A plea for democracy in Florida

The following was to have been faxed to New York and Atlanta during the buildup to President Bush’s reelection. Unfortunately, the paperless election extended to transmission machines, and the original got mixed in with 2000 absentee ballots and other junk mail in Katharine Harris’ condo storage room at Siesta Key. Belated calls found the intended recipients too busy to come to the phone. They suddenly seem preoccupied with more fashionable, happening venues, such as the Ukraine and Iraq.

Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan, the United Nations
President Jimmy Carter, the Carter Center for Democracy

Dear Honorable and Really Honest Gentlemen:

We write to appeal to your sense of justice and fair play. We write on behalf of the hopes and aspirations of 17 million people. We write because we in the country of Florida need help.

In a few days, this agrarian republic in the southeastern corner of North America will take its first baby steps toward true electronic democracy. Those who stand down the marauding transients and the traffic and the really wordy amendments will gratefully participate in a process taken for granted in the great United States, beacon of freedom for the world.

They will vote. They will peacefully choose their leaders, who in turn will choose focus groups to tell the leaders what to follow. They will touch computer screens, but only in an appropriate manner involving consenting adults.

Gone are the days when punches and sharp implements decided elections, when mysterious robed outsiders took power from the people and decreed that Chad must hang. We must not go back, not even those of us who migrate from Canada every fall.

But the insurgents will not yield peacefully, and this is where Your Most Esteemednesses come in. This is where we turn to the great United Nations and its great occasional backer, the United States of the free and the brave. We need -- borrowing from the Italian lexicon -- protection. We need basic supplies, such as paper, so that we may leave a paper trail.

To protect us as the great United Nations and the great United States have always protected the weak and oppressed, we beg for the force of your arms. Just for a few days, until we get our legs back. We also humbly beseech you to send an international coalition of 14-year-olds to safeguard our electronic electoral process, to make certain the program does not "lock up" and everyone's vote counts without any extra digits.

To liberate us, wise and noble figureheads, you must know our land. You must know the song our people carry in their hearts, a song of three to five notes that involves a tuba or a flaming spear.

The southeast corner of our republic is ceded to the warlords of the cocoa trade. Big Sugar, Big Citrus and Big Disney control the interior. The swamps and piney woods of the north belong to Big Mosquito, Big Gator and Big Seminole, the last two functioning as tentacles of a multinational cartel, Big Football. Among the natives there, the reddened neck ranks as a symbol of status.

Big Development and Big Tourism rule a pirate's share of both coastlines, or all three coastlines, or all 57 coastlines if you count the intracoastal. And with the monsoons come other armies: the FEMA brigades, the claims adjusters, the slickered meteorologists storming the beach.

Amid the civil strife have bloomed brave but heretofore futile attempts at democracy. In the most recent, entire provinces voted for the Socialist Workers' Party, a.k.a. the Mensheviks or the Mensch-a-viks, even though the party's candidate died in 1936. This humble beseecher attempted to vote for Pat Buchanan in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), but the roving gangs of "punch cards" twisted my arm. Hands shaking, I voted 71 times for Albert Gore. This horror went on throughout the odd-numbered years of the 1980s.

To echo the words of that other great American patriotic Patrick, Henry, who probably said it at some point, such as when the cat jumped up next to the roast:

Never Again!

And to invoke the words mounted with childlike innocence on construction paper in a St. Petersburg church classroom forced to double as a polling place during our failed attempts at self-determination:

Lord Help Us!

You are our lords, you exalted overseers, you. Or does "lords" sound too British?

Whatever, the eyes of the world are upon you, your Kofi- and Jimmyness -- except the eyes with historic myopia. For Florida to take its place among civilized nations, we must have free, open and fair elections. Or maybe we can just add a few slot machines in the rebel strongholds of Dade and Broward and the whole thing will pay for itself.


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