Even in established democracies in North America and Western Europe, citizens – at least since the Depression of the 1930s – increasingly placed their hope in the machinery of elected governments to resolve their problems. From 1933 on, for instance, Americans looked more and more to programs of the federal government to deal with the problems of their country with the notable exceptions of the civil-rights movement and the movements against the Vietnam War and nuclear war.
Although even brief experiences with the machinery of democracy has left many citizens disillusioned, some of them are gradually realizing that democratic institutions by themselves cannot deal with all of the problems citizens want resolved. Although initially they knew little of the politics needed to make those institutions work, some have begun to realize that the mechanisms of democratic government cannot work effectively without the active political participation of citizens themselves
As of this writing in 1998… in the United States, the bitterness of partisanship often paralyzes the legislative process. Citizens believe that elected and appointed officials have closed them out of the political process. They see government as “grid-locked” and officials as going their own ways, deaf to the interests and voices of the citizens who elected them. U.S. citizens are angry and want little to do with institutional politics.
Critical to this task of injecting or reintroducing citizens into the political equation is recapturing a part of the democratic memory that has faded from center stage for many years – totally obliterated in places like the Soviet Union or China and eased aside by attention to big government in countries like the United States.
Harold H. Saunders – A Public Peace Process: Sustained Dialogue to Transform Racial and Ethnic Conflicts
Citizens need to be actively engaged in their government or else a democracy cannot work. Yes, voting is important, but if that is all that one is doing then one is not engaged and the democracy is not functioning.
This is a fascinating book that I’ve read for one of my classes this semester. The main point to the book is peace through sustained dialogue between groups in conflict. Saunders is very, very repetitive and though it could be distracting it did help at times to clarify his argument.