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What democracy means to me

September 15, 2011

Today is the International Day of Democracy. We hear this term used a great deal, especially when foreign countries go through an upheaval in their leadership. We banter it about in the United States, oftentimes without really knowing what we are talking about.

Democracy is, of course, in many ways an individual concept. So…what does democracy mean to me? It means:

  • Power and civic responsibility are exercised by all citizens. How? Through citizen participation, including taking part in elections, running for office, organizing, demonstrating, etc.
  • Majority rule and minority rights. Government is not centralized, and the majority respects the rights of the minority, even if they do not agree politically. The majority does not go out of its way to bully the minority party. Minorities are able to trust that their rights will be protected.
  • Government is accessible and responsible to citizens, and operates in a transparent manner.
  • The government protects the basic human rights of ALL citizens (equal protection of speech, freedom of religion, the right to equal protection under the law, and the opportunity to organize and participate fully in society).
  • Citizens are able to exercise their voice, and their vote, in regular, free, and fair elections.
  • Society is committed to the ideals of tolerance, cooperation, and compromise. People are free to follow their consciences in matters of religious faith. Individual religious beliefs are respected and the right to them is protected.
  • Citizens follow the rule of law – no individual, whether President or private citizen, is above the law.
  • Due process is followed by those who administer the criminal justice system. In other words, people are not imprisoned, tortured, lost their property, or killed without justification or formal charges being brought. The rules and procedures by which states enforce laws are not secret, but are public and explicit, and they are the same for everyone.
  • The country has a constitution, which states government’s fundamental obligations and the limits on state power.
  • The legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the government are separated, with checks and balances to ensure that none of them abuse their power.
  • The judiciary is independent and impartial.
  • A free and independent media.
  • Political parties, NGOs, and interest groups. As annoying as people may find those that do not share their beliefs, such organizations cannot exist in a society that is non-democratic.
 What is important for a democracy to flourish? Education. Access to information. The realization that all people are responsible for making sure the democracy is successful – in other words, people realize that we each play a role in shaping our country. This goes beyond merely casting a vote for President every four years – it means educating yourself – not by watching television or reading a post on Facebook – but investigating issues of critical importance, so we are able to vote intelligently. Depending on someone else to tell you how to vote is not exercising your right – it is being lazy.
According to the U.S. State Department, democracy is both a promise and a challenge. It is a promise that free human beings, working together, can govern themselves in a manner that will serve their aspirations for personal freedom, economic opportunity, and social justice. It is a challenge because the success of the democratic enterprise rests upon the shoulders of its citizens and no one else.
Something to think about on this International Day of Democracy. We in the United States find it easy to complain about our society and our politicians, but the fact of the matter is we are lucky to live in a society where we CAN complain. We have a strong system of protection, however imperfect it may be. The mere fact that we are able to disagree with each other shows how strong this system of ours is. It is essential that we remember this and continue to be involved in maintaining our freedom, and showing people how it can be done effectively.
Today I am proud to be a U.S. citizen, even if I get frustrated with our government, or the people, in our society. I know that being a U.S. citizen means I live in a free land, where I can express myself, indeed I am obligated to do so, to work to make our society better and stronger.
What does democracy mean to you?
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