The League of Pissed-Off Voters tries to save democracy

Karl Noyes

Gazira’s is a humble Somalian restaurant on Chicago Avenue where you can get goat meat, salad and a generous plate of rice and chili for $7. Abdi, an energetic little boy with curly hair, greets everyone who enters. Give him a pad of paper and a pen, and he’ll scrawl his signature, what Ramadan is and the history of mankind in four illegible lines.

It’s at Gazira’s, every Sunday around 6 p.m., that the local chapter of the League of Pissed-Off Voters meet. They’re a growing group of about 10 active members. A few more drop in when they can. They have their interests, whether it be local hip-hop, theater or independent cinema. Some are University students and some are eking out a living working, volunteering and taking classes when they can.

From the group’s name, one would guess they are angry about something; they are. They’re tired of the apathy toward voting and the regressive course the United States has taken.

There is a sense of urgency at the meetings. There are deadlines. Fliers have to be distributed. People need to be called. New voter registration cards have to be picked up. Work schedules must be juggled and fliers need designing. All this is done on the energy of belief and ideals and maybe a coffee or two. Of course, there is always the devil behind the door: money. It always seems those who want progress in this world don’t have money and those who want the world to stay the same have too much money. There is a sense at the meeting that with more money, more could be done.

Their only political agenda seems to be getting people involved with democracy, and encouraging the exchange of ideas. When members get the opportunity to learn more about organizing, they take it – even if it means flying to Washington on a half day’s notice. It is their hope that by spreading information about the democratic process they can register as many voters as they can. Hopefully, those who register will remember to turn out.

Much of their operation is dependent on networking: knowing friends who know friends so that they can stage events, sending e-mails and soliciting donations from local businesses.

There is a silent specter at the meeting – the common belief that U.S. democracy is dead or close to it. There are the big corporations buying votes, the biased electronic voting machines and gerrymandering, chads and the outdated Electoral College. And every year the powerful are trying to make it harder. But at least in the United States, in Gazira’s, there is hope one can make a difference.

This meeting is real democracy at work. This is what this country was founded on – people who care, give their time and organize. It wasn’t about flight suits or scaring people into a stupor with lies. It wasn’t about who was “presidential enough” or could suck the most milk out of the corporate teat. It was about what was right for this country and best for everybody in it. It wasn’t about feeling helpless because everything else was so big, but feeling powerful because so many other people actually cared about this country.

Maybe that’s why the league is so angry. They realize that at one time people cared and it made so much difference. They can see that has faded. Too many Americans today look at injustice and suffering and say “that’s the way the world is.” Too many Americans have said that pathetic excuse and made it their motto. But how can the world stay that way if votes are conducive to change and people have the power to vote?

As the league is trying to save U.S. democracy, little Abdi is sitting at the table, too. Who knows if he understands everything that is being talked about, but he is listening. He is learning. If you look hard enough, there are places like Gazira’s everywhere. People are concerned and want action. Maybe the places are in the form of a barbershop, garage or a coffee house. And maybe at those meetings children like Abdi are listening and learning. Maybe if enough people put their feet down, make their voices heard and cast their votes there will be change. Maybe, just maybe, there is some hope for U.S. democracy after all.

Karl Noyes is an editorial board member. He welcomes comments at [email protected]