Engaging in troubled times | Moment's Notice

By Maria A. Montalvo | Mar 30, 2019

#Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.” – Thurgood Marshall

We live in troubled times.

That is certainly the sentiment in the newspaper, on the news, in community conversations, in classrooms, and even on a song in the playlist accompanying my Saturday afternoon run. International organizations that evaluate democracy across the globe are sounding the alarm.

Freedom House rates freedom in all recognized countries, and says the world has become less free in the past 10 years. The Economist Intelligence Unit demonstrates a rise in flawed democracies and hybrid regimes, dwarfing the number of full democracies.

And the PEW Research Center says even long-established democracies like the U.S. are seeing the free and fair in elections challenged, a rise in the power of the executive branch over the legislative and judiciary, freedom of expression reduced, and faith in democracy questioned.

Nowhere were our troubled times more openly discussed that in a class I recently taught for the Creative Retirement Institute (CRI) at Edmonds Community College. It was titled “The Decline of Democracy: Is There Cause for Hope or Only Despair?”

We reviewed political theories on the case for democracy and evaluated a variety of nations as case studies, all with the intent of coming to a conclusion at the end of the class, whether it be optimistic or pessimistic.

The students who participate in CRI classes are, in a word, engaged.

They are intelligent, well-educated, well-read and extremely knowledgeable of current events, not to mention quite funny. Their questions are so insightful and interesting that they led us down many a rabbit hole.

For example, when discussing the free press, our ever-changing media landscape, and how accurate information is imperative for a healthy democracy, we asked if it is possible to have a news outlet for all of us.

If journalism is supposed to be analysis of the facts, the answer should be “yes,” but we all know that “should” do not amount to much in this day and age (or maybe any day and age). It is possible, just difficult.

Most interesting about the class is that I found myself inspired by the 42 participants, inspired to make the case for hope.

When you talk about democracy and every individual having the right to vote, the right to be considered equal by a fellow citizen, the right to speak openly, and the right to pursue opportunities on an equal footing – ell, how can you not hope for democracy?

It has become harder and harder in this modern world, but again, things that are worth fighting for usually are difficult to attain.

Yes, democracy has taken a hit in the past decade, but more countries are still functioning under some form of democratic rule than are not. Democracies today are, in some ways, healthier than they once were because more citizens are engaged in the political discussion.

Suffrage is far closer to universal, although the access to voting is being limited all over the world, including here. The younger generations are engaging in democracy in more personal ways, issue-based movements rather than party politics.

Activists and engaged voters are the people who created the rights that we enjoy today. Without active participation in our democracy, threats to egalitarian forms of government will grow.

Conflictual international interests, certain businesses, and “obnoxious individuals” (to quote one of America’s founding fathers, James Madison) will be more able to capture the limelight or work under the cloak of darkness to influence us.

We have to demand a healthy democracy to make it better, stronger.

The verdict at the end of the class regarding our troubled times? Still split, but more hands went up for hope than for despair, and as one of the students said, “After this class, how could we not feel hope?” Phew.

Author’s note: If you are interested in learning more about CRI classes, go to ce.edcc.edu/lifelong-learning/cri.

 

 

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