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Blog 11: Democracy Then & Now

Democracy in the 1940s (around the time my grandparents were in their 20s) seems like an entirely different type of democracy than the democracy of my parents and myself. Back then, democracy entailed duty and service. Both of my grandfathers served in WWII, one with the army and the other with the Coast Guard, and were proud and willing to do so.

In speaking with my parents about it, both sets of grandparents contributed to their democracy as their paradigm demanded. They went to war when necessary and when the war ended, they retreated to the nostalgic notion of voting and contributing to the country’s cause in whatever way they could. One of my grandfathers worked at an American paper factory. Both of my grandmothers filled the stereotypical housewife role, caring for their children while their husbands dutifully worked toward the American Dream all while fighting the communist threat from abroad.

In the 1970s and 1980s, as my parents were growing up, democracy was more similar to that of my time. Because both of their parents had been in the war and bought very heavily into the idea of democracy, my parents had the notion that voting was very important instilled in them. When they turned 18, they voted and they’ve voted every year since then. However, as they grew up, there was a noticeable liberalization of their paradigms.  My parents weren’t too conscious of what was happening in Vietnam (they were barely teenagers when it happened), and they weren’t incredibly politically active until they had kids. I’m pretty sure it was because they were too busy watching Van Halen open for Black Sabbath, but if I had been around back then, I wouldn’t be politically active either.

My dad is much cooler than me because he saw this happen live.

At the same time they were growing up in a democracy, there was a noticeable shift in what it meant to be democratic. Lenny Bruce had just shattered what obscenity meant and George Carlin was pushing the limits of free speech with his Seven Words bit. Musicians like Frank Zappa had voting booths set up outside of his concerts, urging young people to make their voices heard and prevent the government from stifling free speech. Because democracy to me means being able to contribute to the system with words and actions unabated, these were huge paradigm shifts from the stuffy, overtly patriotic, “serve your country to prove your worth” mindset my grandparents had. Zappa’s move also preceded a much lamer attempt at the Vote or Die campaign that Diddy (or Puffy, or whatever he’s calling himself these days) began in the 2000s.

That liberalization of what democracy means goes further with my generation. Whereas my parents still vote actively and urge me to do the same, I find myself in a similar mindset as those of my ilk, that being one of cynicism over the system working. Like many other people my age, I didn’t vote in the ’08 election but, interestingly, was chastised for it by a lot of people my age. I contribute this to the sensational candidate many of my peers voted for, Barack Obama. The potential for change and of the first black President to grace the White House ever was an anomaly that hadn’t been seen in at least eight years prior. But the key of this fact is sensationalism. With the advent of the Internet, social networking and cell phones, my generation is used to exciting, instant access to things, be they change, entertainment or otherwise. I think this plays a huge role in how democracy is defined today.

Whereas the democracy of my grandparents took a steady approach to fighting its enemies (Communism) and stressed loyalty to the country, the democracy of my parents took a more radical, “rebellion is the truest form of democracy” bent. The current trend of immediate change works on an ebb and flow, with intense rebellion and desire for change that quickly gives way to apathy and cynicism as time goes by. If wants and needs aren’t fulfilled just as quickly as my online order for P90X equipment can be delivered, impatience settles in and a general discontent with the system begins. Then, rather than sticking with the system in hope that it might change over time, we abandon the cause, and look for something else to like on Facebook to cloak our general apathy as constant struggle to fix everything at once.

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