The title is a chant that is my daughter’s favorite from the marches we’ve done. And, I’m sitting here this evening pondering democracy. What is democracy? Have you ever sat down and really considered the meaning of democracy and what we are trying to uphold? What DOES democracy look like?
Typically when democracy is discussed, it includes the following four pillars as a system of government:
- A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
- The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
- Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
- A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. (Diamond, 2004)
I take the pillars of democracy very seriously. These pillars are the ideal we strive toward. Read through those carefully once again. When we say we love democracy this is what we say we love. I love these pillars whether it is me exercising them or the next person. I love these pillars whether it is people who have my same political or ideological beliefs exercising them or people of a different persuasion. If I value democracy, then I value each of these four components and I value them when people, all people, exercise them.
The first premise is a free and fair election. Any evidence based incursion on our free and fair system should be an affront to all. Evidence shows that confusing voter laws across states that hinder access, debates over voter IDs, gerrymandering—all of these are issues in our election system. But, to me, the clearest threat to our free and fair elections is apathy. There are those that simply do not feel their vote matters and counts. They do not feel their voice through the vote counts. We should all be asking ourselves how we change this apathy! Voting is just the first step to embracing democracy. It is just the BEGINNING of the relationship between a citizen and elected official. Therefore, how do we encourage more people to begin the relationship?
I love to see children taught that active participation in politics and civic life are fundamental to being a citizen. I love seeing this because it means our democracy is vibrant. I like to see demonstrations. I like to see people speaking out for what they believe in. I like to see healthy debate about the direction of this nation. When I see people taking to the streets, I do not see people “complaining.” I see democracy. When I see opposite positions being taken about public policy, I see democracy. This voice is a crucial part of democracy.
Democracy is also a responsibility. Take a look at the third pillar. Democracy is about the protection of human rights of ALL citizens. No matter the status of the citizen their human rights are protected and EVERY ONE OF US should passionately make sure those rights are protected because that is the responsibility of democracy.
Finally, democracy is critical review. How? The laws we create must be critically examined. If we see laws and procedures that deferentially impact citizens then it is our duty to make sure those laws change so they may apply equally to all citizens.
Idealistic? Maybe. But, it is what we strive toward. And, if you protect these pillars for me, I will always protect them for you. Even if I do not agree with your perspective, I will protect them. Even if I do not like what you have to say, I will protect them. Even if your active participation means marching on my event, I will protect them. Even if it means reassessing my own beliefs, I will protect them. That is my promise to you. Will you promise the same for me?