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Democracy and the Public Agenda

“Those who would sacrifice essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”        – Benjamin Franklin

Currently, many issues that affect our society are indeed relevant to the public agenda. Usually, these issues may be addressed through public policies and various legislation. However, many of the burning issues in our world cannot be simply eradicated or minimized in this way. These issues are complex, political and originate from the principle of democracy. It is therefore critical that we examine how these issues traverse the domain of democratic governance.

First, let us examine racism. According to the public agenda, racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities are attributed to people based on their race and that some racial groups are superior to others. In his article “Democracy and Equality,” Robert Post sees democracy as a form of government which promotes self-determination and thus, is committed to equality. The debate on race relations in the United States has centered on blacks and whites. However, recent demographic trends and immigration have significantly changed the population components. For instance, Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the U.S. Statistics in the public agenda in have shown that 6 in 10 blacks and 4 in 10 Hispanics regard racism in the workplace as a major problem, but only 2 in 10 whites believe this. Strong majorities of all races maintain that hiring, promotions and college admissions should be on merit. Yet surveys also show that minorities, especially blacks, are much more likely than whites to favor extra efforts to recruit minorities. More than half of Americans say employers should be required by law to maintain diversity in the workplace, but strongly disagree with giving jobs to minorities over equally qualified whites.

Democracy requires that people be treated equally as autonomous participants. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) maintains that all are entitled “to rights and freedoms without distinction such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” All are equal before the law. Racism and discrimination are powerful weapons that encourage fear and hatred of others. Racism also relates highly to free speech. Article 19 of the UDHR states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Race is a powerful issue that has fostered inequality and discrimination for centuries and strongly influences how people relate to each other. In the practice of true democracy, racism must end. According to the public agenda, ending reducing racism may be achieved by emphasizing aggressive enforcement of laws against discrimination, instituting preferences and incentives to rectify discrimination and utilizing equal opportunity strategies.

In a similar fashion, the issue of technology has serious implications for democracy. Technological changes are currently taking place in our world that could either lead to more or less privacy, freedom or slavery. The motto of science and technology is “if it can be done, it will be done.” How do we maintain our freedom in such an era? How can we cope with the advances of our world while still maintaining our individualism? How can we juggle democracy and technology? These are critical questions we must consider. In this regard, responsible government does not simply educate a population, but rather it makes choices that shape the future of society. Therefore, science and technology can only be effective if they engage citizens “…in responsible discussion and deliberation about their future; to enable the nation to make choices and shape its destiny more effectively; to give elected representatives the confidence that they can do their work based on an educated citizenry working with, rather than in opposition to, government.” This is essential to maintain the freedom people are allotted in Articles 1 and 3 of the UDHR.

Citizens want their government to ensure their safety, security and privacy. In this regard, they place a certain level of trust in their government to ensure that these tasks are carried out successfully. Consequently, law enforcement authorities have a responsibility to equip themselves with the necessary tools to ensure their actions are performed expediently. There is no right or wrong answer to the balance of public safety and individual privacy. While looking at this issue, I came across the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would sacrifice essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” In his book, “Neither Liberty or Safety,” Robert Higgs illustrates the “false trade-off between freedom and security by showing how the U.S. government’s economic and military interventions reduced the civil and economic liberties, prosperity, and genuine security of Americans in the 20th century.” Certain regulations for the use of technologies need to be put in place. Furthermore, advocates for freedom and privacy should be able to engage governments to ensure that their use is compliant.

Another key issue is the interconnectedness of health and democracy. Effective healthcare is the result of a healthy citizenry. The Declaration of Independence states, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is the first right listed and claimed for the people of the United States. In my analysis, this means that people must be able to fully engage with their societies and communities in a creative and individualized way. Clearly, this also relates to the availability of the resources necessary in maintaining and protecting health. It is impossible to exercise voting rights and other rights such as free speech and public assembly when only some privileged groups may preserve their health.

Principles such as liberty and equality are fundamental to democracy. Moreover, it is vital that we understand how such issues contribute to creating and maintaining a democratic society.

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Author: Dana-Marie Seepersad is a Ph.D. student in Public Policy and Administration at Walden University.  

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