Steve Glickman, president and founder of the Democratic Empowerment Party, is a would-be reformer of democracy and defender of the underdog like you've never seen. Hegelian in approach, he wants to balance economic power and political power through a provocative approach he calls vote sizing. Simple in concept but profound in repercussion, the idea is to give larger votes to people at the lower end of the economic ladder. I interviewed this reluctant leader by phone from his apartment in Vancouver, BC.
PB: You've come up with a radical idea for reforming democracy by weighting votes. How long have you been working on this?
Steve: Over 20 years. I developed it as a philosophy student in university. I realized that there are two major forces in society -- money and power. Most of us believe in the separation of church and state. Well, I believe just as strongly that wealth and power should be separate. Because when they overlap, we get corruption. So the way to separate wealth and power is to increase the power of the powerless by increasing the size of their vote.
PB: The principle of one-person-one-vote is sacred to most Americans. What moved you to tinker with it?
Steve: I really didn't want to. I avoided it for years because there are a lot funner things to do than trying to root out corruption and change fundamental democratic principles. But I took a trip to Indonesia a few years ago, and I witnessed first hand the awful effects of powerless poverty. As I talked with so many desperate people who had no power to change their situation, I realized that they had a lot of wisdom but no way to realize their ideas. It broke my heart. So I decided I to summon up my courage and become a full time advocate for vote sizing.
PB: I don't know when I've heard of such a radical idea for changing a fundamental principle. Why so drastic?
Steve: Is it drastic? I'm not an anarchist, corporatist, socialist, communist, fascist, or fundamentalist and I'm not for one world government. I just want to work within government to move it toward more democracy.
PB: More democracy? But isn't vote sizing unfair?
Steve: Is it fair for some people to have all the money and all the power, while the rest of us have neither? Is it fair for children to be born into poverty with limited or no opportunity to ever get out of it? I know some people point to examples of poor people working themselves out of poverty. And yes, the system always allows a few to escape. But the current system will never allow the majority of poor and working class people to achieve a decent standard of living. It's rigged to prevent that from happening. And the middle class is always teetering on the edge, just one major health emergency away from powerless poverty. Most of us are so preoccupied with making ends meet that we have no energy or time to focus on the corruption that oozes back and forth between government and industry. That's what's unfair!
PB: You are so passionate about this. Why?
Steve: I'm pretty much terrified of the path we are on. I don't know why more people aren't as scared as I am. A few counterfeit leaders and insulated puppet-masters cannot continue to dominate the rest of us and the environment this way much longer. There will be disastrous consequences - it's already happening. There's one man in Africa who is as scared as I am of this situation. And he's even more courageous than I am. Julius found my website four years ago and is working to establish a branch of the party in Cameroon. He doesn't have a degree or subscription to the Wall Street Journal, but he is very smart, brave and authentic. He assists local university students in writing their papers on subjects of history, philosophy, African and English literature.
I don't think it's fair that he has to save up his money to go to the internet café just to email me, that is, if the power is on. I have so much respect for this man. He literally risks his life when he gets on the radio or in the newspaper promoting democratic reform. Some of his friends and neighbors tell him he is wasting his time and that rich people will kill him if he continues, but he says he isn't doing this for himself but for future generations. I'm passionate about increasing his power because I want him and billions of people like him to have a chance to live a decent life.
PB: But why do you want to punish the wealthy? It's not their fault that others are poor, is it?
Steve: I don't want to punish anyone. That's like saying that giving the vote to women or freed slaves was done to punish men or plantation owners. I want the wealthy to keep their money and participate in a healthy capitalist economy. But to be fair, they shouldn't also have the power. If they need power, they can choose that - but they'll have to reduce their income to get a weighted vote. Personally, I'd be ok with a smaller vote because I'd prefer to have a large income. If that means giving up some political power to those who need it for the greater good, fine.
PB: A lot of poor people already don't vote. Why should they get more of a vote?
Steve: Many are disillusioned because the current system doesn't work. Did you know that a hundred years ago, people arguing against giving women the vote said that women didn't want to vote, weren't smart enough to vote, and that such a nasty business should be left to men? Critics of vote sizing say the same thing about people who are poorer and working class -- that they aren't as qualified to vote. That was also the argument against giving freed slaves the vote and the premise behind the poll tax.
But many women and blacks worked tirelessly and even died securing the right to vote. America has a history of having low expectations of women and people of color. We want to improve the situation of people who are struggling, but it always seems that some expert has the answer. I say poor, working and middle class people know better than anyone else what is going to improve their situation. Let's give them a chance to prove it. So what if they don't have a formal education? There is a lot of wisdom in poor communities. I believe if we raise expectations with a weighted vote, the result will be empowerment, responsibility and progress. But I don't obsess about what they will vote for. I have enough faith in people that I think they deserve a chance to figure it out for themselves. That's democracy at work.
PB: The last two presidential elections, some people believe, were stolen. How would vote sizing address that problem?
Steve: Vote sizing would use paper ballots with printed bar codes and offline scanners to insure autonomy, accuracy and a paper trail. But election fraud, like electronic voting, is only one tool that tyrants use to disenfranchise us; there's also gerrymandering, payola, a dumb-downed debate, shadowy appointments, foreign meddling, and more.
Also, tyranny is only one of corruption's four sides - the other three being brutality, patronage and greed - so there's a lot we need to fix. Vote sizing is not a magic pill to make all our problems go away; it's a democratic reform so we the people can elect sensible, honest leaders who care about all of our fates, and not just corporate and super-wealthy interests. That's why I don't trust so-called experts who say they have all the answers. It's not them but we the people who know how to keep corruption at bay.
PB: Do you really think this could ever come to pass?
Steve: It's a challenge because it's outside the box of what people consider democratic. But think about this: before 1920, was the US a democracy? Most people would say yes, even though half the population couldn't vote for the president or congress. So democracies can always be more democratic. We should remember that women's suffrage came after a century of struggle. Before women's suffrage, no one except the visionaries could see its inevitability. I see vote sizing as the next reform that brings even more fairness, so it's inevitable. But it still will take time and encounter plenty of resistance. I would just challenge people to set aside the sanctity of one-person-one-vote for a day and see what is possible.
PB: Would you have to change the constitution to put this in place?
Steve: The US constitution would have to be changed for federal elections and charters for local elections. But you can use vote sizing anywhere people vote for anything. We have a business model that would give janitors and secretaries weighted votes to elect the CEO. We also propose weighting votes inversely to students' grades in schools when it's time to decide the curriculum. Like in politics or business, vote sized learning encourages cooperation rather than competition, which could really help our schools.
PB: How can people get involved?
Steve: I'm so glad you asked because vote sizing is really about the voices of the people, and not so much mine. There's plenty of ways people can get involved at http://www.VoteSizing.org. They can brainstorm ideas and engage in dialogue online. They can become a member of the Democratic Empowerment Party. They can start their own local chapter. We need lots of courageous people who have faith in each other to step up and join the effort. Leadership positions are available.
Don't be surprised if a South American chapter of the Democratic Empowerment Party is announced soon. Glickman plans a trip to Cartagena, Colombia for the month of February 2008 to recruit people who will promote vote sizing in South America. He'll be taping his adventure to document the early development of the DEP's Colombian branch.