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Democracy—An UnMoveable Feast

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
February 19, 2021

Un-Moveable (Various Artists; Afghanistan), 2019. Photo © by Lisa Saye

Each year Easter falls on a new date. Its date is moveable. It is not the only moveable feast or celebration in the United States or in other parts of the world, but it is one of the more recognizable ones. In the United States, other feasts are fixed, such as Christmas and the 4th of July. Their dates are unmoveable. Time has demonstrated democracy’s resistance to failure and defeat. When real, when understood and when defended—democracy is unmoveable.

For public administration, democracy is always our past and our current essay. It remains unmatched as a mechanism for collaboration. Public Administration operates most effectively within the structures and security of a democracy. Democracy is designed to remove the hazard of lawlessness. Yet, its very structure and access indicates tension, collectivity and debate. It allows a healthy and constructive exchange of ideas before decisions about agency construction, jurisdiction and the dissemination of public goods are made.

Democracy’s geographical confines are none. It can be kept away for a time, but its values and objectives will find a way into a nation’s narrative, into a panel discussion or onto a protest poster. Over time, one can note how democracy changes as it remains the same. One can notice how its tent purposely expands to showcase the degree to which an effort to evenly balance the concerns of the various political parties are attempted. This is why disorder and structural deformities, such as anarchy, are not tolerated. The interested and active political parties in a democracy desire ordered government.

A search for democracy’s origins would not be a long one. Its basic theme of representative government has moved through the ages gathering more points of view from every corner of the world. Each generation forms its own peculiar version of that theme and its laws reflect that interpretation. For our part, public administrators know what democracy is and what it must be from the inside and we champion and advance its theme of equal representation in the work that we do.

Good democracies know that power is human and that it must flow evenly through the body politic. To say that every generation deserves adequate representation is not prophetic. To yearn for a nostalgic future that ensures adequate citizen representation is prophetic and democracy has been history’s vehicle in making sure that happens.

Some say that democracy itself is elusive and that it has never existed. They posit that it is just a word, a lofty idea or a purposeful distraction. Those discussions are valid and supported through the evidence of struggle and exclusion. Too many times money and disingenuous rhetoric have been substituted for the values of equality and freedom, thus stalling the effectiveness and the gains of democracy. We can look for remedies against the merchandising of representation in 1818 when John Adams remarked that the U.S. obtained independence in 1776 when thirteen clocks were made to strike together at the same time. The thirteen clocks he referenced were the original 13 United States colonies who, when finding political sameness, worked together to become one nation.

We have inherited a fixed ration of time. What we do with the ration of time that we have been given will either be our legacy or the elements of how not to do something for the next generation. We don’t own time and we certainly cannot make it or capture it in a box or a bottle. Time may be better spent on designing the immortality within our creations, on our sound ideas and on the righteous stands we make against violent destruction of constructs and traditions of effective government.

Democracy is an identity, an unmoveable search for a model statute that perfects public administration. It is a bridge, a dependable and consistent connection to freedom and justice with public service as its most honorable response. Democracy has paid its dues as evident in its innumerable amount of achievements in abolishing slavery, in guaranteeing religious freedom, in guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembly and through the countless voting rights and civil rights victories over the years. Dues that serve to prove its worth as a system of government. Dues that make democracy unmoveable as a structure for change and enlightenment.

Notions of government will survive other notions of disassembly. Time has shown this to be true. In the current and equal world memory, democracy has consistently been called on to fill the vacuum of dismantled systems of political management. Some calls were for relief, some for melodrama or attention and others because of the sincere belief that democracy works.

The photo is of a painting collaboration by various artists in Kabul, Afghanistan. Title and Photo by Lisa Saye, 2021.


Author: Lisa Saye teaches Applied Research Methods for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at DePaul University. Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. Dr. Saye earned her Master’s in Human Resource Management at Troy University and her Doctorate in Public Administration at The University of Alabama. She can be reached by email at [email protected]

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