Meta is a site like all the other main sites: it's hard to really participate just by lurking. If you want to participate: prove it. The bar is very low, just fifteen points to vote up. You can achieve this goal with just a handful of suggested edits or good-old-fashioned questions or answers.
But in a sense, you are right. On meta sites except this one, your reputation is shared with the main site and so for example you can vote on meta.programmers.stackexchange.com if you can vote on programmers.stackexchange.com. That's the normal model: even if you never ask or answer any questions, you can still participate by lurking on the per-site meta.
For historical reasons, and because meta is the meta-meta of all sites, reputation is not shared with Stack Overflow. That is a slight disadvantage but, as you mentioned, is partially addressed by earning only 200 reputation on any other site. In that case, you immediate earn these privileges:
- edit community wiki
- set bounties
- talk in chat
- flag posts
- vote up
- create wiki posts
- remove new user restrictions
- participate in meta
- comment everywhere
- create posts
and then even "vote down" is only 25 points away.
So you have two choices:
- participate to earn 200 reputation on any other site to get these privileges "for free"
- participate here to earn enough points to acquire the privileges you desire
If you want to go the latter route you can start with this:
Is this fair? I think it is because the points are there if you are willing to work a little. So get out there are earn your fifteen points! One upvote from me.