By its very nature democracy can be chaotic — not just in nations that are new to that form of government but also in the world’s most prominent setting for organized citizen rule. Indeed, a character of American democracy is its noise, sometimes expressed in productive ways, and sometimes not.
A case in point was this week’s public safety assessment meeting on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant — a deeply upsetting gathering for critics of the facility who have long maintained that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is charged with overseeing nuclear power in the United States, has long been impossibly evasive on the matter of safety there.
We share that perception, and we understand how the resulting frustration could lead to the theatrical performances at the meeting.
But we don’t share any belief that such protest performances will have constructive material effects, nor do we share the conviction by some participants that the disruptive tactics represent something larger than they are. Members of the crowd, adopting language from the Occupy movement, chanted: “Mike check! This is what democracy looks like.”
How democracy looks, from our perspective, is voters organizing themselves to make change happen — whether to vote out politicians who do the protective bidding of wealthy interests or to vote in politicians who show a listening ear to legitimate public concerns.
Democracy, with reference to Vermont Yankee, involves electing office holders who share concerns about the viability of the plant, and it also means mounting pressure on Washington — President Barack Obama in particular — to assure an NRC that’s independent of the industry it regulates.
Democracy involves grasping the dimensions of power in government — that, for example, the nation’s top elected official can shape the Supreme Court, and other federal courts, as well.
Democracy entails consistently doing what’s necessary to limit the role of money in politics — by demonstrating and protesting, yes, but mainly by helping others see the corrosive effects of special interest money in the political sphere, and guiding them to the polls.
By these definitions, democracy is a full-time and wide-ranging exercise in a sometimes chaotic environment, and that’s grounded in a belief that ordinary people, working together over the long term, day after day, can make a difference.