Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

When 34% is Not Democracy

View of the historic buildings in the town of Marblehead, Massachussetts, USA.
View of the historic buildings in the town of Marblehead, Massachussetts, USA.

We are headed to the Jerusalem runoff elections for Mayor, scheduled for Tuesday, November 13.   It is imperative that people vote, especially those artists and creators whose voices are desperately needed to maintain and grow Jerusalem’s vibrant cultural life.  It is imperative to vote.!

I grew up in a small New England coastal town called Marblehead Massachusetts, “Birthplace of the American Navy and yachting center of the world”, as the locals still remind us. My fondest memories were of the town meeting, a particularly American brand of democracy when a great percentage of the townspeople would join in collective discussion, arguments and decisions. The town meeting was a particularly “American” institution, because, by and large, people respected each other, no matter the income, influence or background. Everyone was allowed to speak. Everyone was heard.

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Embed from Getty Images

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In New England the town meeting exists even today. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, “ Town meetings are a particularly popular form of governmental administration in New England where a town is a geographic unit, the equivalent of a civil township elsewhere. In New England, towns are granted powers that are granted only to counties elsewhere.”  These town meetings were and still are the foundation and core of grass roots democracy.

The original town meeting was also like a large musical  ensemble complete with conductor (moderator), who like Leonard Bernstein in his later years, conducted with his eyes, and not with strong angular gestures. His motions encouraged group cooperation and respect, even when there were differences.  The original town meeting prided itself in shared leadership toward the common good. The sum of the whole was greater than any one of its parts. THINGS GOT DONE.

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In Jerusalem the low voter turnout in the last mayoral elections was shocking (34%- “Despite voters getting the day off in a bid to raise turnout numbers, only some 34% of Jerusalemites made it to voting booths Tuesday.” (Times of Israel, October 31, 2018, article by Marissa Newman and TOI staff ). One of the representatives of a candidate was even bragging about the garnering of 65,000 votes!  That candidate reached the final “runoff”. With numbers like that, what’s there to celebrate? That number  (65,000) sounds so paltry, even shameful, in a city of 907,062 (recent estimate); according to my calculator that is approximately 7%! And one shudders to think of how many will show up Tuesday, November 13 for the runoff.

So in this piece I want to put out an SOS and plea all to my fellow Israeli musicians, artists and anyone who cares about sustaining fragile Israeli democracy. GO OUT AND VOTE.

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I fear for American democracy. I fear for Israeli democracy–both for different reasons. Perhaps I am a romantic at heart, and still think there is hope for both enterprises, for both “ensembles”. There are good-hearted people everywhere, souls who know right from wrong, and freely express it, dedicated people who are not motivated solely by profit or protectia. In Italy citizens are fined if they don’t vote! In Israel the story is more complex. Why on earth don’t people vote? Do they feel truly powerless? Are they willing to give up their sacred right for other pastimes? Are they like singers who have not only forgotten the words, but also the reason why they were gifted vocal cords?

Yes, to all JERUSALEMITES, go out and vote. 34% is not a democracy!

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About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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