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We the People Occupy Wall Street: Democracy on Display October 27, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Occupy Wall Street, U.S. Constitution.
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A leaderless movement….decision by consensus…everyone has a vote…sounds a lot like my son’s world history chapter on ancient Greece and the development of pure democracy.  Our Founding Fathers took note of the Greeks, but also studied the Roman system of representative government or a republic.  Synthesizing the two, along with the philosophies of Locke, Rousseau and others, our country was founded as a democratic republic–we all vote for the our representatives and the president and then they take it from there. We agree to be governed in exchange for the government’s promise to protect our fundamental rights. Under Locke’s theory of social contract, if those we elect, ( i.e. the  government) are not living up to their obligations, we have a right to call for change.  This “call” from the people is bolstered by our First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.

And so we have the 99% camping out in cities all over our country essentially claiming that their has been a tremendous breach of the social contract.The citizens defining themselves as the 99% believe that they are living up to their end of the contract. They explain that they  have abided by the law, paid taxes and worked hard to succeed.  Many are now facing unemployment, foreclosure, mounting student loan debt–the list goes on. Their frustrations stem from not only their own struggles, but also from the bailouts of wall street, the insurance industry and the big banks–some how those institutions that also faced financial ruin seemed to have been bailed out of their problems while individual citizens are suffering without relief in sight.

Okay, so what’s the solution?  Exactly how  do the 99% want “the contract” amended? They are exercising their First Amendment rights and engaging in a modern-day version of the Greek’s pure democracy.  Pure democracy–therein lies the rub–a leaderless movement spread across thousands of miles….no specific platform, no elected leaders.  The movement has succeeded in garnering the attention of the public, the politicians and the media. An impressive feat!  Now is the time for it to speak specifics.  I guess that means it will need some designated spokes people.  Maybe even some policy requests supported by….the majority of the 99%?  Perhaps it’s time to read the chapter on the Romans….or just consult our Founding Fathers about how a group articulates its frustrations as cogent demands for social and political change. 


March Madness: Facebook & Virtual vs Actual Democracy March 25, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Abortion, Immigration, Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, U.S. Constitution.
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Middle Eastern uprisings sparked by  Facebook connections, public employees protesting in Wisconsin, Arizona’s reaction to protests over its immigration laws, and South Dakota’s new abortion law….March is a compelling month for the study of natural rights and the democratic process.

According to John Locke and our Founding Fathers we are all born with inalienable rights….or more simply stated…We are free and should only be constrained by  a democratic government in which we give up certain rights in exchange for the protection of our fundamental rights–a social contract.  Somehow, a number of dictators around the world didn’t get that memo…Despite that fact, the human spirit remains strong and with the advent of technology, we have seen a new version of democracy in action–the use of Facebook, Twitter, and texting as a means of revolution.

Groundbreaking, history in the making, and certainly worth noting and contrasting with our open society.  Why?  Because democracy is sometimes messy, often adversarial and down right unpleasant. However, underneath the unpleasantness remains the fact that we have a system that is to be cherished as the best method that human beings have been able to create to support fundamental freedoms.

The people of Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries have been able to use technology to accomplish uprisings against governments under which our brand of democracy does not exist.  By contrast the Wisconsin public employees “simply”exercised their constitutional rights to protest government imposed limits on public employees’ labor rights. The ongoing dispute with the state legislators is now headed for the state’s supreme court.

Arizona has developed a reputation as having some of the harshest immigration laws on its books and a governor who openly supports a tough stance.  There have been protests, media coverage and social media discussion criticizing Arizona’s recent laws , including on this blog.  It appears that all the criticism is not good for business as Arizona has lost tourist and other revenue, so recently five newly proposed restrictive immigration laws failed to muster the necessary votes  in the Arizona state legislature.

Finally, South Dakota, a state without a high incidence of abortion, but with a high percentage of republican legislators, has passed legislation that requires “women who are seeking abortions to first attend a consultation at such ‘pregnancy help centers,’ to learn what assistance is available ‘to help the mother keep and care for her child.'” It is probably unnecessary to explain the furor that this has caused in this controversial area….Planned Parenthood has indicated that it will move the debate from the legislature to a courtroom where the interpretation of  a woman’s constitutional rights in this area will be argued and decided upon once again.

Emotionally charged disputes in fundamental areas of society–employment, immigration, pregnancy–controversy abounds. However, regardless of how one feels about public employees’ union rights, immigration rights, or abortion, we can embrace the fact that we live in a country in which we have a right to publicly dispute these issues and a government that has a process by which to revisit and resolve our disagreements.  It might sound like a huge piece of American pie, but given what is transpiring in the Middle East, it seems worth taking a moment to pause and savour the sweet taste of democracy.

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