Democracy depends on you and what you do

598cd511358db.imageBy Tayler Bingham

I hope for the moment you’ll excuse the ramblings of a 25-year-old. On occasion, I dabble in philosophy, I moralize, I idealize, and occasionally I dream big. Often pointed out as “delusions of grandeur” by those who life has battered and bruised, they still creep in, unabated by the buffeting of naysayers. On this occasion, my musings have turned to you. Yes, that’s right, you!

Do you matter? This question has reverberated in the empty space between my ears and traveled down to my heart. I’m sure we all think about this question from time to time. Often, we ask this question at the wrong time: when we’re feeling down and out. This question creates a paranoia that perhaps we don’t matter, and if we don’t matter, why even try.

Or maybe you’re part of that lucky crowd where this idea is simply a fleeting thought, flying in with the wind and going out with it, too. But to those who think otherwise, let me be clear: you matter. And no, not just in that almost trite thrown-to-the-wind abstract sentiment. No, instead you matter in a substantive way.

In no small degree, the nature of democracy depends upon you. At the core of democracy is the idea of community. After all, the very base notion of “rule by the people” is that there are indeed people organized together attempting to create order out of the anarchy of free interaction.

This order always takes the form of laws, rules, or even social norms or mores. J.S. Mill argues this form of order can be even more effective at enforcing codes of conduct and standards.

Somehow, through the mists of the more advanced society we have compared to 200 years ago, we have lost some insight into the important role of our voice in democracy. The complexities that now abound, the pace of modern life, and the heterogeneity and size of our communities all have played a part in reducing too many of us to robotic citizens — those who go through the motions, follow the rules, but never take part in shaping the rules.

Just because life has gotten more complex, does that change what democracy should be? No. This means that any citizen today should be as valuable to their community as any citizen during the founding of the country.

The point is that you matter. You are not some small, insignificant aspect of a larger whole. While you are certainly a part of a larger whole, your input fundamentally changes the output in a democracy. For example, look at any of our national leaders. Each one of them put something unique into the system, and as a whole, they have a unique footprint on our society.

The New Deal, the Patriot Act, the Emancipation Proclamation — all of these are unique identifiers of specific presidents. Sure, life would not be dystopic or utopic with the replacement of any single leader. But, there will be a change in policy outcomes, whether good or bad, small or large, and that matters to all of us.

Sure, you aren’t a world leader. But, don’t think that shouldn’t apply to the local level. Who you decide to elect as mayor or city council member changes the community every time. Every single time you vote, you are participating in change. Whether that change is good or bad is entirely up to you, and “bad and good” are not often agreed upon because of inherent value conflicts and essentially contested ideas.

Change is always important though. Too many are willing to let others make the decisions for them. In fact, it is this type of modern society that has shifted democracy — the true nature of it identified by authentic genuine participation — into the hands of elites who use the idea of democracy to consolidate power, implement their vision, and blind the masses.

We are, in other words, reading the scripts, acting out the parts the elites have provided for us. But aren’t we more than pawns? We certainly all have the power to make change. History shows countless examples of members of the faceless mass — people like you and me who may not consider ourselves leaders — who make substantive differences.

Firemen who dress as Santa and run around surprising children with Christmas cheer, ringing the bells for the Salvation Army, meeting with the zoning administrator to discuss potential land uses, providing eyeglasses through the Lions Clube — these are all important aspects of democracy. These individual acts, joining such valuable groups and coalitions, are all forms of democratic participation.

And they do matter. Try telling the families who receive Christmas gifts when they had none that your ringing of the bells doesn’t matter. Try telling the parents having a bad day while trying to calm their children, that a little surprise from firemen Santa doesn’t matter. These acts build community, they foster participation, and they benefit everyone involved.

Raising your voice, even on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to respectfully discuss social issues, to advocate for policy changes, to engage your political representatives matters. That’s because it provides a different perspective, your perspective, and that perspective may be the one that creates consensus, reduces conflict, and positively influences your community.

If you feel you haven’t participated enough, you certainly can find unique, non-intrusive ways to benefit your community. Talk to your city officials, connect with local nonprofits, round up your neighbors and do a fun neighborhood building activity.

You are important — democracy depends on you and what you do.

Tayler Bingham, a Blackfoot native, graduated Summa Cum Laude from Brigham Young University-Idaho and is currently a Masters of Public Administration student at Idaho State University. He works as an administrative associate for the City of Blackfoot.