What does democracy mean?
Elections and voting are the first things that come to mind. But if that’s where our thinking stops, we’re in trouble. Democracy is so much more than voting: democracy means participating in how your country/province/city is run.
Did you vote in the most recent election in your area? What did you vote for? Was it education, health care, energy and oil, transportation, immigration, aboriginal issues, gentrification? What was your “issue”?
And what are you doing about it? Other than voting, I mean.
Because our true democratic power lies in our ability to contribute meaningfully to civil society. It’s empowering to recognize that the government does not necessarily determine the fate of things you care about. People do, but people power only comes from people’s actions.
The most important part of a free, democratic country is that it allows civil society to thrive. The title of this post should really be “what does civil society mean?” According to the Aga Khan Development Network (emphasis added):
Civil society, in this sense, is broadly defined as an array of institutions which operate on a private, voluntary basis, but are driven by public motivations. They include institutions dedicated to education, to culture, to health, and to environmental improvement; they embrace commercial, labour, professional and ethnic associations, as well as institutions of religion and the media.
The Aga Khan has said that, “Even when governments are fragile, or even nearly paralyzed in their functioning, strong civil society organizations can advance the social and economic order…”
Civil society is about making stuff happen, with or without government support; that is what makes it exciting. A great example of civil society at work is the Transition Town Movement and its Vancouver version, Village Vancouver. In a nutshell, a bunch of people frustrated by their government’s slow progress on climate change got together and said: enough waiting, we’ll just do it ourselves. And they did; there are now several hundred transition towns across the world working to build low-carbon and resilient communities.
There are many more examples in every field and for every issue. So let’s take our issues, stop waiting, and build the reality we want. That’s civil society.