Democracy and Freedom: Season Round Up
January 24, 2020
“What are the institutions and processes that make our free society possible?”
Revisit some of the highlights from Future Hindsight’s season on the forces that support democracy and a free society with Civics 101 Podcast hosts Hannah McCarthy and Nick Capodice, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, TurboVote founder Seth Flaxman, and founding members of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly Jane Suiter and David Farrell.
Many Americans are unsure of how their government works. Civic education is the manual for democracy, which Civics 101 offers in the form of a popular podcast. Over the last hundred years, the United States became more democratic through the activism and litigation of concerned and well-educated citizens. Still, some unfairness in our system prevails. One important holdover from the institution of slavery is the Electoral College, which was originally designed to grant outsized electoral power to slaveholding states. The system continues to give about one third of American voters an advantage at the expense of the majority. Our responsibility is to understand the rules, participate, and empower ourselves to make this democracy work us.
Undermining the Press
The President is allowed to say whatever he wants about the press as a private citizen because of his First Amendment protections. However, the President cannot use the power of the federal government to exact reprisals against the press. For instance, when the White House revoked press passes earlier this year, it contravened the Constitution. Never before has a President undermined and used retributive action against the press like this, and other countries are taking note. Repressive measures like these come directly from an authoritarian playbook, and according to PEN America, the number of journalists jailed worldwide for “fake news” tripled last year because of it. America was once the moral leader on free speech issues around the world, but the current administration’s repressive tactics are withering that leadership.
Technology for Democracy
Democracy Works remedies some of the most pervasive and mundane reasons we don’t vote. TurboVote is a tool that enables online voter registration, sends out election day reminders, and even provides absentee ballots. Those mailed-in ballots are then tracked by the Ballot Scout initiative. The Voting Information Project produces the polling place and ballot data that is then used by Google and get-out-the-vote drives. By using current technology to take the hassle of voting out of our busy lives, the initiatives of Democracy Works are building a more engaged society.
Deliberative mini publics innovate democracy by engaging citizens in constructive dialogue about the issues facing society. While many in parliament assumed citizens would always favor more spending and lower taxes, it turned out that voters who were presented with detailed information came to develop nuanced policy positions. After listening to presentations by experts, they actually favored higher taxes in certain areas and reached complex compromises about government spending. By doing so, they proved to lawmakers and skeptics that ordinary Irish citizens could be trusted with vital policy work.
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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcast that aims to spark civic engagement through in-depth conversations with citizen changemakers. American democracy is a living, breathing mechanism whose well-being deserves to be cultivated and protected, and now more than ever, the need to be an engaged citizen is critical. We explore how each of us has the power to shape our society and fulfill our shared civic responsibility.