BLOG 11: “Democracy Now–Now Known As the Age of the Google”
Democracy, if you think about it, is kind of a like a Pokemon. You start off with one creature in one shape with one set of powers. You nurture it, play with it, come to know it intimately. Somewhere down the line, you realize that you can’t cope with external pressures anymore. Your Pokemon evolves because you needed it to, because you’ve taken care of it long enough to see it change into a creature that’s more helpful.
Okay, so admittedly, I’ve never played Pokemon and even as a fifth grader, I was utterly disdainful of everyone who had the trading cards on the playground. The point is the same, though–Democracy, as an institution, as a bureaucracy, has evolved over time and with it, so has the role of the Democratic citizen.
The 20th century was a time of rapid change for our democracy. The Progressives limited the power of the political party, political parties realigned their values, women gained the right to vote, the voting age was lowered, television won Kennedy the presidency, and Vietnam rocked the political world. To be a democratic citizen in the 20th century depended entirely on when you were being a democratic citizen.
Initially, the responsibility was simple–vote. Listen to the President on the radio, register with your political party, turn in a ballot and vote for the candidate determined by your party. If you had political discussions at the dinner table, good for you.
Nixon, Vietnam, the war between the Democratic and Republic parties–the 1960s-1970s changed the very face of our democracy and, with it, the responsibilities citizens had toward it. The media became much more critical of our government, television afforded publicity and gave a face to Washington D.C., so when Nixon’s “betrayal” and the entry into Vietnam rocked the surface of our democratic trust, so it changed the nature of political participation as well. Suddenly, the importance of democratic participation did not rest solely in voting or just consuming what the President said. Suddenly, democratic participation meant analyzing the government’s actions–being a critical consumer, if you will–and protesting when you disagreed with it. Nixon and Vietnam ushered in a wave of democratic participation and activism fueled by a suspicion of government that hasn’t fully gone away.
The difference between the protests that stemmed from Vietnam and protests in 2010 is not a very subtle one. Signs, protests, and organized marches on Washington mall are still heavily favored, of course, but 2010 has something that the 70s did not have–the Internet. The fundamental difference between Democratic citizens today and our parents is that we have a multitude of forums through which to protest and participate. Participation is no longer simply a black-
and-white exertion of physical effort. Sure, you can march in downtown Los Angeles for immigration rights or through Washington for some misbegotten Tea Party movement, but you can also begin an awareness campaign on Facebook, you can have political discussions on online forums, you can Tweet live pictures, and organize Rock the Vote parties.
With this expansion of opportunities, of course, has also come an increased expectation of what entails a real Democratic citizen. It’s not enough to vote anymore, it’s not enough to simply watch televised debates anymore. To be a well-respected, well-involved, active citizen in democracy–American or otherwise–you have to participate tangibly, visibly. I suppose it’s just as well that Google, Twitter, forums, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr create pressure to be involved or at least well-versed in current events and politics, because with Google, Twitter, forums, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr eating up our extra time, we certainly need that easy-access forum to participate at all.
That’s not to say, true political participation can’t be completely avoided regardless. You might fail miserably at Jeopardy and be judged from here to the coasts and back, but it is, I assure you, entirely possible. I wouldn’t choose it as an alternative, though. Seriously, take five seconds to read Obama’s platform on a blogging site and go vote. Really, it’s not that hard. xoxo!