Exercising Your Democratic Imagination

The Democratic Imagination

Tom Malleson, Scholar and Activist
"For hundreds of years the democratic aspiration—the aspiration to sediment the values of freedom, equality, and solidarity into institutional form—has slowly but surely expanded across the political landscape. However, in the 20th century the democratic movement crashed headlong into the locked factory gate. This is why my democratic totem is that of a worker cooperative, since the expansion of democracy into workplaces, and throughout the economy more generally, represents the next major step in the expansion of human freedom. The old fight for the franchise continues today in the form of the struggle for economic suffrage and economic citizenship."   

Neil Thomlinson, Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University
"It has become fashionable to lay blame for the perceived failings of democracy at the feet of structures, institutions, politicians, political parties, interest groups—in short, anybody but the self. This is really just a rationalisation for ignorance and, in some cases, inaction. In societies possessed of systems intended to ensure citizen control, democracy is under threat mostly because the best-educated populace in history is not engaging in rational thought or action. George Bernard Shaw had it right, when he wrote, 'If Despotism failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance has Democracy, which requires a whole population of capable voters?' (Man and Superman, 1903). Allan Gregg captures a little of the same sentiment when he blogs in 1984 in 2012: The Assault on Reason, '… in the same way that reason requires consciousness, tyranny demands ignorance.'"

Lin Abdul Rahman, MA Student, Communication and Culture, Ryerson University
"A false sense of helplessness is one of the greatest threats to democracy; far worse, in fact, than apathy. Great moments in democratic history have always occurred when citizens realize the collective power they wield in their own hands and that the power extends far beyond the ballot box. Long-standing monarchies and the most autocratic of governments have fallen when the citizenry decided to withdraw their loyalty and cooperation. It's in the nature of governments to decay and fall into oppression, regardless of whether they were voted into power or not. It is therefore the citizenry's obligation to keep the government in check and realize that the collective power to change things rests permanently within the people's grasp, ready to be used whenever the occasion calls for it."

Jo-Anne Lawless, MA Student, Wilfrid Laurier University
"Democracy, for me, is symbolized by a stick. I picture a democratic society as one in which listening plays an integral part, and this concept is embodied by the Talking Stick used by many Aboriginal cultures to designate one’s turn to speak. In my opinion, the tendency of the current Canadian government to squelch the speech of not only ordinary citizens but members of its own federal party is a significant threat to our own notions of democracy. The late Jack Layton, who was responsible for the election of the New Democratic Party to the position of Official Opposition, treated listening as one of the most vital attributes of his position. Democracy is characterized, I feel, by a respectful and thoughtful attention to the ideas of others and an equally thoughtful representation of those ideas."

Dan Snaith (aka Caribou), Music Maker
"We all live on manifold curved surfaces. Power dynamics—between the state and the individual, the public and private sectors, the media and the electorate, and along lines of gender, race and sexuality to name a few—create gradients which shape our political landscape and daily lives. This is certainly not new news but it is germane. I believe we consistently underestimate the degree to which these forces mediate our version of democracy. It is naive to assume that we can flatten these completely—nothing in reality is flat—but we are duty bound to try to shave them down so that they compromise our democracy less steeply."

Rebecca Godderis, Assistant Professor of Health Studies and Contemporary Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
"I suspect real or true democracy is something that will always be in flux and thus hard to pin down. However, in writing to my Member of Parliament (MP) about his position on the recently tabled Motion 312 regarding the definition of personhood, it struck me that a necessary condition for democracy is open dialogue about all issues, no matter how controversial. My primary disappointment was not that he voted in favour of the bill (which I was against) but rather that in responding to my expressed concern about the motion, my MP stated that the goal of such a motion was simply to update an old definition with the benefit of knowledge produced by modern science and medicine. In so doing, my MP presented the question of personhood as an objective and morally neutral issue; one that was merely about gathering and updating 'the facts.' Positioned as such the definition of personhood had no potential consequences for women's access to abortion. This response effectively shut down a truly open dialogue about the social, political, and economic implications of such a bill and relied on the rhetoric science to avoid engagement in debates about difficult and controversial issues."

David McNally, Activist and Professor of Political Science, York University
"We urgently need today to retrieve democracy from the stone-faced politicians in business suits who preach austerity. To so rekindle the democratic imagination requires mobilizing images from its subterranean history—ranging from the Diggers who reclaimed the English commons in 1649 to the Haitian insurgents who overthrew slavery and colonialism in the 1790s and after, the Parisian Communards of 1871, and the rebellious youth who triggered the 'Arab Spring' and the Occupy movements. All of this reminds us that genuine democracy, the power of the people, is something profound, indeed revolutionary—and something we have yet to achieve."


Now is an important
time for people
to be talking
about democracy.