There has been a lot of discussion lately about democracy in America and the demise of representative government. Some have said that this form of government is inherently corrupt, and that it needs to be replaced with a republic, or constitutional government. Is it time to replace our current government with a new one? Many people are very passionate about this topic, and want to know what other countries have done, and what can be done to bring democracy to America? The answer might surprise you.
For over a hundred years, the citizens of every country have been debating what form of government is best for them. They have held various meetings to discuss which political party is the most trustworthy, which form of economic policy is best for the growth of their economy, and which social policies are best for keeping their society together. No matter how different people’s political views may be, they all agree on one thing: democracy works! With every rise to power of an elected government, comes the call for more participation by the people in political life. It is only through political participation that we can hope to see real evolution in our political system and cultural values.
Many people in other countries have looked to other parts of the globe to find out how democracy and freedom working out for their populations. There have been many different institutions of higher education all over the world that have encouraged students to focus on political debate, and the development of civic organizations that promote greater participation in government. There have also been associations formed throughout the United States that promote political free association. These associations generally do not have any membership fees, and allow anyone who wants to join to do so.
Throughout American history, there have been a number of these associations forming around specific causes such as economical concern, religious intolerance, or women’s rights. In many cases, these early associations of citizens shaped the framework of our country’s democracy. For example, the Anti-Luddites were an offshoot of the Quakers and Puritans who founded the Women’s Rights Convention in New Hampshire in 1840.
The framers of the US Constitution hoped that a democratic government would be representative of a common good. They wanted a government that would respect individual rights, provide freedom of speech and religion, provide protections for property rights, provide protection against defamation and other lawsuits and protect the rights of the press. They also wanted a government that was responsive to the needs of ordinary people, providing jobs, medical attention and other public services. Unfortunately, after all these years, we have seen a decline in the level of general respect for the US government. When people no longer feel that their vote counts, and that the representatives are more interested in scoring personal points rather than pursuing the policies that the voters wanted, a democracy becomes hollow.
As the US government shows less interest in representative government or in the people’s views, more citizens are turning to other forms of civic engagement. The most common of these is volunteering to work in non-profit organizations. In doing so, citizens are joining with other individuals and organizations to build bridges, care for the poor, support charity, and promote peace. There is hope. There are examples of democracy in America before us, the ideas for which were rejected by previous generations but have been revived by those who came before us.