Why democracy? This is a question that has been wrestled with since the Greeks first introduced a system of political reforms called demokratia, or “rule by the people” (from demos, “the people,” and kratos, or “power”). Today, we think of democracy as giving each person a voice, but in Ancient Greek only males had a voice, and, of course, only males with a certain amount of property and social status.
We’ve come quite a long way since some Ancient Greeks gathered to discuss their fates in the square of Athens. Modern democracies help to ensure that oppressed groups who would otherwise be excluded from politics have their voices heard – they can vote for policies and people they believe in. Modern democracies are also flexible; they have built-in checks and balances forcing regular electoral turnover and are able to adjust as society changes.
American democracy, due to geographic and population limitations, was formed as an indirect, representative democracy – we elect representatives who we think will give us a voice in our government. This however, means that we have to participate as citizens. At the very least, we have to vote, but citizenship also requires being aware of who is running, not just in the national elections, but in our local school board or city council elections. Democracy functions best when citizens are involved.
Why democracy? It gives us a voice – but to have that voice, we have to put in the work. National Voter Registration Day just passed, but you have until 10/5/2020 to register to vote before the November 3rd election. You can do that online here, print a blank form here or stop in at your local library to pick up a form. For additional information on voter registration or mail-in voting, check out RRPL’s 2020 General Election information page – or give us a call – we’ll be glad to answer your questions.
To get started researching who is running, try Ballotpedia; it’s a great source for non-partisan election information. It allows you to look up your ballot, find candidates in national and local elections, and take an in-depth look at candidates’ positions. Judge4Yourself provides independent non-partisan ratings of judicial candidates before every election. If you want to dig a little deeper, here are some other ways to participate in our democracy (from AARP.com):
- Check out candidates’ websites – see what their stances are on issues you’re concerned about.
- If one of the candidates is an incumbent in the House of Representatives or Senate, go to Congress.gov and research their voting records, find out what issues they concentrate on, and how to contact them.
- Attend campaign events, including town halls (or participate in them by phone or online) and informal coffees and other stops the candidates might be making in your community. Local party offices, public libraries and other community organizations usually have information on such events.
- Find the campaign office and call or drop in. Candidates want your vote. Make them work for it. Ask to speak to the candidate or her or his representative and get your questions answered about the issues that matter to you.
- Check the candidates’ answers on important issues. Factcheck.org, which is run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, keeps track of candidates’ statements and claims.
Why democracy? Our democracy will work best if all Americans can have full and equal access to participation – and if all Americans participate fully.