By Brian Schrader
A robust democratic society is one that strives to bring people into the fold, not exclude them. It’s one that seeks to build a unified polity that uses its collective power to lift up the downtrodden and work to further the public good.
In a democratic society, the people are not just allowed to participate in the governing process, they are encouraged, empowered and excited to do so. And in a broader sense, democracy is about a lot more than just voting and lawmaking. Democracy requires that we work to improve all aspects of our society. This is because, in order for it to function properly, democracy requires an engaged and educated electorate that has the resources and time to participate in civic life. Because of this, we must prioritize strengthening our education systems to ensure that people are educated, and we must strive to build a society where people can secure good paying jobs.
Democracy works best when it’s expanded beyond the public sector. Democracies can and should be more common in the business world. Today, most companies are organized as de facto autocracies, and while a few trendsetters are democratically run and, better still, worker owned, they make up a very small minority. Workers today have little real say in their workplace, and therefore limited experience with democracy outside of seeing the occasional political ad on TV or voting in a quadrennial presidential election.
It is no great surprise, then, that studies have shown faith in democracy has declined, especially among working age Americans. Today the vast majority of people commonly experience the downsides of democracy, and rarely get the chance to experience its upsides.
The way forward must be to build up our democracy and regain the strength that lies in our collective will. If we wish for ourselves to be better educated, California should make college and university free for our residents once again. With access to a quality education, Californians of all backgrounds will be better equipped to understand and navigate the world around them, and will be allowed the opportunity to earn a better future for themselves and for their families.
The way forward must be to better our collective lives. We should be expanding and beautifying our public spaces—parks, pools, recreation centers, libraries, trails and plazas—by adding new amenities and breaking ground on new sites. Public spaces help to unify communities around common experience and include community members with lesser means as equal participants.
The way forward must be to democratize corporate ownership, or at least incentivize democratic organizing structures, which are better at protecting workers. The vast majority of people interact with their workplace and with other companies more frequently than they do with their government, and those organizations are not democracies. It’s difficult to argue that we live in a democratic society if we only interact with democracy 0.07% of the year. A decade ago, fast food chains were lambasted for calling a product “beef” when it was only 88% true, but by most measures our “democratic” society contains far less of its titular ingredient.
For all of its greatness, the process of democracy is full of downsides and its upsides are easily forgotten or taken for granted. To renew our democracy, we need to reinvest in it. We need to ensure the promises of democracy are fulfilled for everyone, not just the historically privileged, and as a society with significant worldwide influence, we need to be a shining example of the good democracy can bring.
It’s often seen as naive to praise democracy in the face of our current reality, but I am a true and ardent believer nonetheless. To paraphrase James Madison, democracy is and remains the least worst form of government we have devised. It allows us to collectively decide our own fate, to protect and nurture ourselves and our fellow citizens, and it allows us to collectively build a future we want. We just need to dive in and do it.
— Brian Schrader is a software developer in Normal Heights and writer at www.democracyandprogress.com.