’d like to speak a little about the path that got me here today.
As most of you know, I was the bass player in Nirvana. When we hit the big time in 1991, we were the vanguard of the new wave of music.
It wasn’t just about a new sound – it was about consciousness. If you can recall the popular music scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s, Rock ‘n Roll was about token rebellion. The old guard was about riding Harleys, drinking Jack Daniels bourbon and getting chicks.
Nirvana’s political passions where bred in the punk rock and Hard Core music scene of the 1980’s. This scene wasn’t just about fresh music; it was supported by the ideals of fairness and freedom. We really cared about equality, human rights and American foreign policy, among other issues. Fairness and freedom were a big part of the music and counterculture of those times.
Of course, in 1991, everything changed. We were not counterculture anymore – we were mainstream culture. It was during this transition that we, and our musical colleagues, not only carried musical honesty – we brought our honest ideals with us. I look back at 1991 as not only a musical movement; there was also a cultural shift.
I believe it all boils down to one thing – meaning – and we can find it in our music, our culture and our lives if we want it. That’s what freedom or independence is all about – making our own way – making a meaningful way.
In 1995, after everything that happened with Nirvana, I became involved with politics in a direct way.
In Washington our music community had soared to the heights of international acclaim. In light of this, in our home state, we weren’t getting any respect.
The Washington Legislature had continuously voted to pass onerous censorship laws against artists. There was a bill called Harmful to Minors that gave prosecutors the power to deem music pornographic as they see it.
With all of the blood, sweat and tears endured by our music community, we weren’t going to take this sitting down. We banded together and decided to get pro-active. We started the Joint Artists and Music Promotions Political Action Committee or, JAMPAC.
Our message was simple – our music community brings cultural and economic vitality to our state. We are an asset and not a liability. We shared this message with lawmakers, the media and anybody willing to listen. We drove our point home to where Harmful to Minors was not only defeated, it fell off the radar. We took our message to the City of Seattle and state agencies. Today, through much hard work, Seattle’s infamous Teen Dance Ordinance is no more. Today, people of all ages can enjoy small-scale music events in a way unconceivable only a few years ago.
We took a proactive agenda, founded in the principles of fairness and freedom and turned it into more inclusion for people.
It was a long hard road. We encountered many obstacles along the way. One obstacle had a profound effect on me and the effort to overcome it is the main focus of my political work today.
As you know, political advocacy is tremendously boosted when advocating on behalf of a constituency. Early on, JAMPAC recognized the need to get people out and voting.
How many times have you heard from people that they feel like their vote doesn’t count? How often have you encountered cynicism toward our democracy in your advocacy with the respective PIRG’s?
I used to tell people, "Now wait a minute, every vote counts. We live in a democracy, it’s your duty". I was idealistic and I must admit a little naïve as I dismissed voter frustration as off hand cynicism. Being somewhat tenacious, I wanted to find a real solution to these bad attitudes. This led me to recognize the culprit.
Our votes are counted, but how meaningful that vote is -- depends on the situation.
It is accepted that we use a two-party political system. Sure third parties can run for office but many times, they split the vote in a way that throws the race to the plurality winner. In 2000, people were warned not to throw their vote away on Ralph Nader and to vote for Al Gore.
Isn’t equating the voting booth to a garbage can a great way to remedy voter frustration?
The Florida recount fiasco and subsequent Supreme Court ruling were bad days to be extolling our democracy. Another tragic fact is the 53% center / left majority of voters that were told their vote didn’t count. 50% for Gore, 3% for Nader — so much for majority rule!
Up in Washington, 1/3 of legislative races were unopposed in 2002. Many are uncompetitive because of decennial redistricting. In my state a commission draws district boundaries. Many incumbents are padded in "Safe Seat" districts. This creates the situation where any opposition candidate would need a Super-Majority of votes to win a seat.
Out of 435 US House elections, less than 10 were deemed competitive in 2002. No wonder voter turnout nationally was a mere 37% that year? A 63% majority opted out of participation.
Let’s look at Texas re-redistricting. That situation spills the beans on the dirty little secret of American democracy. You see, as far as most legislative races go, we don’t pick our representatives – they pick us.
No wonder people feel so disconnected?
Our democracy keeps hobbling along. This is the accepted circumstance or, as they say, the way it is.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We need to come to the aid of our broken democracy. If we recognize the problems, we can be guided toward solutions.
If competition can drive economics why can’t it serve our democracy too? The current market only offers two choices, if any at all. How would it feel to go the store and be confronted with the same situation?
We need real choices to make a meaningful democracy.
For the past few months I have been advocating a solution to remedy our current ills. It’s called Super-Districts. Super-Districts are a Full Representation approach to democracy.
Currently, a candidate or party needs only a majority or plurality to represent a whole district. This means that up to 49% (or even a majority of the districts voters) will not get representation in the legislature. This is called winner-take-all elections. The opposite is loser-take-nothing. In other words too many voters go away losers on election night and lack representation for the next two years.
Full Representation is where we have multi-member where seats are won proportionally. Basically, if the district votes 60% for one party in a 10-seat district, they win 6 seats. A party that wins 30% gets 3 and a party that wins 10% gets 1. Most voters go home winners. Most votes are meaningful making people feel better about their democracy.
Super-Districts is the Full Representation plan for the Washington State House. It will not change the State Senate or executive elections. I want to make clear that I’m not proposing changing our system of government. I want to change our system of elections for the state House.
Super-Districts will make every Republican and Democrat in Washington have representation from their district. Greens, Libertarians and others shut out of the two-party structure will have a realistic opportunity to gain seats. The weight of being an actual constituent will be a reality for most voters.
Voter participation will increase because most votes will count. Super-Districts remove obstacles while clearing the way for more inclusion.
This is the meaningful democracy I’m talking about.
My background in music has helped me put the current situation in perspective.
We know people look for meaning with music.
Popular music goes through trends that operate in a cycle. Once music becomes predictable, and a formula to sustain the establishment, people become cynical, stop buying music, and tune out.
This sad state of affairs opens the gates for the new wave of bands. The new sounds draw people back in, thus restoring vitality.
People look for meaning in democracy.
Once democracy becomes predictable, and a formula to sustain the establishment, people become cynical, stop voting, and tune out.
THE TIME HAS COME FOR THE NEW WAVE IN AMERICAN POLITICS.
The time has come for a Full Representation democracy.
If the states are the laboratories of democracy, Super-Districts are the genesis of meaningful change for our United States.
Washington State can be a beacon of democracy, illuminating our nation with electoral inclusion.
The status quo is stuck. Look at the disconnection of citizens from our democracy. We need to reconnect people in a positive way. Let’s fix our democracy the best way we can -- with more democracy! This is the "velvet revolution" and it will reverberate all the way to the center of our nations political stagnation - Washington DC.
We are a sovereign people. It’s up to us to make change. I refuse to stand by hopelessly as cynics game our democracy to their benefit. I am tired of the derision and disenfranchisement. We must no longer sit still.
The new wave of American politics is here. It’s called Full Representation.
November 8, 2003