0116: Who the Hell is #Democracy? If you know, help me know. #education #revolution #occupy
(Please note, dear reader, that this is my attempt to process a complex notion for my own benefit. If the following string of words is beneficial to you, then I have accomplished something. If it is not, please skip to the end section— it is marked with an asterisk (*). I value your time and would never seek to waste it. Here’s your warning.)
We are disconnected from the decisions that affect us. We are permitted limited control in our governments. We are allowed to vote for our representatives. Our decisions are based on limited information that we receive through televised debates and advertisements and any other information we can dig up on our own. The same goes for national, state, and many municipal elections. We are given a bit of factual information, a lot of misinformation, and then are allowed to scavenge for any other info we can find. Once said representatives are elected we are in their hands. We have entrusted our future to them. Some say they are accountable to us. That’s a hard sale. We have the power to threaten not to reelect them. We can write letters, but our participation is minimal. Our access to them is restricted. This form of democracy is labeled representative democracy. We,the people, elect people to represent us. We, the people, have very limited power.
So why bother teaching/writing/talking about participating in democracy? Why not embrace apathy? The answer is neither simple, nor solitary. Democracy is a confusing term. There are many forms of democracy proper, and the word has been is used and misused in many other ways. I think it would be beneficial for the purpose of my writing to operationally define democracy within the context of my writing, educational, and social practice. I acknowledge that this task will undoubtedly need revision and may, in fact, not completely align with the ways I’ve used the term in the past. I think the term is used too loosely and often in an idealistic manner. It might be of use to determine what democracy is not.
The term democracy is often used politically to establish an air of rightness. The word alone evokes varying emotional responses depending on ones experience with “democracy”. In American schools and churches democracy is equated directly with “freedom” and the “best form of government”. “What is democracy?” “It means it’s a free country.” The argument is designed to be cyclical. To speak against democracy or even question it is to go against all that is “right”. If properly conditioned it is to go against one’s self. This understanding of democracy is naïve and incomplete. The mere repetition of phrases, and cyclical rhetoric do not equate with democracy.
Someone who has seen their country occupied by the troops of another country in the name of “democracy” will most certainly have a different understanding. In many places “democracy” has become synonymous with imperialistic interventionism. “Democracy” in this sense is a mere slogan to hide obfuscate imperialistic behaviors. Even if some sort of democratic process is put in place it will not be sustainable because it did not emerge from the people.
*So what (who) the Hell is democracy?
I shall not even attempt to define institutional democracy. Democratic governments are beyond my knowledge, but the concept seems a little far fetched, as the concept seems to require people relinquish their power for the sake of being ruled by some distant wealthy ruler. I’m sure I have missed the boat somewhere or I simply cannot comprehend it. I’ll continue.
The word democracy is made up of the word parts that combine mean “rule of the people”, the power is with the people. That’s simple enough. That immediately raises the question: “which people?” That question has been debated heartily for centuries. But, let’s stick with an operational definition for my own writing.
I attempting to use the term “democracy” in regard to individual participation in the shaping of their own worlds. Again, for my own sake, people can transform their own worlds/communities/cultures/etc. through democratic participation. Borrowing from Freire, as people become more interconnected it becomes more impossible for them not to participate in their own realities (Teaching for Critical Consciousness). The idea is to eliminate passivity. For power to be in the hands of the people, they must first participate with one another. They must care. They must be active. We are seeing people becoming more active through the use of social media and technology. Suddenly, communication and dissemination of information is possible on a grand scale. Surveillance is now a two way street. People have information. That is necessary for an open society. It’s necessary for people to rule. So, the goal of teaching, writing/talking about it is not necessarily to persuade a doubter or even to teach in an echo changer. The goal is to participate. By writing/talking/teaching I am engaging in the creation and distribution of thought/information. It may not be correct, but I am releasing. I am opening myself to debate, disagreement, maybe dialectic. I am taking a step. I am learning. By learning, I can start to teach. I suppose my idealistic goal is to learn to participate and help others learn to do the same. As “we” grows eventually we’ll happen upon a tipping point. It takes the people to be a democracy.
If you managed to read this far, I thank you. I ask that you help me understand what I am trying to understand better. I ask that you join me in thinking about this. I ask that you do your best to awaken your neighbors. We occupy this world together. We must participate.
Thanks for reading and responding. Cheers.