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Democracy = Citizens in Power

A democracy is a society where citizens have the right to influence decisions about laws and government.

A democratic government is controlled by its citizens, not its rulers.

According to The United Nations, all democracies share common principles:

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Voting rights - participation in free and fair elections in a multi-party system

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Individual rights - freedom of expression and association

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Civil rights - equal and fair treatment for all citizens

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Information rights - freedom of the press and government transparency

But democracy can look different depending on where you live.

Let's compare two types of democracies that exist today:

  • representative democracy

  • direct democracy

How do citizens exercise their power in each system?

Representative Democracy

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Most democracies follow a representative model:

  1. Citizens elect officials to represent the needs & interests of the public.

  2. Elected officials debate & pass laws in assemblies called legislatures.

Officials meet regularly with their constituents -- the citizens they represent in their local area.

Representatives must be accountable to their constituents. If politicians don't meaningfully address the public's concerns, they might be voted out of office.

Direct Democracy

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In a direct democracy, citizens actively participate in government decisions.

Citizens groups can create and implement government policies through direct involvement in the planning process. For example, a neighborhood committee can draft a local traffic plan for approval by the community.

Individuals can also participate in referendums, where they can vote for a particular policy. The policy is usually presented as a ballot question, and citizens can vote to accept it or reject it.

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Read the following scenarios to prepare for the quiz below.

Each of these scenarios details a government decision:

a) A politician's proposal to decriminalize drug use goes to debate in the legislature and passes after a majority vote by elected representatives.

b) A country's leader makes an executive order to reduce national carbon emissions. It goes into effect immediately.

c) A government decides to increase funding for public transportation next year.

d) The citizens of a country vote on whether to change time zones or not. 53% vote "yes" and the country changes its time zone.

Quiz

Which of the above scenarios is an example of direct democracy?

Take Action

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Most democracies aren't purely representative or 100% direct. In reality, they practice a combination of both models.

Democracies aren't perfect, either! Some governments could do a better job of representing their people.

Don't wait for your government to make decisions without your input! Without active citizens, democracies fail.

What can you do to get involved?

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Contact Your Representatives

Call, email, or visit your local representatives.

Where do they stand on issues that affect your life?

Are they willing to fight for you and your community?

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Get Together

There's strength in numbers!

Organize or join interest groups with other members of your community.

Discuss your concerns and bring them up with your elected officials.

Support candidates in elections who will protect your interests. Put pressure on those who won't.

The more active you are as a citizen, the more your government will listen.

Make your voice heard!

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This Byte has been authored by

SB

Steve Birek

Content Producer at Rumie

SB

Steve Birek

Education For All!