What Does Democracy Need for Democracy to Survive?

Too much if you ask me. In many ways I am recognizing that this question, which was posed by Prof. Munroe in my Democracy class in graduate school, requires an even more complex and nuanced answer than I had attempted at the time. Beyond the idea of Tacquville’s democracy; elections and easy change of government, is the reality of how we actually live in a state which calls itself democratic. My conclusion; sometimes democracy needs too much to survive.

Over the last month or so we have come to recognize more and more that there is need for equality and equity in order for a democratic state to mount a successful response to a national health challenge. COVID-19 has brought into stark relief the dangers of a socio-economically divided state. It has demonstrated that a state with deep seated inequalities is not likely to survive a pandemic with its credibility intact. Mind you these inequalities are not just socio-economic. I am also seeing deep political divides along party lines, the kind of partisanship which seeks to undermine not uplift a democracy.

I believe that for democracy to survive it needs economic equality and development and it needs personal financial stability. People who are hungry are less likely to observe the desired ‘democratic etiquette’ i.e respect for the other, obey rules of order and generally participate in the requirements of good citizenship. This is not surprising, and I am not suggesting that this is a new discovery. Maslow’s Need Hierarchy perfectly demonstrates that there are some core needs which need to be met before we can access the qualities which contributes to the making of the good citizen.

COVID-19 has demonstrated that our response to keeping the Jamaican citizen safe is impacted by the state of our housing stock. Urbanization and urban sprawl has undermined the response. People who live in communities with inadequate housing, precarious access to water and poor roads find it difficult to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves in times of difficulty. I have always wondered what we mean when we talk about ‘housing solution’ in Jamaica. The NHT often announces a number of ‘housing solutions’ in a parish or across parishes, not homes but housing solutions. Overtime I have observed that those housing solutions are but sleepers, places where members of a family go to after work to sleep and turn up for work the next day. Not homes, with space for family engagement, not homes which give families the space for privacy and perhaps individual dignity. Housing solutions, more an assembly line concept of providing homes.

Democracy needs social cohesion to survive. It needs solidarity and openness and an agreement on the common good for its legitimacy to not be questioned. The Tacquvillian concept of democracy is too often seen as the standard indicator that democracy is alive and well in a state. Indeed, if we are not careful we become fooled into thinking that the health of our democracy is measured every five years more or less depending on our election cycle.

Democracy needs democracy to survive, it also need economic growth, it needs equity and it needs equality.

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