#49 | Bruce Rieder | "Aspire to" Democracy

Submission 49
Bruce Rieder
Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (Virginia)

What is your suggestion or idea?

Under the Justice heading:

We support and aspire to (the use of) inclusive democratic processes to make decisions.

bold = new text

(within parenthesis) = deleted text (I don’t find a strikeout format option)

Eleven (11) words in each version.

What is the reason for your amendment idea?

I wonder if the current proposal statement, tracking as it does very closely to the prior language of the 5th Principle, is an implicit acknowledgement that the current status quo of how our democracy works is the default standard.

For marginalized people our current democratic processes do not reflect an inclusive democracy so long as that process allows some to vote to deprive others of their inalienable rights. The current examples are plain: Supreme Court votes to deprive women of bodily autonomy; Congress required to vote to preserve the right of same sex marriage in spite of a sizable national majority in support; continued non-protection of basic rights to employment, housing, and services by LGBTQIA people in spite of a large national majority in support; legislative child abuse in the targeted othering of transgender children ignoring the principle of protection the minority.

Do some read “inclusive” as “if everybody votes then the process is inclusive” and we then get to ignore the interests of the minority, or in some cases the majority, depending upon which process we are using? Adding the word “inclusive” is not enough.

I believe that the addition of “aspire to” makes an explicit statement that the status quo does not always meet the standard of inclusiveness. At the very least the words raise the question “what do we aspire to?”. Do we aspire to mimic our status quo governmental processes which are not in fact universally inclusive or democratic? As in the current 5th Principle, the Commission’s proposal remains a kind of a throwaway “of course we believe in inclusive democracy–we are not communist, socialist, Marxist, et. al.”

What did “democratic process” mean decades ago, at the last review, and what does it mean in 2023 at a time when inclusive democracy is in doubt?

Have you discussed this idea with your congregation or other UUs?

Yes, I have been raising this wondering in my discussions with other congregants about Article II. The responses have mainly been along the lines of “I hadn’t thought about it that way, let me think about that some more”. I think this validates the throwaway nature of the current 5th Principle words “use of the democratic process…” People are happy to see “democratic process” returned to the proposal even if they haven’t fully thought through what those words might have meant decades ago, the last time this language was reviewed, and what they mean in 2023 at a time when our country and our faith are truly examining what democracy means. I have asked folks to consider that.

Democracy in this context is “everyone has an opportunity” to have their voice heard…and vote counted…in our decision making…of who represents us.

So, only those who “represent us” have the authority to decide in every instance on every matter for a congregation, so long as everyone had a vote in electing them? Therein lies the slippery slope in my opinion and the emulation of a national governmental use of “the democratic process” that in fact allows the abuse of the rights of people. Voting for someone else to represent us at the next election does little to undo the foundational harm that happens when people’s rights are denied them by a vote by “those who represent us” . That’s how we end up with policies in congregations that do not in fact represent the sentiments of the congregation, only the sentiments of those who the process says were allowed to vote. What you describe is not democracy but in fact representative government, which is different than democracy.