KATIE ZERR: Democracy depends on exchange of ideas

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Wikipedia defines democracy as a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally, either directly or through elected representatives, in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.

In a democracy, the people elect their representative and are free to criticize their elected leaders and representatives, and the manner in which they conduct the business of government.

The people in a democracy have an obligation to become informed about issues, to watch carefully how their political leaders and representatives use their powers, and to express their own opinions and interests. They have the right to hold their leaders accountable for their policies and their conduct in office.

In a democracy, it is the right of all people, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum, to voice their opinion. Whether they are conservative or liberal or somewhere in the middle, everyone has a right to an opinion.

They have the right to voice that opinion no matter how controversial, no matter how it may differ from the majority’s views. In a democracy the majority rules, but those in the minority have the right to stand up for what they believe and are protected in doing so.

Somehow, somewhere along the line, our elected leaders, our media and the people who stand on both sides of political lines have forgotten that the most important part of our democracy is discussion.

As we watch those of opposing opinions shout at each other on the 24-hour news channels, rather than listen and exchange ideas, is it any wonder that we have lost the ability to reason with each other?

How can we learn when we close our minds to any ideas that are unlike our own?

Former Northern State University basketball coach Don Meyer said he learned that nothing would flow through a clinched fist. He said if people close their minds to ideas and their hearts to acceptance like they would close their fist, they lose the ability to grow as a human.

The power of the human mind is incredible. If we allow free and unencumbered exchange of ideas, we can find solutions to our problems.

It is when that exchange of ideas is closed because of an unwillingness to listen to others who may think differently that problems continue to be problems.

In a democracy the people who are elected representatives at the national and local levels should listen to the people and respond to their needs and suggestions.

If our elected officials let outside forces such as big business or wealthy supporters have the last word in how they approach an issue, are we not defeating the purpose of a democracy?

This is nothing new to our democracy. It has happened in cycles over and over again. In fact, in the infancy of our nation these were problems that plagued our forefathers.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

Only a vote can intervene with the powerful stranglehold money has on our congress.

It was once said that in this nation, power flows from the people to the leaders of government, who hold power only temporarily.

Sometimes it is important to remind those who chose big money, big corporations and those with political clout over those who elected them that in a democracy, the people are sovereign. The people are the highest form of political authority and power.

Democracy only succeeds when there is competition for office, freedom of speech and the press, a free exchange of ideas and the rule of law.

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