Seven statements about democracy

It’s amazing to me how many people these days believe that “democracy” means “I get what I want, and screw you.” — I threw this line out in a comment to an earlier post, and then it occurred to me that many congregations hold annual meetings at this time of year, and so democracy is . Here are six additional brief statements about democracy that elaborate on this bare statement:

I/ Democracy is a form of self-abnegation. Yes, each individual in a democracy should receive some personal benefit. But each person in a democracy also has to contribute time, energy, money, etc., to that democracy. As a rule of thumb, each of us should expect to feel as though we are contributing far more than we receive as individuals; because we humans are more likely to be aware of what we do for others, than we are aware of what others do for us.

II/ A corollary to statement I: Just because you feel you give more time, money, energy, whatever, to the democracy does not mean you should have more influence than the next person. The basic principle of a democracy is that one person gets one vote; and each vote (yes, even your vote) is worth the same as everyone else’s vote (yes, your vote is worth the same as the person you despise and whom you think does not give enough time and money to the congregation). And of course you probably give less to the democracy than you think you do (see statement I).

III/ Participation in a democracy means you have to do more than show up once a year for an annual meeting, or fill out a ballot once a year. Each individual in a democracy is morally required to inform themselves about what’s going on as much as possible. This means that leaders in a democracy are required to maintain open processes to allow full participation: they must provide accurate, relevant information early in the process and throughout the process, and they must provide plenty of opportunities for individuals to ask questions, provide additional information, and talk about alternatives.

IV/ Everyone in a democracy must keep in mind that just because someone is loud and articulate, that doesn’t mean they are either correct, or that they are supported by a majority; all it means is that they are loud and articulate. Ignore the squeaky wheels.

V/ Those of us in congregational democracies must not be unduly influenced by the extremely poor democracy we are currently witnessing in the United States at large. We are not allowed to dress up in pseudo-Revolutionary garb and say that now that we’ve lost the vote we’re going to topple the government and scream and yell and call Barney Frank a “fag”; similarly, we are not allowed to blithely pass a deficit budget and claim that no one is going to have to pay any more money in taxes, because the revenue side of the ledger is magic and the money will magically come out of nowhere. Both these types of behavior seem to be endemic within Unitarian Universalism. We must avoid the dual temptations of rancor-filled obstructionism, and spend-but-don’t-tax liberalism.

VI/ One final point: When you lose a vote, if the leadership does something you don’t like, if you’re pissed off for any reason — democracy requires you to stay engaged. Withholding your pledge, fomenting opposition, etc., are all tactics that undermine democracy and promote authoritarianism. You have a binary choice: stay fully engaged, or leave quietly; there is really no middle ground.

One thought on “Seven statements about democracy

  1. Michel S.

    Most, if not all, of this, applies to other democratic systems as well, and it can be quite disheartening to see how most of them share the same failings. We are all human, after all.

    Thanks for sharing!

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