Op-Ed: What it Means to Live in a Democracy 

A copy of the constitution of the United States of America
A copy of the Constitution of the United Sates of American on a wooden background. 123rfPhotostock


Nobody ever said democracy was easy. It can be noisy, messy, confrontational. It inspires intense, often bitter debate and even, as we’ve seen recently, violence. Throughout our history, our democracy has faced grave threats. In the early years, elected representatives on the floor of Congress wrangled so fiercely that they sometimes came to blows. The Civil War nearly ended the great American experiment. During the Reconstruction period, armed mobs of white supremacists in the South overthrew elected biracial governments and massacred blacks. 

Again today, tension and volatility are roiling the country. Armed insurrectionists storm the Capitol, a Republican representative publicly supports executing prominent Democrats, and the Department of Homeland Security warns of terrorist threats from within. Democracy is once again being grievously tested.

So this seems like a good time to remind ourselves of exactly what it means to live in a constitutional democracy, what our obligations as citizens are, why democracy is worth fighting for, and what we can do to help it survive.

Living in a democracy means that all citizens have a right to vote, to practice the religion of their choice, to speak freely. It means that we read and listen to reams of opinions from across the political spectrum, because a free press is one of democracy’s bedrocks. It means that we have a multitude of viewpoints and debate them vigorously, but then must work to find a common ground. It means that we value truth over lies, and the rule of law over lawlessness and violence.

All of this requires constant hard work and vigilance – to ensure that votes are not suppressed, that the press doesn’t abuse its power by disseminating disinformation, that justice prevails for everyone.

As many have observed, democracy is not a spectator sport. With all of today’s turmoil and unease, it’s more important than ever to fight as hard as we can to ensure that it flourishes. Because as Winston Churchill memorably said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”

Barbara Leish Is a member of Seniors Taking Action, a group of activists who believe that political engagement is essential if democracy is to flourish.