On the surface, it still does. It appears to. We vote every couple of years for our lawmakers, and we talk a lot about the American ideals of democracy - equality, the people having a voice, blah blah, so on and so on.
Yet in the last week, I've had some conversations about the reality of things, about how we the people don't really have a say anymore. Anslee and I were talking about the war and how powerless we seem to be. Sure, we can vote for Obama or McCain and that will help determine the direction of the war. But when did the people loose so much power when it came to these big decisions? Why are we so cynical?
Then I saw the documentary The Corporation, which came about four years ago and seems even more relevant now as gas prices increase and recession seems inevitable. The end of the documentary focuses on how localized, grassroots democracy is successfully fighting big corporations in small communities.
Yet even when I think about Austin, I don't see the hippies and the weirdos making enough effort to fight off the big corporate powers. People just don't care enough. There were a few petitions to keep out the Domain, and they didn't stop anything. I wonder how long it will take for Austin to no longer be so weird.
I was talking to Heather last night before the Rilo Kiley show (which was incredible, really beyond words). The show was at Stubb's, one of Austin's most famous downtown venues on Red River. Red River has some of the best music venues in the city. Sure, it's run-down, but it's pure Austin and vital to local music scene. It has everything from country to metal to indie to punk. Plus, it's one of the main South by Southwest hotspots. The Red River scene makes Austin the Live Music Capital of the World. It's integral to the city's biggest tourist draw.
But the city has plans to tear down many of the venues on Red River between 6th and 12th in order to build a park. This park will pretty much cater to the wealthy who can afford to live in downtown lofts. The vibrant local music scene on Red River will have to relocate somewhere else. I don't doubt that Austin will loose the variety of music venues, but they probably won't relocate to one central location like Red River. I can't imagine downtown without the Mohawk, Red Eyed Fly and especially Stubb's.
Heather was saying that one of her friends is a local business owner, and he said that despite the surveys and public meetings, the city will do whatever it wants. And it wants a park there. It doesn't want run-down clubs and bars.
What happened to democracy and local action? What happened to the government being representative of the people? What happened to having a voice and making things change?
In some ways, this isn't a big deal. People aren't losing their homes. No one is being unjustly persecuted. Yet, the character of this city is in jeopardy, and I would think the hipsters and scenesters would care enough to do something. But they're probably pretty politically apathetic and didn't know of the city's plans. Even if they had known and somehow were motivated to take some action, I doubt it would have changed anything. The city is going to do what it wants.
My cynicism has taken over - I seriously doubt democracy really exists in this country. People don't care enough to take action, and the larger institutions - the government, the corporations - have gotten to much power as we've sunk into apathy.