Democracy is a Work in Progress

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 - 5:29 am

Democracy is a Work in Progress

“There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country…”
— William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

As we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, let’s reflect on the fact that democracy is always a work in progress. A true celebration means recommitting ourselves to the work that needs doing if we want democracy to survive and thrive.

Here’s some great music to start the celebration — Leonard Cohen’s classic, “Democracy,” with its ironic but hopeful refrain, “Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”

I think America’s founders would have loved that line. It’s in the same spirit as the opening words of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”

The founders got us off to a very imperfect start when they excluded everyone but white, male, landed gentry from “We the People.” But they had the genius to create a form of government that gives us chance after chance to perfect ourselves by righting our wrongs.

Today, a “more perfect Union” includes embracing diversity, removing barriers to voting, making sure that the 16 million American kids who live in poverty have enough to eat, reducing the income gap and the power of big money to dominate our politics, etc. Yes, those are big jobs, but that’s what it means to keep democracy coming to the U.S.A.

So on this Fourth of July, let’s talk with each other about doing whatever we can to fulfill the hopes in the song:

Sail on, sail on
Oh mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
past the Reefs of Greed
through the Squalls of Hate.
Sail on, sail on
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.!

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Contributor

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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