In addition to making government more accountable to the people, a democracy requires that the people have direct access to methods of self-governance. That is, the people need avenues to initiate legislation or action not being taken by their elected representatives. The most common form of this is Initiative and
Referendum. This option is available in some municipalities and states, but not all of them, and not at the national level. This right must be made available to the people throughout the nation at all levels of government. Furthermore, other avenues of access should be opened up to the people. Some ideas I have include: making it mandatory that all municipal, county, state and national representatives hold “town hall” meetings, both real and “virtual.” Right now, we have the ability to write letters, email, fax or call our elected officials to make comments, suggestions, or complaints,
but there is no official record of these things, and they are not available to the public. Of course, the right to communicate privately with one’s elected representative should continue, but we should also have fora wherein we can express our views in such a way that our representatives must take note of what we say, and our fellow constituents will know what has been said. Then, when there is agreement on a topic yet no action taken by our representative, we can consider actions such as recall. In order for internet activities to be truly democratic and fair, we also need to guarantee internet access to all.
Furthermore, in order for things like Initiative and Referendum, recalls, and fora such as town hall meetings and blogs to be successful, we must also insure that our citizens are well-educated on these tools and how to use them. Right now, our public schools teach one semester of high school civics. We need to teach our children civics throughout their secondary education, and into college.
This brings up another issue: I believe in order to have a level playing field politically and to keep a democracy functioning effectively, we need more equality in the field of education. I believe that like grades K-12, the first four years of college should be accessible to all without the obstacle of economics. While there are certainly many issues that need to be addressed in our public education system, much of that could be accomplished through shifting a portion of the money we waste on military expenditure into building more schools, hiring more teachers, and offering broader curricula. Many have argued that we need to spend more money to pay teachers higher salaries to attract better teachers, and while that may be part of the truth, the more important issue in our public education system that seems to be failing our children is the fact that we simply have too few schools and too few teachers to accommodate them. The statistics show that when a school has fewer students, and fewer students per classroom and per teacher, that the students, teachers and schools all benefit. The issue is not a slight increase in funding to raise teacher salaries, but rather a massive increase in funding to build schools and hire more teachers (as well as the administrators and other support staff that go along with that). Many, especially on the right, will complain that we spend too much already on “social programs,” but I contend that a free quality education for all Americans has been essential to our successes in the past, and that continuing that tradition is essential to our success in the future. Furthermore, I suggest that we do not need to increase our taxation levels to fund this. We simply need to shift a few billion dollars a year away from the Pentagon budget, which far exceeds its usefulness.