Recent conversations with my millennial children caused me to think more deeply about what it means to live in a society that is structured as a Participatory Democracy. Our talks focus on this year’s presidential election. Consistent with their generation, they became almost religiously enthralled by the Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. The irony of their choice captured my attention. Clearly, he was the eldest in a field of old candidates seeking the highest office in the land. “Feeling the Bern” and giving enthusiastic support to an avowed Socialist who gave up his New York residency for Vermont also seemed a far cry from my children’s urban upbringing.
Yet, like millions of voters in this election year, my children are mainstream among the flow of people who sincerely desire a change that matters. Bernie Sanders represents and articulates the important issues on their hearts and minds.
A candidate who did not possess the obvious, visual qualities of a magnet who could attract the millennial vote, Bernie Sanders actually earned their loyalty, confidence, and staunch support right through the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. My children did not flee from their choice of the best possible candidate who addressed and met their needs. Even after Bernie’s race was over and he joined the Democratic Party’s parade, he remained their sole candidate.
The revelation of this electoral process in which the ultimate candidates on the November ballot are not my children’s first or second choice pushed me to look at this Participatory Democracy anew and what it means to voters who are left to make decisions based on the spoils.
In order for a Participatory Democracy to work, residents, citizens, and voters must do much more than cast votes on Election Day. Yes, you read that right. “Residents,” “citizens,” and “voters” have to be fully engaged in the democratic process long before entering a polling booth. Based on recent voting records with very low voter turnouts, more people must get involved in the civic affairs that affect their communities and quality of life. Even if they are residents without citizenship status, their voices need to be raised and their opinions heard.
People who are citizens must act like citizens by registering and voting. The process begins long before they vote. The issues and candidates on the ballot not only should be familiar to the voters, but should appear only after residents, citizens, and voters have determined they deserve the public’s decision. That is, local people should have a greater say about what measures are worthy of their vote. Participatory Democracy means the people convene, discuss, decide, and act on issues that originate with them and are critically important to them.
All politics is local and affects the lives of real people in locations where their homes, jobs, schools, religious affiliations, parks, and watering holes are situated. In order for a real Participatory Democracy to function, the people must insist on taking action from the genesis of the process to its conclusion, including the ballot box. Participatory Democracy does not take a holiday. There is no time for people to just sit back and watch what happens.
In fact, in a Participatory Democracy voting is the very least element that drives it forward. The last thing a person does is vote on Election Day. Candidates should not be allowed to come around only during campaign time and show up as one of the people. Instead, there is constant accountability without any ambiguity about who the candidate represents. The interest of the people who elect politicians is always first and foremost over all other considerations.
My millennial children “felt the Bern” because at least one candidate running for President of the United States of America understood his role and stood above the rest as the one candidate who did not lose sight of what a Participatory Democracy demands: that the voice and the vote of the people matter.