Saturday, January 18, 2014

Democracy in Trouble

When we lose it in everyday things - at work, at the police station or social services office, when we vote - it's not there when we need it for the big things, like NSA surveillance and permanent wars.

This piece by Arun Gupta gets to something important about our American "democracy":
[T]hese days Americans have as much familiarity with democracy as they do with homesteading on the frontier. We like to imagine ourselves as pioneering statesmen, hewing a sturdy nation from the simple tools democracy has bequeathed us – messaging, voting, debates, elections, law-making – but we are lost in the wilderness when it comes to discovering the essence of democracy.

Democracy is not the same as the perpetual-motion electoral machine. It’s both a means and end built on dialogue, respect, relationships and reason, and it’s everything Christie pummels into submission. But don’t blame the public for this sorry state of affairs. Our lives are bereft of democracy. Virtually all schools are authoritarian, as are churches. Families teeter between parental authority and youthful insubordination. Few believe consumerism is democratic (but our democracy is consumeristic). Say “workplace democracy” to anyone at the office and blank stares is the best reaction you can hope for.

Few people know how to engage in democratic discussion and dialogue. I’ve heard the same story from food-justice organizers in Brooklyn, anti-fracking activists in Ohio, warehouse workers in Chicago, and home-foreclosure defenders in Oakland. It’s back to basics. Organizing now means first building community through socializing such as potlucks, block parties and softball games, and teaching people how to collectively listen to and discuss ideas with mutual respect.
I work in a place where a person with authority is universally loathed by everyone else in the office. And loathed not personally, but because this person's extreme incompetence and inability to work with others is seriously damaging the work we do.

In a workplace democracy, we should be able to unite and demand this person leave.
Yet because of the authoritarian assumptions and rules - bosses are always right, workers have no rights - this person is untouchable.

And once we accept that little loss of democracy, it's that much easier to accept that it's impossible to change anything.

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