We the People

The government is a democratic ideal worth fighting for

| July-August 2010

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    2009 © Chris Lyons / lindgrensmith.com

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After spending  a rousing evening at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C., where I had the honor of toasting the nominees and winners of the 2010 Utne Independent Press Awards (p. 46), my partner, Stacey, and I decided to while away a luminous April morning strolling the National Mall.

It’s a walk I’ve taken many times, but while I was revisiting the monuments I was drawn to the words of our founding fathers, former presidents, and military veterans, which are immortalized in dusty marble and cracking stone. One passage in particular, penned by Thomas Jefferson and inscribed on the southeast interior of the rotunda built in his honor 72 years ago, stirred an emotional wave in me, a mix of pride and melancholy, exhilaration and loss.

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions,” Jefferson wrote, “but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change . . . institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”

As the noon hour approached, we grabbed a cup of coffee and made our way toward the base of the Washington Monument. A young woman, dressed in a sharply pressed blue suit and accompanied by a cameraman, stepped in front of us on the sidewalk. I stopped and nodded a friendly hello, game to play the role of “man on the mall.”

“What do you think of regulation?” she asked before raising her microphone.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said.

Jackson Hale_3
8/22/2010 5:06:11 PM

Great Article Davide. Although I agree with some of the comments by the other commentators such as the 'Howlitzer' money advantages of special interests that buy our government and ultimately render our votes almost useless and the comment about doing more locally. . . it is still important to assess and describe the big picture which this article does a wonderful job of. I would have loved to hear the 10 minute tirade you went into after the stupid-reporter incident. In order to fix our government people need to describe the problems, identify all of the relevant factors, and identify strategies to address them. If this sounds simplistic. . .it is. . .but it will take more people, more minds and more effort to get to a prescription that encompasses political will, identification and education of the problem details and urgency.

R Cree
8/11/2010 4:49:02 PM

All those inspiring words on the monuments in the mall. Ah, all designed to put you to sleep and react instead of be awake and think. Our democracy is a fraud. It is $1 dollar one vote--not one person one vote and the top 20% that control 80-90% of the assets and most of the income control everything. It is a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. All of the propoganda that you read is to keep the masses down and asleep at minimal cost to serve the few. Without real economic freedom, you can never have a real democracy. There can be no war to fight to save democracy--you are saving a system for the rich. The masters of this place of illusion want to think that your vote counts, you are important---you are not in this illusion of democracy. Unfortunately, the only solution is to take up arms against outrageous fortunes--it doesn't look like the slaves of democracy will go that far.

Christopher Harrison_2
8/11/2010 10:47:49 AM

The premise of this article seems one borne of outrage, much as the tea party movement and the cynicism on "the left" -- two phenomena that the author decries. What is missing is WHERE DO WE START? Trying to focus on national issues seems to be a lost cause (if I'm not being too cynical in saying so) because serious attempts at reform are simply overwhelmed by the corruption that has taken hold of the entire system. Citizen groups are wielding the equivalent of spitwads against the howitzer of money available to corporate lobbies. Yet, aside from an exhortation toward "resuscitating government," there is little in the way of prescription. Personally, I would recommend largely turning away from these larger institutions -- not out of laziness, but out of a need to direct limited energies toward where they might actually WORK. Think small scale. Get to know your neighbors and people in your community. Develop self-sufficiency as much as possible, while developing shared-obligations and skill-and-goods bartering networks. Take on issues that impact your local community first, and enlist your neighbors and community friends. It is only by rededicating ourselves to vibrant family-and-community life that we can have any impact against the centralized institutions of a larger scale.

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