Tuesday, September 22, 2009


What does democracy mean to me? Well, the first time I was ever exposed to the word democracy was social studies in elementary school. We learned about the core democratic values of life, liberty, freedom, the pursuit of happiness, the common good, justice, equality, diversity, popular sovereignty, and patriotism. To me, democracy means a form of government that is ruled by the people through elected officials that people choose through fair elections. In addition, the core democratic values should be honored by the government and its citizens. It's a pretty simple definition, right?

This past weekend, I traveled to New York for a quick weekend getaway. Everywhere I turned, I could find examples of the core democratic values. LIFE was everywhere. From people running to catch a taxi to the massive stampede of people going down the subways, New Yorkers understand the value of LIFE especially after the September 11 attacks. LIBERTY is seen in the wide array of people and the choices that each individual makes in their life. We all have the freedoms of different political views, personal freedoms, and economic freedoms. The PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS is observed in the people who tan on a bright sunny day in Washington Square Park or the theater goers who go to Broadway to watch Hair or Billy Elliott. I see the effects of the COMMON GOOD when someone gets up from his seat on a subway train in order for an elderly couple to sit down. JUSTICE could be heard pretty much nightly as police cars speed through the streets in order to correct the wrongs being committed. I see EQUALITY and DIVERSITY at the Mexican Day Parade on Madison Avenue as Mexican Americans chant Mexico as they celebrate their native country's independence. I also see DIVERSITY in Little Italy, Chinatown, Koreatown, and Chelsea. Finally, PATRIOTISM is seen on Wall Street as the American flag is draped over the Stock Exchange.

I believe that the most important aspect of democracy is the people's power to vote and voice their opinions. No matter what your social status or income level is, when it comes to election time, my vote and Donald Trump's votes are equal. This fundamental feature is what makes democracy so appealing. For a brief period of time, everybody is truly equal - I think it is a very humbling phenomenon. Personally, it is truly exciting for me to know that my first presidential election was the 2008 election between Obama vs. McCain. It is one of those memories that will be cherished forever.

While my definition of democracy is quite simple, after reading the articles on democracy, my concept of democracy has become much more specified. For example, according to Linz and Stepan in their article titled Toward Consolidated Democracies, they outline three minimal criteria that are critical for a democracy to exist. First, a state must exist for a democracy. Second, the democratic transition must be complete. Third, the rulers must govern democratically. Finally, once these criteria are met, democracy is consolidated. Therefore, when "a strong majority of public opinion, even in the midst of major economic problems and deep dissatisfaction with incumbents, holds the belief that democratic procedures and institutions are the most appropriate way to govern collective life, and when support for antisystem alternatives is quite small or more-or-less isolated from prodemocratic forces."

For Mozambicans at this point, the most important aspect of democracy should be their right to a fair election and a non-corrupt government that will embrace all aspects of the core democratic values into their administration. However, the road to this ideal state is very long because African governments have a long history of corrupt governments (even if they were said-democratic states). So, if we look at the other countries who are full of corruption and failed promises, what do Mozambicans have to look forward to? Well, first of all, democracy is not socialism. And we already know that socialism did not work too well for Mozambique. Therefore, while democracy may not be the magical solution for this developing nation, it is the first step that is necessary in order to nurture growth.

I never took the time to truly appreciate what a democracy is; however, after reading more about it and realizing all the sacrifices that people have made to obtain this ideal, I am so thankful to be able to live in a country that practices it.

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