Winston Churchill once famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others.” It appears that some people in this country (many people?) would now leave out the final phrase. Our UU principles (#5) commit us to “the use of the democratic process… in society at large,” and the main focus of my 33-year career as a civil rights lawyer was the preservation and expansion of democracy. Let’s start with the Constitution: “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen… by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.” (Art. I, Sec. 2) “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican Form of Government.” (Art. IV, Sec. 4) On the other hand, under the original Constitution, the Senate is chosen by the legislatures of the States (Art. I, Sec. 3), and the President – under the original Constitution and still today – is chosen by Electors appointed by the States “in such Manner as” the Legislatures “may direct.” (Art. II, Sec. 1) A majority of the 17 amendments to the Constitution adopted after the original 10 (the Bill of Rights) relate to voting, most recently the 26th (18-year-old voting, 1971). Since enacting the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Congress has enacted extensions and amendments to the Voting Rights Act in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992, and 2006; the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act (1984), the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (1986), the National Voter Registration Act (1993), and the Help America Vote Act (2002). But what has Congress done lately to protect and extend the right to vote?
So why does democracy in our nation now feel so fragile, so threatened? What can we, as citizens, as UUs, do about it? The 5th principle not only pledges us to affirm and promote “the use of the democratic process” but also “the right of conscience.” What if one’s conscience leads them to reject the use of the democratic process? The short, simple answer to that question is that it is the “member congregations” of the UUA, not individual UUs who enter into this covenant of affirmation and promotion. But, looking beyond our congregation, beyond UUs generally, how would we feel if there were those among us – UUs or not – (in Pottstown, in some far corner of our nation) who reject the democratic process and would rather follow an autocratic, self-proclaimed leader?
In any event, 2022 is an election year (it seems like we just had an election, doesn’t it?), and it is our civic duty to be registered to vote, to study the issues and the candidates, to vote, both in the primary and the general election, and to accept the results of properly conducted elections. (And if the election was not properly conducted, to use the judicial process, not a violent uprising, for relief.) Beyond that, volunteer to be a poll worker, volunteer to work on a political campaign, invest – financially – in our future as a democracy. Elections are at one end of the democratic process; at the other end is education. Promote an education for our children that emphasizes critical thinking skills, that provides a broad, inclusive education in history and literature. And don’t feel that you have to keep Unitarian Universalism a secret.