Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Manufacturing Democracy: Waving Goodbye to the Status Quo

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

By Lisa Saye
March 14, 2022

Democracy is an act of self-control. If that is true then public administration is self-control on a budget. A democracy is characterized primarily by free and fair elections and equal representation under the law. The notion that democracy is a through-line in an ordered society is a set of facts and those facts are fundamental to democracy’s success. Democracy cannot make you care about someone and it cannot detect a bias through a smile or through a mumbled greeting. However, a true democracy that is enforced by real diversity will always be at odds with the marginalization of the rights of any of its citizens.

Peaceful debate is becoming increasingly rarefied in governments around the world. This happens when debate is a suggestion and not a habit. Public administrators should adopt the habit of making democracy a geography term. Too often democracy is thought of as a document or a building and not the movement it has always been. A movement that has expanded its tent, its area and has gathered steam with each new voice and each new concern. At times the voice and concern were just and at times not so much. The current moment will be one of history’s baseline events showing how people used position and privilege to make decisions on the lives and livelihoods of others based on nothing more than their own indifference.

Since democracy’s inception, hierarchical wealth dispersal patterns have looked the same in every institution of government. The dissemination of public goods often appear likewise. Public goods are not personal interests or alliances and as such, government must act as a check against both. Democracy is not a tool for preserving the status quo. It is meant to dismantle domination and chaos. Democracies bring marginalized individuals to the podium to be heard while opening debates regarding rights and other general concerns. As public administrators, we must remember that democracy does not come into the conversation, but rather, democracy is the conversation.

As I have written articles over the past few years, I often think about the proper structure for a thriving democracy. I have even tried to flesh out a narrative or two on how that would look and what it would take to get there. I believe I have another suggestion—although it is new to my assessment, it is hardly new to the discussion of democracy. I assert again that the transformation of society must precede the democratization of governments and governing. This is not a call for indoctrination. Rather, it is an observation that a deep rooted and ongoing societal change is crucial for democracies to survive. If one only mouths the oath or ticks off the activities, then waving hello will continue to be waving goodbye.

Superficial change is so transparent that it needs clothing. The human condition can do without its phoniness. The human condition needs real assistance and real defenders. Democracies are collections of concerned individuals who believe in the tenets of equality and accurate representation. That means that putting together panels of citizens as a hiring gesture for a particular candidate is indeed a gesture when the plan all along was to hire someone else. In such a case, democracy is not amusement. Democracy is self-defense and its wins are timeless.

Public administrators must avoid using legitimate positions of power and influence to continue to assemble the same people at the same tables of decision-making. We do not own the public’s goods; we disseminate those goods to the public. Our position empowers us through the predictability of fairness. Fairness becomes a society’s transformational benchmark and government is where fairness is most visible. If we allow our office to become our office, we must admit that we have lost our grasp on our vocation and as such, we should immediately return to our original duty of service.

Public administrators know that many of our citizens do not have the luxury of picking their battles. They know this because for many citizens, battles are thrust upon them from imperfect institutions relying on inaccurate depictions of citizen conditions. These battles or obstacles are often deliberate. Within the space of government, we must work to change that. What should be deliberate is our commitment to provide greater humanity to those we serve. Doing so would sincerely usher in the open government we claim to have been practicing for decades. We would then come eye-level, street-level, to citizens who deserve absolutely nothing less.

Being humane is constructive. It does not lessen our resolve or lower our dignity to transform our environments into places where peace is preferable to war and where particular groups never have to choose to find or to fight a battle they can live with.

The copyrighted painting, Waved, is by Lisa Saye, March 2022.

Author: Dr. Lisa Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. She served as Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Humanities and as Associate Professor of Public Administration at American University Afghanistan. Dr. Saye can be reached by email at [email protected].

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *