A New Year for Our Neglected Democratic Infrastructure

by evoker on December 20, 2016

in Leadership,Self development

We are gearing up it appears, if legislative forecasting for 2017 can be believed, for a big spend on the long-neglected infrastructure of highways and sewers and bridges. It took us decades to get to this mandate and let’s hope we intelligently add to our public assets.

Democracy itself has a less visible infrastructure, but one just as badly in need of repair. Like physical systems, we use the democratic infrastructure all the time: they are in constant use and need maintenance and metaphoric oil changes. All the courts and laws and regulations, the freedom of speech and the press, tax levies and executive orders, voting mechanisms and city council hearings, it all needs regular attention.

Occasional professional maintenance has filled highway potholes year after year, but now the big make-over is needed. So it is with democracy—as we follow the laws, vote, stay out of trouble and pay taxes we are in a pothole-filling “citizenship lite” mode of just keeping the infrastructure going. But these activities are short of the big investments that we now need to make in our democracy.

So, listen to the words of Parker Palmer as we enter the new year, words out of his book Healing the Heart of Democracy, written pre-2016 elections by a few years.

“If our democracy fails it is because we will have become so fearful of each other that we unravel the civic community upon which democracy depends, losing our power to resist all that threatens it and call it back to its higher form.”

As you set your direction for 2017, you may also want to set some citizen-level resolutions. I know I am going to. And you can start very close to home, in your own heart. Again, Palmer:

“Democracy is a non-stop experiment in the strength and weakness of our political institutions, our local communities and associations in the human heart. Its outcome can never be taken for granted…. The democratic experiment is endless. Unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us.”

And we may not blow up the lab but let it fall into disrepair through lack of maintenance, starting with our own practices of mind and heart; by isolating ourselves, not engaging those with different views, or engaging in our new favorite national past time—seeing ourselves as victims. For some, victimage description is a full-time job.

We may not need to go from “citizenship lite” levels of democracy to running for the Senate, but we all need to notch up our work as citizens. Let’s love the democracy that we have inherited. It needs our attention. Let’s refresh the experiment.

Previous post:

Next post: