The meaning of democracy lies in American values. From a young age we were taught the romanticized version of American history, which most times started with the Boston Tea Party, moved into the American Revolution, and then the mention of, arguably America’s favorite founding father, good ‘ole Benjamin Franklin. Now, of course, it would be preposterous to talk about Benjamin Franklin without talking about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is where I believe ideas of democracy took center stage.
Democracy was framed as the rights of the people (those that were not considered three-fifths of a person) to exercise their freedom in the governing of society. Democracy thus became fundamentally tied to Americanism and to this day I don’t know of any other country that discusses democracy the same way America does. However, tied up in ideas of democracy were questions such as: Who’s American? Who’s American enough to be considered American? and lastly, Who gets to decide who’s American and American enough? One of the most interesting ways in which we saw those questions play out is through the practice of voting and to vote in America you had (and still have) to be a citizen. Well, there we have it! Connected to ideas of democracy and Americanism was citizenship. Therefore, in an almost ironic-but-not-really-ironic way “we the people” was sort of exclusionary, right? “We the people” were only considered a part of “the people” if they were citizens and citizenship was tied to whiteness.
Essentially my point in discussing the historical roots of the use/meaning of democracy is to show that although the concept of democracy in and of itself isn’t complicated, it’s meaning is. I personally, especially with all that has been going on with the injustices that have occurred and the little change that has been made, question whether democracy is just an illusion. Sometimes it feels as if we the people have the power, but it’s as if that power almost always disappears whenever we try to use it. I guess, I just don’t know what democracy means. Maybe my inability to come up with a firm definition of democracy is a reflection of the veil of naivety gradually being lifted from over my face or maybe it’s Maybelline. 🙂