Democracy is a form of government that translates to “rule by the people.” A well functioning democracy is one that supports active participation of community members in decision-making processes. Although we may commonly associate democracy with elections in which we choose candidates to represent us at various levels of government, democracy is more than electing representatives—it also includes the ways in which community members engage and shape the conditions that impact their lives and community. For example, participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members determine how funds (such as a portion of a public budget) should be allocated.
From the “founding” of the United States, the right to participate in democracy/shape how resources are distributed via government has been exclusionary. In the U.S. the right to vote was initially only afforded to white, male landowners, then to white men more broadly, Black men with the passing of the 15th amendment (however, racial terrorism and application of poll taxes and literacy tests served as barriers), white women nationwide in 1920, Native Americans in all states in 1962, later all Black women in the U.S. gained access to vote in 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and an extension of the voting rights act in 1975 expanded voting access to citizens who spoke languages beyond English.
Today, efforts to restrict our decision making power persist. There are people who seek to restrict our power / ability to engage in democracy by enacting various forms of voter suppression and disenfranchisement via tactics such as gerrymandering, voter intimidation, closing polling locations, failing to provide election materials in folks’ native languages, preventing folks in prison from voting, discriminatory voter roll purges, limiting access to mail-in voting and more. Those who seek to hoard power and engage in rule by “a few people” or “just the 1%”—an ideology that contradicts with the very premise of democracy (”rule by the people”)---have a vested interest in our non-participation. Engaging in democracy is one way we leverage our power and influence decisions that impact our everyday lives.
There are a plethora of ways to take action as it relates to democracy. You can join the Urban Core Collective in engaging with neighbors to learn about priority issues and sharing information via door-to-door canvassing, text banking, phone banking, hosting house gatherings with family and friends to spread awareness about current issues and opportunities to get involved, supporting folks in registering to vote, serving as an election worker and participating in ongoing engagement with elected officials.
While there are many ways to get involved externally, democracy and shared decision making are not just practices that we should only consider as it relates to electoral politics. adrienne maree brown invites us to apply the tenets of democracy beyond the electoral space by practicing shared decision-making in all areas of our lives—at home, at work, etc.
You can visit the Michigan Voter Information Center at https://mvic.sos.state.mi.us/ to check your voter registration status, find out who your current elected officials are, what districts you live in, preview your ballot during election season and more!