For the vast majority of us, games like baseball and football are viewed strictly from the sidelines. We may shout and cheer for one side or another but we don't actually participate in the game itself. Democracy, on the other hand, doesn't work that way, at least it shouldn't. For it to work effectively, democracy demands our intense participation. At some point, we the people have to get up off our butts and get in the game. In fact, that's the very definition of democracy, government by the people.
It's easy to take democracy for granted. After all, hasn't it always been there? It may well have always been there but that doesn't mean it always will be. Living under a democratic system is hard. Large scale democracy requires the active participation of millions of citizens, and it's easy to deceive oneself into believing that YOUR vote doesn't count for much. In fact, I think it's safe to say that the professional politicians of this world depend on our clinging to that point of view. They know they have a certain number of people under their sway, people who will do what they're told, no questions asked. You want to scare a professional politician? Start to think for yourself! But that's what being a responsible citizen is all about. It requires patient listening, serious research, questioning assumptions, and taking nothing for granted.
Unfortunately, all too often we take the most important aspect of democracy for granted, namely that it will always be there, offering us a choice not an echo. But that's not true. Democracy can wither away and virtually disappear if we're not careful. How so? One of the best ways to kill democracy is to vote the party line, to engage in group thought and not seriously consider the issues. When that happens, our political campaigns resemble nothing more than one-sided monologues and not the vibrant and challenging dialogues they ought to be. When we reach that point we make long-term democracy a little less viable.
It's also vitally important that we recognize that democracy has its enemies, people who don't believe we the people are fully capable of governing ourselves. They are convinced that we the people aren't smart enough, sophisticated enough, or educated enough to make the hard decisions that democracy requires. These people aren't inherently evil. They don't want to line us up against a wall and blow our brains out. They are essentially well-meaning. They just don't think we average folks are up to the challenge of governing ourselves. These enemies of democracy are on both sides of the ideological spectrum. The criteria they use to determine our worthiness to participate in self-government may range from intellect and education to business acumen and financial success.
What we average folks must come to understand is that for these people the vote isn't a right, it's a privilege, something that must be earned. More to the point, they are out there among us, actively at work trying to undermine our democratic system. Their weapon of choice? One of the most effective weapons in their quiver is voter suppression. They want to make the very process of voting as inconvenient and difficult as possible. What's worse, they have managed to make their arguments for voter suppression sound reasonable. Register to vote? Require expensive photo ID's that ultimately limit the number of poor people who can go to the polls. Early voting? Why would you possibly need that? Oh sure, it may make voting that much more convenient, but then won't that allow the riff-raff to vote too?
Benjamin Franklin said that the price of freedom was eternal vigilance. He was absolutely right. We must realize that our very democracy is at stake, today and every day. There are forces arrayed against it that would be ecstatic if they could transform America from a democratic republic into a plutocracy, where only the "worthy" participate in the process of choosing who will run this country. They are at work at this very minute, working slowly but surely to erode people's right to choose for themselves. If we don't maintain our vigilance we may wake up to find that our precious right to vote has been limited to the privileged few. When and if that happens, you can rest assured we will NEVER get our vote back. Think about it. It's closer than you think!!
Filed under: Politics