I’m a democracy geek.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn.
“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” — Winston Churchill
I’m a democracy geek.
It helps to have been born on Election Day 1960. To mark that day my paternal grandmother insisted I be named after the very first Irish-Catholic ever to be elevated to the highest office in the land, thus my moniker, “John Fitzgerald.”
I was a political science major at the University of Massachusetts, and the very first homework assignment I received was to read a speech by none other than President John F. Kennedy, on the virtues of public service.
I’m a democracy supporter.
OK, I did fail to vote in one presidential election, when I was a young adult, so focused then on the turbulence of my own life that I failed to cast a ballot. But on every other first Tuesday in November since I turned 18, I’ve exercised the franchise and let my voice be heard. For me, voting is like going to civic church.
I will be working the polls come Nov. 3, as I have for the last three presidential elections. This year I will be masked up and gloved up and face-shielded up behind a wall of plexiglass, checking in voters. Especially now I want to be there in person, as a poll worker for the town. I want to do whatever I can to ensure that votes are cast freely, and without intimidation or bias or chicanery.
I’m a democracy cheerleader.
Yes, I even still sometimes choke up when I sing the national anthem and yes, I fly an American flag outside of my house many days. And yes, I absolutely believe that the way we freely choose to govern ourselves is the absolute best form of government on earth. I’ve no desire to live in a theocracy like Iran or a dictatorship like China or Russia.
I say all of this not to boast or to brag but to declare that in this time in our civic life — when so many of my fellow citizens are cynical or anxious about democracy — I believe it is still right and good, to love this country and to want the best for it and to remain a true believer in the power of the people to rule.
That’s the definition of “democracy.” The word comes from the Greek, dēmokratia; demos meaning “common people,” and kratos meaning “rule” or “strength”. The people rule. This is the ideal that’s kept the United States going now, for some 244 years. Doesn’t mean that our democracy hasn’t been challenged at times in our history. We’ve been ruled at times by governments and presidents who thought it their right and duty to act as tyrants, as somehow above the law.
In 1798 President John Adams signed into law the Sedition Act that made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous and malicious writing” against Congress or the president. In 1861, President Lincoln suspended the right to habeas corpus, the constitutionally guaranteed right that one could not be arrested and jailed without sufficient evidence. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 ordering the immediate internment of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans as “resident enemy aliens.” In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned in the face of overwhelming evidence that he used the power of his office to punish his so-called “enemies.”
We’ve survived these tyrants and wannabee kings before and we will again. Democracy is far more important than any one person or political party. It’s not perfect, but within itself lies the seeds of and power for self-correction, for righting itself even as it sometimes goes so off course.
But democracy’s survival always depends upon a free citizenry to do their part in democracy: to vote, to be informed, to be active in our communities and yes, to take to the streets and nonviolently protest when the government or elected leaders fail in their oaths to the Constitution.
So, I say bring on November 3rd. We can handle it as a people, as a nation and as citizens. The people rule. I still believe in democracy.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea you’d like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to email@example.com.