Democracy needs more voices, not fewer
To the editor:
The tone and language of a recent opinion piece, This is What Democracy Looks Like (Nov. 8 Capital News) deeply disappoints. Referring to the Occupy “cultists” as uninformed, ill-organized and heading inevitably to “disarray and violence” calls to mind repressive governments who label as “terrorists,” “traitors” and “infiltrators” those courageous citizens who call for change.
I think we should demand better analysis from local media, especially at exactly the time we remember those who suffered and sacrificed so that dissenting opinions could be freely expressed. I’m sure the vets didn’t think they were fighting for the sort of sergeant major’s democracy that your piece seemed to support.
Your editorial implied that “true” democracy, presumably similar to the street-fighting version seen recently in many parts of the Middle East, would likely sweep vocal minorities off the scene, and therefore local dissenters should be grateful for the benign version of representative government that we enjoy. I’m surprised that the old bulldog of 1940 wasn’t quoted to the effect that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Instead, the tone seemed more like a very grouchy H. L. Mencken who believed that “democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
In fact, effective democracy is almost as elusive as it is untidy, since our political differences are usually rooted in disagreements over solutions rather than problems. Do we want healthy, socially adjusted neighbours? Can we agree that a sustainable environment is the best choice? We may disagree about how to attack these issues but can probably find common understanding about their importance.
Society’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible but, more importantly, our frequent experience of injustice makes full democracy absolutely necessary.
Wouldn’t most of us, including your writer, want to see a civic election with issues and candidates that provoked an 80 per cent voter turnout rather than the more typical 20 per cent, even if the ensuing debates occasionally pushed the boundaries of good order and discipline? For that reason, I place your opinion piece in the same category of error as the decision by organizers of a recent mayoral “debate” to exclude candidates who were, in their opinion, not likely to win at the polls. I regret that two campaigners chose to participate when other fully-qualified nominees were barred, presumably to achieve that tidier form of democracy which your piece seemed to champion. I invite those candidates and your writer to think harder about the need for a multitude of voices in our political processes.