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July 10, 2018 > Editorial: Our democracy

Editorial: Our democracy

At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with aÿlittle pencil, making aÿlittle cross on aÿlittle bit of paper?no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.

Winston Churchill ?House of Commons, October, 31, 1944

Our form of government is not a true democracy ? one person, one vote. Instead, it is a variation, typically termed a representative democracy. As citizens, we do not decide every issue on an individual voting basis. Instead, those eligible to vote have the right and obligation to choose from our ranks those we trust to lobby and vote with their best judgement on our behalf. This political system, in various versions, has been around since the ancient Greeks employed it to make weighty decisions. They, too, were aware of the clumsy nature of submitting every issue to a popular vote. Individuals were selected to represent groups of people and narrowed the process even further by defining those eligible to participate (i.e. slaves and women were barred from voting).

However, when an issue is paramount in the minds of citizens and they do not feel adequately represented, there are avenues of communication available, both politically and as an alternative response. Protests through organizations using demonstrations of support or opposition can be effective when publicized by the media, but doing so requires significant resources to strategize, organize and define effective tactics. Individuals without substantial access to elected representatives may voice an opinion but usually find themselves restricted to a small audience with limited influence.

There have been attempts to remedy this discrepancy between direct democracy and representative democracy. Some are irregular, disruptive and even dangerous. But, there are methods within our system to address officials and demand to be heard. Among these are the ability to sponsor a citizen initiative, referendum and recall. In California, the struggle to empower citizens to bring an issue directly to voters began in Los Angeles in 1895 through the efforts of Dr. John Haynes. Now, referendums can be found with regularity on ballots throughout the State of California.

In addition, at the local level, there are opportunities for citizens to voice opinions at public meetings within an agenda framework. When items are brought before an elected body in open session, all are invited to comment whether in support or opposition. This form of direct democracy allows each resident or interested party to voice their opinion within a set time limit. Although time consuming and, at times, unorganized, this is an important right? to be heard. Even under a ?consent agenda? when what are considered routine decisions are grouped and voted as one, the right to remove an item from this list to be reviewed separately is given to elected officials, staff AND the public.

In addition, time is set aside in government meetings for communications from the public on topics not included in a published agenda. This allows a free and open transfer of information and possible inclusion in a future agenda for action by a governing body. Even elected officials have this option through a ?referral? process. If persuaded by constituents or other factors to bring attention to an issue not found on a meeting agenda, an elected official can request consideration and subsequent action. Issues of rent control, marijuana delivery, mega-homes and, on this evening?s agenda, development of Cloverleaf Bowl are important topics addressed through council referrals.

All of these actions are an important aspect of our system reflecting the existence of direct democracy even as we practice a representative form of democracy. Although there is much to criticize in our form of government, as Winston Churchill said in a speech to the House of Commons on November 11, 1947:

?Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.??

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