Today, our democracy is more accessible to us than ever. While cases of exceptions to the political inclusion still exist, people of all races, beliefs, and genders are all given the rights to participate in the nation’s politics. However, numerous sources have proven to us unprecedented threats are also imposed on our liberal democracy. Party polarization, populism leadership, and among the large body of voters, not everyone is actively participating in our democratic processes, either due to personal agenda or the erosion of faith in the rule of law and the democratic governance, or the lack of understanding how democracy works. They feel their voice unheard and misrepresented, as well as in many cases don’t know how to express themselves in the first place. This is largely due to the lack of education on how democracy works in our country. Whereas among those heard, their party alignments in some ways seem to skew their decision making in certain ways. Out of the aforementioned situation, the “Demystifying Democracy” panel held by Common Cause RI was set to resolve this issue within the scope of Rhode Island.
Common Cause RI introduced the Demystifying Democracy series in 2017, and the series since focused on empowering citizens to participate in RI state and local democracy by providing a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative processes. The public session I attended this January focus on the topic of “House Rules”
During the event, I noticed something trivial not as I expect from the years of rallies I saw in the news. The panel members of Rhode Island from the two parties were sitting at the same table, harmoniously explaining to us the audience the inner workings of our democracy. The phenomenon that “the parties have grown racially, religiously, and socially distant from one another” written by Mason in his Uncivil Agreement is clearly not present here. In his discussion, Lilliana Mason also made the point that members of both parties “negatively stereotype members of the opposing party”, which is also countered by my experience on that evening. After one of the Republican panel member projected his idea on how to achieve a “truly fair electoral process” by letting the people actually “understand the rules”, the female democrat member fully embraces his idea and furthered that we should bring the constituents’ voices to the state house.
For someone with little real-life political experience like me, the harmony between representatives of the two parties is actually refreshing. In the age of the Internet and online media, what catches our attention the most are usually the most dramatic, the most intense, and the most novel. We see ourselves having been divided with increasing distinction into two partisan teams across the electorate. We see the disagreement of governing ideology. We see the “social polarization defined by prejudice, anger, and activism on behalf of them.” According to Seth Masket, “The Republican Party is demonstrating every day that it hates Democrats more than it loves democracy.” On the country scale, this may certainly be true, as the Republicans usually blindly vote for the proposal of president Trump without even fully considering the pros and cons. And the Democrats too irritated to make their arguments clear and fair… All the opinions of our status quo seem so neatly divided by party alignments.
However, the big picture isn’t the full picture. What isn’t covered in our news feed is the active cooperation between the two parties to bring democracy to more people in our country. Undoubtedly, the “failure of the two parties to work together would harm the nation”(Mason 2018). Though what I saw at the local Demystifying Democracy event signals positive attitudes toward interparty relationships, this might not hold true in every corner of our nation. In order for us to bring about such positive change, the participation of every citizen is crucial. The most recent consequences of not doing so is the 2016 election when Donald Trump was elected president of our country. His defeat of Hilary Clinton by means of negative fake news and more poses threat to our democratic environment.
Surely, events like this will, by all means, give us a push toward a more liberal democracy. Yet at the same time, more measures must be implemented to encourage citizen participation in politics. For us to one day reach true democracy, it is not only that anyone can vote, but also that everyone does become involved in the process. In the end, it is only possible to reach for a more liberal democracy when everyone becomes part of it.