Understanding Democracy and How To Get Involved

By January 20, 2021 Blog

What is a Democracy? 

Democracy is based on the core value and principles of political equality, where all members have equal rights to affect decisions made. This simple formula ensures individuals and social groups are treated with dignity and respect and have the necessary autonomy and freedom to flourish.

A democracy is a government-run by the people. Each citizen has a vote in how the government runs. It is the opposite of a dictatorship or monarchy, where one individual yields all the power.

Types of Democracy 

The two types of democracies are Direct and Representative. 

Direct – In a direct democracy, every citizen votes on all critical issues. One of the first direct democracies was in Athens, Greece. The citizens would gather together in the main square to vote. This type of democracy became difficult as populations grew. Imagine all 331 million people in the United States trying to gather in one place to decide on an issue. It is impossible. 

Representative – The second form of democracy is a representative democracy, or also called a democratic republic. The United States is a representative democracy, in which citizens elect representatives, such as the president, senators, congress, and representatives into government to make key decisions and reform. 

What Characteristics Constitute a Democracy? 

Many of the democratic nations have general characteristics in common, including: 

Citizens rule – This means that the government’s power rests in its citizens’ hands, either directly or through an elected representative. 

Free Elections: Democracies hold free and fair elections processes, where all citizens can vote. 

Majority Rule with Individual Rights: In a democracy, the majority will rule, but the individual’s rights are protected. The majority will sway the way on major elections or issues, but each individual has rights such as freedom of religion, free speech, and protection under the law. 

Limitations on Lawmakers: A democracy sets limits on elected officials, like those in the presidency or congress. They only have power for a specific length of time or term limit, so they can only serve in office for a specified time.

Citizen Participation: Citizens must participate in their democracy for it to run successfully. They must understand the issues and vote. There are no longer any restrictions to vote based on gender, race, or economic status.

Democracies in Reality 

A democracy may sound like the ideal government, but it has issues in reality, like all governments. Some of the common criticisms on democracy include: 

  • Only wealthy individuals can afford to run for office and gain the funds for a campaign, therefore leaving the real power in the rich’s hands. 

  • Voters are sometimes uninformed or confused on the issues and do not know what they are voting for. 

  • The system or two dominant parties in the United States give voters few choices on issues and often further polarize the nation. 

  • Large bureaucracies, such as democracies, can be inefficient, and decisions can take a long time. 

  • Like any form of government, there can exist corruption, which can limit fairness and the real power of the people. 

However, despite democracy issues, it has proven to be one of the fairest and most efficient forms of government in the world. Citizens that live in democratic societies have a higher standard of living, more freedoms, protections, and decisions than those living in other government forms. 

Other strong characteristics of a flourishing democracy include:

  • A healthy society.

  • A firm and fair legal system.

  • Checks and balances of power.

  • A free press.

  • Honest and free elections. 

Interesting Facts about Democracy 

The word “democracy” comes from the Greek word “demos,” which means “people.” The term “democracy” is not used anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. The government is defined as a “republic.” The top 25 wealthiest countries in the world are democracies. The United States is the oldest recognized democracy in the modern world.

 How to Get Involved in Democracy

  • Subscribe to national, regional, and local newspapers and keep abreast on important matters. 

  • Allsides.com is an excellent source for news from all points of view and perspective, including conservative, liberal, and centrist points of view.

  • Make sure that you are getting your facts straight. Are the sites that you are visiting trustworthy and up to date? Check out factcheck.org to confirm your facts. 

  • Place democracy right in your pocket! Order a pocket-sized constitution.

  • Uncover all the critical facts on any politician or political candidate at the non-partisan Votesmart.org.

  • Have open and honest discussions on your political views and talk with those who do not share your ideas. BetterAngels.org helps people do this all across the country.
  • Attend an event or discussion at your school or community to learn more about an issue.

  • Demonstrate through sit-ins, boycotts, or other forms of protest on key topics that you strongly do not agree with. 

  • Spend the day shadowing a public servant to learn how our institutions work.

  • Learn more about our history and those who have taken civic action at your local museum

  • Visit your local library—research important books on our American democracy.

  • The National Constitution Center has an interactive breakdown of the constitution. 

  • When reading news articles, use a highlighter to mark points of interest, subjects you may agree or disagree on, or questions you have about critical issues. 

  • Find out when elections are happening at the U.S. Vote Foundation.

  • Collectively register to vote with family and friends! Meet to discuss key issues regularly and how you plan on voting—even making plans to go to the polls together.

  • If eligible, prepare to vote by visiting your polling place, review your ballot ahead of time and make sure that you have everything necessary for the day of; states will require identification such as a license or passport.

  • Communicate with elected officials and share the topics that are important to you. Wite a letter, make a phone call or visit them.

  • The National League of Cities describes city council and community board meeting’s functions and how you can attend and get involved.

  • It is a great time in your life to research and see if you are interested in joining a political party. This list summarizes the political parties, how to get involved, and what they stand for.

  • Share the #WeThePurple Teacher Toolkit with your teachers for good ideas on scholar civic engagement activities.

  • A great plan is to volunteer to serve as an officer or member of a group in your school or community. A great site, Volunteer Match can help you connect to groups in your area.

  • Start a political online book club.

  • Clean up a local park.

  • Volunteer at a local food bank, soup kitchen, or pantry; give back to your community and get a sense of the needs of all.

  • Perhaps it is in your future to do a year of service. Serviceyear.org can direct you to thousands of opportunities to develop real-world skills while giving back to your community.

  • A fun way to participate in democracy is by hosting or attending a debate watch party in your community.

  • Share what you have learned about democracy with your teachers and fellow scholars.

  • Social media is a potent tool these days. Make sure to use your social media to post uplifting information to help make our society more unified. The University of Virginia shares a guide on civil discourse when talking about politics.






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