Back in middle school, when history was a part of the prerequisite knowledge base, a large portion of the school year was dedicated to learning about the concept of “democracy.” Equality through voices, the expectation that the overlay of multiple opinions would lead to a very distinct form of self-governance — these were the things that we as young jr. high schoolers believed our government to be based upon.
Yet even in student government, it was clear that factors such as popularity, quality of campaign posters and (no joke!) how funny the final speeches were played larger roles in the election than how capable the “elected officials” actually were. There’s a certain amount of disillusionment that comes with many aspects of high school as a microcosm for the real world, but among them, student government still stands out as one of the most memorable.
The idea of a “fair” democracy, then, of having a truly effective and representative body working to help further our wishes and solve our problems, clearly didn’t always apply. And the main block between a desire for a representative democracy and actually fulfilling that desire was simple: those who had the optimism to believe that their vote mattered were the ones who came to control the way the student government ran. The rest of the apathetic student population could complain all they wanted, but realistically, by failing to take action, they had forfeited their right to criticize.
Over time, and through the haze of high school, college and post-college living and a quickening pace of life, that initial faith in democracy has since waned. For our generation, blind faith that a true democracy exists on its own has been replaced by the understanding that nothing worth it comes easy — and this, too, includes that elusive concept of a perfect government.
The beauty of the democracy is that it provides an open forum for anyone who wants to participate, should they choose to. The truth about the democracy, however, is that this freedom of choice often leads to the decision (conscious or not) that the fate of societal problems lies in someone else’s hands.
And this is the side of “democracy” they didn’t teach in jr. high text books.