As everyone arrived that Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 6 pm at the Spring Garden Chinese restaurant, I handed them a booklet, a description of sequestration and an account of a meeting between President Obama and House Speaker Boehner. After introductions, I opened the discussion by asking how democratic is sequestration? That prompted a very active discussion with everyone weighing in with their opinion. We were all prepared to discuss The United States’ Democratic Promise. The participants insisted on going through all of the possibilities, so I will provide some of what was said.
Possibility A, Rebuilding the Structure of Democracy: engage citizens in Constitutional renewal, brought out the issue again that the Constitution was written to be periodically reviewed and modified. Instead, changes have come as a result of upheaval, protest, and bloodshed. No one in the group believes that democracy is real and that it works on a national level. The intention of the Constitution to be a living or evolving document has no process in place to realize that end. There are no citizen boards of committees to formally study and recommend changes to The Constitution in an orderly way. No studies are made; no votes are set up for so many of the big and small directions that the country is taking.
It seems that you are able to have more influence at the neighborhood level than higher. Those who wanted a dog park placed in the neighborhood simply campaigned to write letters and request the park. No consideration was given to those with allergies living nearby and that the evaporation of the concentration might be a health concern. Minority ruled. The idea seemed like a good one and the vocal people won the issue. No study; no vote.
In another neighborhood, one person wrote that it was an annoyance to have immigrants standing outside a public library on mornings waiting to be selected for a day job. The letter led to there being an allocation from the budget to build a facility to house the hopeful workers serve coffee and have places to rest in a heated, cooled, and bathroom equipped building.
However, on a state or national level, nearly wars have to be fought for there to be change. There must be picket signs, marches, rhetoric, photo ops, and sometimes dogs, fire hoses, and beatings to get an issue resolved.
So what is The United States’ Democratic Promise anyway? Does it work at all levels or is it just a promise that aims at the common good and ignores the common interest?