How recently have you experienced democracy? #OWS
He is a well-spoken guy and talked passionately about forming community cooperatives, where workers “have a direct role in decision-making and a share of all profits, build community wealth and help make a democratic economy real.”
At one point in his presentation, Omar asked us was how recently we’d “experienced democracy.”
On the face of it I didn’t think it was a fair question, especially when he compared it to experiencing anger or happiness. After all, democracy isn’t an emotion and I can’t experience democracy, say, by myself in a room, but of course I can conjure up emotions by myself in a room, especially if I have a laptop, wifi, and Netflix to help me.
But since his visit, I have to admit I have dwelled on that question and it’s become more and more reasonable in my mind, although I made two decisions on how to interpret it.
First of all, I chose to interpret it not as a formal gesture of democracy, like asking how recently have you voted in a formal election. Instead, it’s a local decision-making process question: how recently has your vote mattered in a local decision that affects a group?
Second, it’s not really about me. It’s about looking around and deciding who around me gets to participate in democratic decisions and who doesn’t.
For example, it might be at work. Although I personally get to make a lot of decisions at work, that fact clearly separates me from tons of people who simply get told what to do by some kind of authority. And there is an important distinction between people who have a manager but get to make decisions internal to their projects and people who have every decision laid out for them.
And that latter workplace anti-democratic situation is, I imagine, maximally soul-crushing, and is the audience that Omar is worried about and is reaching out to. And that’s why his question turns out to be a really good question after all.
I also consider democracy inside my own family. Since I’m the mom of the family, I tend to make more decisions that affect my little group than other people, but now I’m more sensitive to sharing that power there when I can. Turns out my kids love making decisions, it makes them gleeful in fact, even if it’s just what to eat for dinner. And they make good decisions too, which I’m consistently proud of.
My final example is Occupy, which is by construction a direct democracy, and I know how good participating and experiencing democracy actually feels there, and it’s a big part of why it works.
What about you? How recently have you experienced democracy?