Our first meeting of 2017 was on January 9 at Carol and Steve’s.
The cover of our packet had a quote from The Future of Democracy:
“Voting is no guarantee of real democracy that assures the rights of all. Voting often leads to unforeseen results which fail to live up to promises or expectations. If voting results in the domination by some groups or individuals over others, the result no longer is democratic.”
Thus, our allegiance must be to the principles of democracy, not to a party or person. Our goal is to clarify those principles and how they best can be brought into our personal and political lives.
We also discussed the current trend toward populism, as portrayed in a new book: The Populist Explosion, by John Judis.
We asked the following questions during a little exercise that you might try with your family, friends, schools, or organizations.
First question: what is democracy?
The group’s answers included an emphasis on fair voting (one person one vote), treating others with respect, protecting the minority from abuse by a majority, and promoting human dignity.
Possible summary: Democracy is a situation in which the dignity of all individuals is honored.
Second question: how does democracy look when brought into the world?
Answers ranged from getting money out of politics to supporting a free press to creating a space where everyone’s opinions count regardless of financial status.
Possible summary: Lived democracy encourages the active and free expression of the views of every individual.
Third question: what can we each do to bring democracy into practice?
Answers included ideas such as empowering people to participate, bringing greater respect into our interactions with those of all backgrounds and opinions, and reducing college tuition.
Possible summary: We can move democracy forward by personal interactions and participation in organizations that encourage specific actions to improve people’s lives.
Ever since our founders wrote a constitution claiming authorship by “We the People,” the definition of what is meant by “the People” has continued to expand. Slaves and indigenous Americans were originally considered not to be “People,” and throughout much of our history women and newly arrived immigrants — such as the Chinese, Irish, Italians, and Jews — were considered not equal to “white” men. Eventually, blacks, Indians, women, and those of alternative sexual orientation were included in our definition of “the People,” but that still meets much resistance by those who seek to distance themselves from those they see as different.
For democracy to function optimally, it is essential that citizens develop their own set of values rather than relying on leaders or politicians to tell them what to think. Clarifying what democracy looks like in the real world has implications for our personal and political lives. If we let others define democracy for us, we lose control of our democracy and our lives.
In the last election, many people didn’t vote because they believed that none of the candidates represented their interests or values. Now we will be forced to live with the results. Many now fear that the rights of some groups will be diminished. If including the best interests of all “the People” is our goal, how do we work toward guaranteeing the rights of everyone in our organizations and government?
For democracy to work, it must be practiced by conducting our educational systems, organizations, and governments in a way that takes the best interests of all into account. As we develop a clear idea of what democracy looks like, we will be able to determine whether the path our leaders propose best serves the needs of the greatest number of people. Then we need to support those candidates who express the most-inclusive vision.
Many have seen their real income drop since the 2008 recession, which has lowered their financial prospects for meeting everyday expenses such as mortgages, college for their children, procuring a decent retirement, etc. It is easiest to blame those who have different racial or color profiles as “the other” for an economy that leaves some stuck at the bottom amidst growing inequality.
Our country — along with many other Western nations — has moved to the right since inequalities became gradually more pronounced in the 1980s with the advent of “neoliberalism.” Many one-time liberals in the US and Europe adopted more-conservative views under Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. This was then played upon by Bill Clinton, who claimed he would “end welfare as we know it,” and who signed legislation deregulating banks. That, plus a failure to enforce the laws against bank speculation under Bush and Obama, contributed to increased inequality that led many to become purely economic voters.
The solution to growing economic inequality is “a rising tide” — investing in our future in areas such as infrastructure and jobs training that fit our evolving economy and world. The government can support this in a way that benefits those at all economic levels. At those times when the government has invested in jobs that led to more hiring by private industry, such as during and after World War II, there has been less general poverty. Wages were adequate to provide a good living and inequality was much less pronounced, as everyone was needed in the job market.
Economies can be stable only when those at all income levels earn a living wage, which, when they spend, increases economic flow and helps those at every level of income. Economic inequality has been a factor in most worldwide downturns. Those at lower incomes fall behind. When they stop spending, it brings down the entire economic structure.
The Populist Explosion explores the trend of blaming those who we think of as different from us — “the other” — for taking away jobs during economic downturns in the US and Western Europe by those who see themselves as losing ground. Let Steve know if you want a copy of quotes from this excellent book.
1. Listening to those who we consider as different from ourselves, regardless of whether we agree with their views. Relating to them as fellow humans first hopefully will open the possibility of a discussion of the nature of democracy and what makes it work.
2. Getting our politicians to address the needs of those at all ends of the economic spectrum, especially those who believe themselves to have fallen behind.
3. Encouraging our government to support infrastructure rebuilding and job training that meets the needs of our evolving economy. These programs become self-supporting as people are able to eventually rise on the economic scale and pay more taxes.
We will continue to meet on the second Monday of each month. Next meeting will be February 13. We will be discussing the immigration crisis in Europe and the US and the book Fortress Europe by Matthew Carr. Please use our contact page if you will be attending to be notified of the location.
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Steve Zolno is the author of the book The Future of Democracy and two related titles. He graduated from Shimer College with a Bachelors Degree in Social Sciences and holds a Masters in Educational Psychology from Sonoma State University. He is a Management and Educational Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been conducting seminars on democracy since 2006.