When we were kids, food would magically appear when we were hungry. Up until college or when we first moved out of the house, an endless supply of clean laundry was available each time we wanted a change of clothes or a fresh towel. The price of such largesse was that we were subject to the authoritarian rule of parents and their choices regarding all manner of decisions about how we used [their] resources and how we behaved. With adulthood, we gained freedom. With adulthood, we also encountered the responsibility that comes with freedom.
Democracy works in much the same way. With the privilege of freedom, the consequences of our actions – or inaction – become our responsibility. We are personally responsible through our choices and our deeds for how we are governed. Government is not going to provide us what we want or need out of some paternalistic sense of moral obligation. Government responds to influence. The greater our influence, the greater government’s response to us.
At its heart, personal democracy is about increasing our individual influence on the world around us. It is about identifying our priorities and preferences and communicating them to our neighbors and to our political representatives. It is about making things happen. Because people who speak up are heard. Personal democracy sits at the intersection of old fashioned citizenship and the new possibilities of civic technology. Its potential is only limited by our willingness to accept our responsibility to engage in the process. Technology allows us to efficiently obtain information about commonplace and complex issues. Technology allows us to participate with fellow citizens in drafting laws. Technology allows us to follow government activities in real time. Most important, technology allows us to easily identify our political priorities and preferences and communicate them to our political representatives.
By now you have probably realized that the promises of the last election cycle are being abandoned, explained away, or otherwise restated in ways that bear little resemblance to how they were first communicated. The reason this happens is because influence has shifted. As voters, we have primary influence over the outcome of elections. However, once the election is over, influence returns to special interests and professionals who know that policy is more important than politicians. Essentially, the governed lack influence in government. Until we collectively turn our attention to the issues, and away from the political personalities, we are likely to be disappointed with our government. As voters, we can be manipulated with easy promises. As citizens who participate continually in the political process, we are not easily manipulated. Because difficult choices often require putting country or community above political party affiliations.
We aren’t children any more. We work to put food on our table and dirty laundry is our problem. Whether our democracy works or not is our responsibility, too. We must demand the attention of our lawmakers on issues that are the highest priority to us. We must do this all of the time and not just during election cycles. Challenge yourself to become educated about one political issue per day – all sides of the issue – and then communicate your preference and where the issue stands among your priorities. As more of us engage in this practice we will see our influence restored. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Democracy is most effective when it is personal.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Jeffrey Scott Szorik
My name is Jeffrey Szorik. I am an average citizen with a lifelong interest in legislative politics. Like you, I would prefer our political representatives focus on the priorities & preferences of the majority of the electorate they are entrusted to represent. Restoring confidence in our political system depends on it. Join me, as together we explore how to restore 'government by the people and for the people.'