Democracy Doesn't Happen One Day Every Two Years: Thoughts on Wisconsin

By now, you might have heard about how the Wisconsin Senate Democrats have fled the state in order to prevent a bill from passing, supported by Republican Governor Scott Walker, that would cripple public sector unions (if it's about redressing the budget, then why does the bill deal with union dues, which have nothing to do with the budget?). Before I address the title of the post, I want to comment on the Democratic tactics. Despite conservative/Republican bleating, including one commentor on this post, the Democrats have done nothing illegal. They are playing by the rules, just as national Senate Republicans are playing by the rules when they turn the Senate in a super-majority rules body by using the filibuster*. The Wisconsin Democrats are not using violence. They are not inciting violence. They are simply working the rules to their fullest.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, what I find disturbing, though not surprising, is the strain of de facto royalism that permeates opposition to the Wisconsin Democrats' strategy. This is the idea that once a politician wins an election, he or she is immune to the will of the people--an elected prince. But that's not how one of Governor Walker's predecessors, Progressive Robert LaFollette saw it:

We have long rested comfortably in this country upon the assumption that because our form of government was democratic, it was therefore automatically producing democratic results. Now, there is nothing mysteriously potent about the forms and names of democratic institutions that should make them self-operative. Tyranny and oppression are just as possible under democratic forms as under any other. We are slow to realize that democracy is a life; and involves continual struggle. It is only as those of every generation who love democracy resist with all their might the encroachments of its enemies that the ideals of representative government can even be nearly approximated.

If democracy is exercised only one day every two years, then it is not truly democracy. Choosing princes every so often to lord over us is not democracy. Democracy requires that we are engaged, not rarely, but often. Democracy means pressuring and watching your elected representatives, going to public meetings, writing and speaking about the issues of the day, and engaging other citizens. While Tea Partyers blather on about 'second amendment remedies' (i.e., a thinly-veiled threat of violence--or blowhard bluster), rank-and-file Democrats in Wisconsin are engaging in 'first amendment remedies': assembling and speaking.

That is the Real America.

*If you don't like the rules change them.

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I've been preaching this exact same point for many years now, to little avail (but I'm glad to have a fellow voice). I asked a group of students one day, "If democracy only happens on Election Days, what happens on the 729 days in between?" To say they were befuddled would be something of an understatement. Not long afterwards, I asked a group of 40-something activists like me the same question, and they were no less bewildered. It was extra-weird given that they were the answer to their own question and STILL DIDN'T GET IT.