PeerSpirit Newsletter – The Owl and the Tree
Dear Friends of PeerSpirit,
This month Christina and Ann share their thoughts about democracy, and how we can support and practice it in our daily lives.
Where is Democracy?
by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea
There is a vintage arcade game called “Whac-a-Mole,” that is played with a mallet and a tray of round plastic “mole heads” that the gamer is trying to force back underground. Like many carnival or arcade games, we’re guessing this one is pretty unwinnable. And folks who have played this game for real in their own yard or garden know that as soon as you close up one mole hole another one appears.
In American slang, the phrase, “I’m just whacking moles,” is an expression of futility. It means trying to solve problems that just keep popping up somewhere else, in some slightly different disguise. Trying to live with integrity in the US right now feels a lot like whacking moles: so many problems that just keep changing form and popping up again! We decided to take this concept and turn it into something positive.
So, we’re suggesting to view democracy itself as the “whac-a-mole:” you take it away in one place and it shows up somewhere else. If Washington DC isn’t practicing it, then where in Washington State can we support and practice democracy?
The word democracy comes from two Greek words: demos (people) and kratia (power). Democracy means power to, or within, the people – to let the people rule. To let the people govern themselves. Democracy emerged from an era of emperors and kings, popes and pontiffs, chieftains and warlords and has been evolving imperfectly ever since. Democracy is like a “mole.” It can be suppressed and driven underground, but it cannot be stopped. People want to have influence over their lives and they will find ways to exercise influence.
Demoskratia is energy, a spirit of collective determination, a willingness to engage, listen, collaborate, compromise, and most of all to work together toward common good. Okay – where in our life and in your life is that energy surviving, reviving, or thriving? Where does that energy need our help? How can our involvement in local meetings, civic groups, political campaigns, book clubs and social circles bring forward the precepts of democracy and remind people who we really are and what our real powers are?
Last month was the annual meeting of our 25-member homeowner association. We have both been on the board for several years, and this meeting was the culmination of Christina’s nine years of service as president. Ann has been serving as secretary and will complete her second term next year. The community association (acronym ARCA) is the government of our neighborhood. We are in charge of maintaining a shared well and water system, two stretches of private roadway that stem off county roads, and managing a shared beach access of gate/lock/stairs/bulkhead/and drainage outflow on the west-facing (storm receiving) side of Whidbey Island. We have economic, political, ethnic, and religious diversity to contend with and celebrate.
In the past several years we have been stretched to practice democracy in order to make financial decisions that increased dues to improve our systems. In essence, we increased the “taxes” for living here. And the homeowners had to vote these increases, approve the work projects, and live with the decisions of the majority.
What we have learned:
Democracy is worth practicing. Democracy requires living in the tension of difficult conversations. It is worth hearing out neighbors who disagree so we can find points of longer lasting agreement. Many of us have lived here for decades – it is worth maintaining civility, and not burning bridges. Someone who was shouting at us three years ago (who probably doesn’t even remember doing so) was helping to stain the beach steps last summer.
Democracy is relational. People understand, or are willing to be educated to understand, that water usage is about “us” not “them” – that the management of water use for our gardens and our households is linked because we take care of a common well. This is easier because we are a small unit of democracy, but even large democracies must care about relationships if they are going to work over the long haul.
Democracy is intentional. Democracy is a craft, a social art form. We are the practitioners of this art-form and we practice democracy by never giving up our kratia – our power. There is always a point of empowerment. It may be minuscule, but it is a crack in the system where the light gets in.
And how interesting that the word democracy, that floats so freely off the tongues of those eroding it, actually means “power to the people.” Let’s be that kind of mole – that keeps popping up demanding what is ours! Our power, our communities, our institutions, our governments.