I’m teaching a class this semester called Democracy, the Incomplete Experiment. It’s a course that explores American democracy as an active, ongoing process being shaped by its participants.
Now don’t worry. I’m not going to spend the next few minutes lecturing on forms of political systems, but I do want to drive home a basic point about how this incomplete experiment affects us on a very real and daily basis.
Just take a look at the political headlines these days. Be it the smack-talk going back and forth between President Obama and the Supreme Court, or the latest threats to our constitutional rights posed by increasing barriers to voting in states across this nation.
You see, talking about these issues in an academic setting is one thing, but living with the real world impact of these issues is totally different.
For example, the Supreme Court deciding to declare the president’s 2010 health care law unconstitutional would have a real impact on real people, especially those in our community and the chipping away at the right to vote of many people in our community through increased voter ID requirements and additional restrictions is a direct attack on our citizenship and our ability to effect change.
And just imagine where Black folks would be right now if we had not, throughout our history in this country, constantly effected change.
Because democracy is not a spectator sport and when we, as citizens, go to sleep on democracy, guess what happens? That’s right. Democracy goes to sleep on us.
And I’m talking about more than just voting, especially in this day and age where people are raising their voices, engaging in collective action, and devoting their time, money and knowledge to a variety of causes, because democratic change can occur both inside and outside the voting booth.
Now, the upcoming elections are, of course, essential. Some folk so dislike the fact that a Black man is president that they’ll do any and everything to discredit him.
But, let’s not get lulled into the belief that voting is the only thing we can do to transform the world around us. No matter who wins in November, we have the power to transform ourselves and the world around us — or as they say, we have to “Be the change we seek…”
So the next time you find yourself talking passionately about an issue in the news or something on your mind, let’s do more than just talk about it. Let’s be about it. Organize around it; study it; start an online petition or support group around it; reach out to a legislator on it; create a platform around it; promote it; change it.
It’s all within your power — and our power — to do so, as the current headlines show us, when it comes to issues of American democracy — especially for Black folks, sleeping is just not an option.
As I said, democracy is an incomplete experiment that affects us on a daily basis. We just have to recognize the fact that it’s a two-way street and that we too must affect democracy on a daily basis.
I’ll leave you with this thought from anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”