Let's be real: the democracy we hope for in our American dreams is nowhere in sight. If you are thinking I am about to praise the values of liberals and deride the deterioration of liberalism in America, then you might be pretty disappointed. Yes, I am a Unitarian Universalist minister who serves a progressive faith. But these days, I am more likely to see myself as part of the problem, the propaganda, the person in need of preaching and occupying.
If prompted several months ago to explain democracy, I would have given an answer akin to "government by the people, for the people, of the people." In truth, I would have meant a government where I would be represented and get what I want — emphasis on what I want.
Technically, we live in a republic, not a democracy à la Athens. Our leaders are supposed to represent us in the public square for the public good. Over the last two decades, I have seen this representation increasingly be about entrenched ideologies and hyperbolic illustrations. And as I said, I see myself as part of that problem. I've spouted off in Facebook updates, tweets and even sermons. I've at times become a hyperbolic illustration.
But Occupy Wall Street has called me back to a simple truth. It has the power, if it can escape oversimplification, to remind us of a straightforward responsibility. We are all the people. We are, at least in part, responsible for the political situation we find ourselves in.
Sure, I am not one of the 1 percent, but in the global sense I am definitely privileged. Even in our country, I am fairly privileged. Aside from the economic disparity in our country, the Occupy movement is doing something far more powerful than just lambasting the 1 percent. I believe it is calling us back to the spiritual practice of democracy.
Yes, I said "spiritual." We live in a country that cherishes democracy. We go to war for it. We sing about it. We even depose dictators for eradicating it. Why, then, do only about 56 percent of us vote, even in a presidential election? I do vote, but honestly, I treat it like a chore, delaying it to the end of the day just to get my sticker to prove I've done my democratic check-up. I think we've lost the value of voting because people often don't trust each other anymore. Why trust the popular vote when you are at war with half the populace? Democracy is being neglected.
Democracy is the spiritual practice of living in human diversity while honoring human dignity. Put simply, democracy does not mean we get our way. It doesn't even mean we elect politicians who represent only our views. It doesn't mean we support the practice of bargaining down and watering down legislation until it says nothing so as to offend no one and do nothing. Democracy is the hard, desperately exhausting and nearly impossible process of surrendering oneself to the greater good and in so doing placing trust in the people, by the people, of the people, for the people. A democracy requires humility, listening and an invitation to the creative spirit that calls us to a greater truth when we gather not as enemies, but as co-creators.
So long as the Occupy movement can continue to insist that the 99 percent begin to represent themselves and engage in the hard work of democracy, we will be moving toward surer footing. The danger is in only critiquing the politicians, the wealthy and the powerful. The work begins with each of us. After all, 99 percent is a pretty big voting block.
True democracy — a governing of the people — is about the creative forces between, within and among us. Democracies cannot be about compromise that brings us to the lowest common denominator — that is de-evolution. True democracy evolves the human spirit through cooperation and creation. We trust what will come from our common good. We trust each other. We don't represent people. We are the people.