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Making Democracy Work

A headline today is that, in Paris, 8,000 people are protesting because taxes on gasoline and diesel are being raised and they can’t afford it. Street protests, whether they are entirely peaceful or whether they turn violent, have often become a force for social change. From the Boston Massacre, to the storming of the Bastille, to the Paris barricades during the Algerian War and the street demonstrations in America during the Vietnam war to January 25thprotests in Egypt, to the Homs uprising in Syria, such protests have often led to turning points in the evolution of nations. Although there are people who are dedicated to the idea that such populist expressions of will are the only real way to change the policies of a country, the majority of people who live in democratic countries with constitutionally determined governments are committed to social change through representative government actions, such as voting and political involvement. 

For many people, the political establishment seems to have broken down. In their minds, either wealth and business interests have co-opted the decision-making apparatus by infusing representatives and elections with money, or a liberal, big-government mindset has robbed individuals of their rights to live as freely as they choose, which means saying what they want, owning a gun, and protecting one’s property at all costs. On both of these sides extremists, and, increasingly it seems, extreme-leaning moderates, believe that in order to gain his or her rights or to protect them, a person needs to be prepared to take the law into his or her own hands. A (handful in most cases) of Antifa and Black Bloc protesters smash windows and attack right-leaning speakers and their supporters. On our border with Mexico, armed civilian “militia” have assembled to stop illegal immigrants from crossing into the U.S. A conservative media person has had his house spray-painted and threats made to him and his family. Several recent domestic terrorist acts, some of which killed people and some of which tried to kill them, have been carried out by people who were convinced by social media that they needed to take it upon themselves to stop groups or individuals who are subverting our country (in the most prominent of these instances, such sentiments were fueled by anti-Semitism and racism).

Many peaceful protests have rallied support for women, or for particular causes, and may even have resulted in suspension or change in deleterious activities such as building an oil pipeline or systematic racism in police procedures, or neglect of the rights of women. Peaceful protest is a time-honored legitimate political activity in a democracy, and is a way for people to express their opinions and bring egregious actions to awareness when our traditional government mechanisms fail to do so. Peaceful protest may involve violation of laws, when those laws are seen as lacking in justice, but their power is in remaining peaceful and focusing attention on the social justice issues at stake. They are not simply a way to intimidate others and are not directed at one’s fellow citizens.

For representative democracy to work, it must be responsive to the will of the citizens, not to special interests, whether they are from the business sector or the privileged elite. For democracy to work, citizens must believe that their own needs are being served by the government they elected. This is not always happening in the United States and may not even be happening very often. But to fix the problem takes both a willingness to do so, and a belief that representative democracy is a better choice than bowing to the will of those who are willing to pursue the most extreme means, especially when those means involve violence or the threat of violence. 

In the last mid-term election we saw voters throw out long-time politicians who they believed were not serving their needs. Whether the newly elected will be able to change the way our government works is still in question. But way too many people stayed at home and did not vote, did not take to the streets to try to convince their fellow citizens who to vote for, and spent their time either ignoring politics or grousing about the system and listening to those who agreed with them without trying to make the system change. 

Our system isn't perfect even if everyone participates. Some of its mechanisms are outmoded: the Electoral College or the gerrymandered voting districts, or campaign finance laws, for instance. But it will respond to the people if the people get involved. I am greatly fearful of a country where armed citizens believe it is their right to take the law into their own hands. Our system was designed to make such activity unnecessary. If it doesn’t work, it is because the system is no longer in the hands of the ordinary men and women who make up the country. But participating and making representative democracy work is the only solution that preserves democratic mechanisms that can work if we all commit ourselves to making them work.

Reader Comments (1)

It is true, that if representative democracy to work, it must respond to the will of the people.

That means that the process used to administrate that representation, must factually provide representation. It is not an option, it is required.

It can be demonstrated in several ways, that the process specified in our constitution factually FAILS to provide that representation.

The reason we are unhappy with representational democracy is not because representation does not work, but rather that elections do not provide representation.

A RULER invokes THEIR decision, not YOURS!!!

A representative invokes YOUR decision, not theirs.

It is vitally important to understand this difference, between a ruler and a representative, because it is the difference between self governance and being ruled.


November 25, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter45 Mike Anderson

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