We have witnessed the vulnerability of the rules that govern each branch of govt. which have been weaponized to herd us toward minority rule. Do we have the boldness & courage to reset the rules of govt so that they serve democracy? Cause that’s the project. It begins w/power.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) June 25, 2022
It’s a huge job, but we can do it.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) June 25, 2022
That's the big picture: the rules that govern each branch of government have been weaponized to herd us toward minority rule. Zachary Roth made the same point in his book, "The Great Suppression."
Beginning in the 1970’s, Richard Nixon referred to the “silent majority.” Through the Reagan years we heard a lot about the “permanent Republican majority.” As Roth says, “Today’s conservatives have no such confidence that the people are on their side. In fact, they are beginning to perceive that they’re in the minority – perhaps more glaringly than ever before. And yet this realization has brought with it another more hopeful one: being outnumbered doesn’t have to mean losing.”
That's the tie that binds Republican efforts to suppress the vote, gerrymander congressional districts, require a supermajority to pass anything in the Senate, stack the courts, and engage in judicial activism. The goal is to ensure that they can hold onto power, even in the minority - which is antithetical to democracy.
Rick Tetree made a similar point on Twitter.
Thread. A cautionary thought: the GOP can read polls. They *know* that a solid majority of Americans intensely oppose them on abortion, gun control and insurrection (to name but a few). They know these are big losers, in national electoral terms. Yet they persist.— Rick Petree (@RickPetree) June 24, 2022
They are acting, instead, like a party freed of the natural constraints imposed, in a democratic system, by the need to reconcile conflicting points of view. They are acting like they're not in that system any more. Because they are not.— Rick Petree (@RickPetree) June 24, 2022
So the task before us is daunting. It is to reset the rules of government so that they serve democracy. As Ifill points out, that begins with power.
Gaining and wielding power is something liberals have typically had trouble talking about. That is because, in our culture, it is assumed that power is achieved via dominance. But as I've been talking about for years now, we need to recognize the power of partnership.Back in 2007 Marshall Ganz - who teaches community organizing at Harvard - wrote an article titled: Organizing for Democratic Renewal. He began with this quote from Sidney Verba.
Democracy is based on the promise that equality of voice can balance inequality of resources.Ganz went on to review some of the observations of Alexis de Tocqueville about American democracy. He summarized those observations as follows:
In other words, he saw that we had learned that choices a few people make about how to use their money could be balanced by choices many people make about how to use their time.
But only by joining with others could we come to appreciate the extent to which our fates are linked, gain an understanding of our common interests, and make claims on the political power we needed to act on those interests.
In the 70's and 80's, the direct marketing techniques adopted by advocates and politicians led to citizens being viewed as “customers” and/or “clients.” According to Ganz, that stripped us of our power and turned us into objects that are acted upon rather than the drivers of action.
A mindset that views citizens as customers or clients of government is an invitation to tyranny and the antithesis of democracy. That is what John F. Kennedy meant when he uttered his most famous words: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
Barack Obama devoted his speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention to the idea of citizenship - with words that become more prescient every day.
We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk- takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity that the world's ever known.
But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations...
We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.
As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.
It is important to recognize that the "necessary work of self-government" is "hard and frustrating." When it comes to things like the Supreme Court's recent ruling, there is no quick fix in a democracy. So what can citizens do? Here's just a few ideas from Ifill.
3. Attend peaceful protests happening across the country. Mobilizing empowers us & reminds us & them of our potential power.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) June 24, 2022
4. Flood the offices of your state reps NOW (strategic visits, phone calls, texts, tweets) and tell them to oppose any state restrictions on abortion.
7. If your neighboring state prohibits abortion, form groups who can help women from those states access travel & care in your state.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) June 24, 2022
8. Register & vote in every election this year (primary, special,general) & for every office (sheriff, D.A., school board, House & Senate).
10. Decide today that you will never give up fighting for the country you want for yourself, your children, your community. Decide it. Then no matter what happens, you won't be swayed or paralyzed.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) June 24, 2022
That last one is critical. On that score, there is a lot we can learn from those who fought before us.
Assuming that it is the job of someone else (ie, the president, congressional leaders, Supreme Court justices, etc.) to save our democracy is part of the problem - not the solution. The essence of democracy is captured in the words "we, the people."