Forging a New Politics:
Citizenship, Community, Democracy
The old politics in the U.S., and perhaps in the world, has been so corrupted that we can scarcely any longer be called a democracy. That old politics is now almost totally controlled and in service to an economic elite. In order to resurrect a democracy in this nation we must turn our back on the corrupted version of our national politics and forge a new politics growing from the fertile ground of democratic citizenship and community to provide the bedrock upon which to build a renewed and thriving democracy.
It is sad that this nation, founded nearly 250 years ago on the idealism of democracy is now on the brink of foundering and reverting back to the autocratic and aristocratic options it had hoped to leave behind. That hope had been to build a new incarnation of that old idea, democracy, bringing the opportunity of direct involvement and participation in decisions about the direction of the nation and a sense of self-determination to the ordinary citizens of the nation.
Two of the most significant elements of our attempts at democracy have been the concepts of citizenship and community. These two elements are at the very core of what a democracy is about and provide a way to revive and reclaim the rest of democracy.
Citizenship in a democracy is different from the older concept of citizenship in a nation. That old concept of citizenship often meant that you were merely a resident of a particular nation, with perhaps some rights and some protections but certainly obligations to support the directions of that nation, provide financing when necessary and to make sacrifices if so directed. The difference in a democracy is that there is the expectation of participation in the decision-making politics of that nation. In fact, it is a requirement and obligation of citizenship in a democracy if that democracy is to thrive. This participation is the most important entitlement, being based upon simply being a citizen regardless of status, wealth, power or influence.
If citizens decide not to participate, they indicate they no longer value and treasure the very thing that is at the heart of a functioning democracy.
Of course, those who would usurp the power of the citizens try all kinds of chicanery to discourage citizen participation. Here are a few of their ploys:
· Convincing citizens that their vote is the only thing that matters, and therefore the only time that requires their participation is during the election cycle. After that they are simply to stay in the background and let their duly elected representatives make decisions for them. If they are dissatisfied, they should wait for the next election.
· Manipulating the voting mechanisms to prioritize money over individual voices.
· Devising a multitude of schemes to control the vote in favor of whatever elites might be in control such as gerrymandering, making voting difficult for certain groups, controlling voting rolls and restricting voting in a variety of ways.
· Packing the mechanisms of government to prevent them from fulfilling their function including committees, the legislature itself and the Supreme Court. The result being governmental dysfunction and loss of faith in the entire system leading to citizen apathy.
· Using the obstinacy of the Senate and the Supreme Court to thwart progress and/or change.
With all those obstructionist techniques in place and all the levers of governance co-opted by an economic elite, it becomes clear that within the present political system there is no way to have any meaningful citizen voice unless those in power can manipulate citizens to appear to support a system which would diminish and ultimately destroy democracy itself.
And yet this unrepresentative government speaks to the world as though you have given it your support. All of the business of the nation is done in your name and on your dime, even though you have little or no voice in nearly all of those decisions.
The argument that is used to justify what is occurring is to remind people that this system we live in has been set up as a democratic republic, which means that we elect representatives to speak for us in that government. The problem, of course, is that too many of those representatives no longer serve the electorate but instead, serve those with the political and financial power who allow them to stay in their jobs. As the electoral system becomes more co-opted by that economic power, the system becomes totally dysfunctional for most of the citizenry but totally functional for the economic elite who now control all the levers of power in the nation.
Reclaiming Our Citizenship
The only viable solution is to claim and use the rights of democratic citizenship to forge a new politics of citizen participation by organizing and working together to provide a clear citizens’ voice that cannot be ignored. Much of this will need to happen outside the framework of our current system of elective politics since that has been so thoroughly corrupted and co-opted.
Remember that most of your daily lives are not determined by governmental decisions even though they control such big picture issues as the economy and foreign policy at this time. However, they do not control how we live our lives and deal with each other. We are still free to deal with the realities as we see fit, deal with our relationships as we see fit, live our daily lives as we see fit, build our communities and organizations as we see fit, and finally, to live the lives of empowered citizens within a democracy.
This is where community comes in. We are free to form organizations and communities with others who also insist on a new politics and the rebirth of true democratic citizenship.
Some of this work has already begun due to the effects of the pandemic. We have been forced back upon ourselves for survival. We have rediscovered our existing communities and learned to forge new ones for survival. We have discovered that economics did not hold the important solutions as our “economy” ground to a halt.
In other words, we have rediscovered ourselves and the incredible empowerment that comes with that discovery. We were able to play a major role in our own survival when the government was not very responsive or when it just didn’t seem to care.
Democracy is about those reenergized citizens, their communities and their organizations, working together to forge a new politics based on citizen and community participation.
Community is about forging relationships to further the goals of a group of people. Getting together to build a democratic society epitomizes the very heart of America. It is about cooperation, inclusivity, accepting differences, and equality. We all know how supportive and nurturing a community can be. We all know how wonderful it feels to work with others to improve the society as a whole. We understand the synergy that working together can provide. Such community creates its own momentum. It often provides a real reason for celebration.
This, of course is the ultimate goal, to forge a new democratic politics as the basis of a community, a society of empowered citizens willing to do the work. Such a change will assure citizens of a real voice in determining their own future and the future of the society, the nation, and ultimately the world and the planet.