Among the letters to the editor in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is one that caught my eye titled "Democracy is dead; the wealthy reign." Made me think back to a couple of weeks ago when I was on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh campus giving a speech very much like the one I gave a few weeks earlier at Fighting Bob Fest.
After finishing my remarks about the growing threats to democracy and the compromised health of our political process, a question came from the audience: "Do we even have a democracy?"
The way I answered it at the time was to say there are degrees of democracy. American democracy is unquestionably in a weaker state and at greater risk than it has been at any time in living memory. But that is not to say it does not exist at all in our country. The fact that I could stand in a public place and harshly criticize our state government and condemn the social injustice inherent in today's politics and not be banned from campus or arrested is itself an indication of democracy's existence.
Upon reflection, I wish I would have answered differently. It's not that I now think my answer was wrong. I just think there's a better one. And it is staring up at me from a postcard sitting on my desk that had been sent to me by Ruth Meyer, the faithful assistant to Doris "Granny D" Haddock, after Granny's passing.
On the card is a photo of Doris standing on the steps of the New Hampshire Capitol with a quote at the bottom: "Democracy is not something we have, it's something we do."
Doris Haddock taught me many things. And she was right about that. Democracy is more a verb than a noun. As long as we practice democracy, we will have a democracy. When we all stop acting as citizens in a democratic society, then and only then will democracy in America be truly dead.