Notes on Democracy: Not A Gift From Above

During the election season, when enormous amounts of our community's energy, time and resources are devoted to getting politicians elected to office, it is important to remember that democracy is much, much, much broader than simply filling in a series of bubbles on paper every few years (or working to have a particular bubble filled in).

Democracy is judged by the degree to which everyday people are involved in the formation of public policy - rather than having fundamental decisions that affect all of us being made by a small, insulated circle of private interests (what is commonly referred to as "autocracy"). Democracy functions to the extent that people have free access to information and opinions as well as the opportunity to take meaningful action to shape the world and their own affairs. If real progressive changes are to be made in our society, then those changes will have to be fought for. And to fight and win those changes, we will need a broad, participatory movement. Socially created problems like poverty, limited food access or housing or transportation or healthcare or higher education, and global climate change have social solutions - that is why democracy is at the heart of all struggles for progressive change.

If everyday people are to be seriously involved in participating collectively in important decisions that affect them, then the people must be engaged in democratic practices every day. We must work to develop a deep democratic culture and popular democratic institutions. To a great extent, this culture and these institutions will grow outside of the narrow confines we commonly referred to as "politics".

In today's culture, to say something is "politics" is to say that is one of a set of decisions and choices which are typically treated as being in the "public" sphere - and are therefore open to debate, challenge and change. Other areas of life, no less important and deep, are seen as private and "not-political," like what happens in the workplace and in the classroom. This convenient dichotomy keeps us from fighting to expand democracy in all areas of our lives and our communities - and to keep the balance of power decidedly shifted towards the wealthy and wicked.

Democracy will not come as a result of elections. Democracy is not the product of ballots. It will not be given or created by partisan electoral campaigns. Democracy can however be eked out by everyday people as they continue to work together in the fight for a better world. To fight and win real progressive change, we must work to develop a real democracy - a democracy that allows everyone to participate meaningfully in decisions that affect them in all the areas of their lives.