Monday, October 7, 2013

Minority Rules?

The recent shut-down of the government highlights a continued struggle we have in our democracy ... the tension between the power of the majority and the minority.  In simple playground logic democracy is built on the idea that the majority rules.  If we look deeper into our system of government however we see that all over the place are rules and customs that allow for power to be held not just by the majority but also the minority.  It starts with our elections, where the winner of the popular vote is not necessarily the winner of the election when it comes to Presidents.  It is also possible for the minority to have power when it comes to things like a veto (where the president can over rule 65% of senators and representatives) and the filibuster in the Senate the allows for an individual to stand up and delay the process.  We have seen in it play out nationally where the House refuses to work with the Senate and President, (though they would frame the situation differently) and in Wisconsin, where state senators fled the state in order to stop votes on legislation they were opposed to.  There are clear instances where a minority is able to assert itself over the majority.  Is this really what a democracy is about?  You could also add in the further wrinkle of the will of the voters (or at least a random sampling of their will).  Should the fact that X% of the voters feel one way or another about an issue become a mandate in favor of something?  A majority of senators can easily represent a minority of the population if pulled from small states.  What does the rule of majority look like?

In 2012, The United Methodist Church continued its decades old debate around the issue of homosexuality.  Every four years the church debates about and ultimately votes to change, or not change its stances on any number of issues.  This time one of the suggestions was to add language that United Methodists were not of one mind on the issue of homosexuality.  This vote failed but it raises one of the problems of majority rule ... it can easily be used to erase the voice of dissent.  A majority of delegates decided they felt the "not of one mind" language was not necessary to be added.  Maybe it was because they felt strongly that the church's current stance around homosexuality was good or maybe they felt that adding a voice of disagreement was inappropriate when we don't agree about pretty much anything else either.  A strong minority however wanted that language included.  Under our system where the majority rules this group gets ignored.  They lost the vote, and we move on, but shouldn't the fact that we clearly don't agree on an issue matter?  Is the minority that much less important because they are the minority?  Now I am not saying that the minority is MORE important than the majority, but maybe they are just as important.

I have been a part of several groups that used a consensus model of decision making in order to get things done.  Rather than a simply up or down vote the conversation continues until everyone is in agreement on something.  Can it be abused ... certainly ... but it can also be transformational.  Now it is not just a matter of counting votes and getting to 51%.  Instead we are forced to listen to each other and hear what is causing the other side to disagree.  It moves us from a dichotomous thinking (am I for this or against it) and instead forces us to think creatively: what is important to me, what is important to them, and how do we a find a way for everyone to be happy.  It helps us to focus on the other person's values instead of our own.  Now we are not just thinking about how our side wins, but how everyone does, and that makes things better for all of us.

I love that we are a democracy, but the root of a democracy to me is not majority rules (that tends to be more of mob rule) but instead the idea that everyone voice matters, even the people in the minority.  If its important to them, it is important to all of us

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