I recall doing library work for research years ago. Sitting on the floor in a section of the Dewy decimal system looking at tables of contents, indices and illustrations from books on the same subject often took one in strange directions, off on new ones or even reminded one of basic information that one often overlooked in the excitement of the new research topic. While sitting at my computer desk using search engines, I almost recreated part of that old experience when looking for pointers to democratic principles, I inadvertently stumbled upon the online Robert’s Rules of Order. In doing a Bing Search, over 15 million results “pop” up (assuming something that massive pops and doesn’t actually recreate the big bang). Google produced over 250 million results. Checking, Robert’s Rules of Order popped up in that one, too.
As I say, I was looking for references to “democratic principals.” Heaven knows I should know what they are, but in writing about them, even in a small chapter of a book, I figure an author’s presentation should be backed up by other authors—after all, that is the way the information game is played—evidence even if the evidence is just some other bloke’s word. But, I had forgotten about the basic source for governing most democratic organizations: Robert’s Rules of Order. I was grateful for the reminder. Not only that, but the way Robert’s Rules presents democratic principled, brings them down to a local and very personal level. We all can envision ourselves as members of a small group. So, when we understand the democratic principles in the context of that group, it makes it a bit easier to place our selves in a larger group, say as a citizen (member) of the United States of America.
Democratic principles can be summarized in may ways. Perhaps they are best summarized as they are in Robert’s Rules of Order as “six essential principles that ensure that the democratic process is upheld in any organization [including a government].
1. “All members are equal—they have equal rights and responsibilities.
2. “The organization is run with impartiality and fairness. The rules are applied equally and fairly to all and not just a few. There is no favored group within the organization [which] will get preferential treatment or who considers itself above the law.
3. “Ideas come from the members and are presented to the assembly to decide upon. Everyone gets the right to present ideas, speak to these ideas, and vote on the ideas, not just a select group…
4. “The majority rules but the rights of the minority and absent members are protected.
5. “Everything is accomplished in the spirit of openness, not secrecy. Members have the right to know what is going on within the organization by attending meetings, inspecting the official records and receiving notices and reports form committees, officers, and boards. And
6. “Leaders come from the people through an election process which is fair and not slanted so a favored group can control the organization. When a leader’s term of office ends, he or she returns to the people. A hierarchy of power doesn’t exist; it is shared equally. All members have the right to be considered for office.”
A coupld of points stick out. First the notion that everyone is equal because of membership (citizenship in the context of the United States of America) Second that the minority’s rights and rights of members not present ARE protected from the majority. This one makes lies of vote suppression attempts in the name of voter fraud, or even laws requiring fixed addressed. With the low turnout rate in American elections, those who are not voting fall into the group of members not present. The third things that strikes me is the “spirit of openness.” Interestingly, this is not apparently a part of confirming justices of the Supreme Court.
If one reads the Robert’s Rules of Order statement of prinicples of democracy carfully one might begin to translate the operations of our elected representatives in a wholly different light.