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A: government by the people, especially: rule of the majority.
B: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.
- Webster-Merriam Dictionary
For the Wrifford-Lore-Ross family, Democracy is a many-splintered thing.
The blended family is made up of three generations. Parents Richard Ross and Diane Lore are Baby Boomers. Oldest son Ian is a Millennial. Middle son David and Emily the youngest are Gen Zers — also called Zoomers.
Politically, the Marietta family is as diverse as Americans come: two Democrats, an independent-leaning conservative, a Democratic Socialist, and a Marxist/Leninist. Their divergent views have led to what Lore calls “spirited conversations” within the family.
They’re just as diverse when it comes to defining democracy, especially now at one of the most turbulent times in U.S. history. Last year’s elections and protests followed by the Jan. 6 revolt in the U.S Capitol upped the ante.
The family is among a generational cross-section of Georgians Atlanta Civic Circle interviewed about their views on democracy.
Respondents offered an array of opinions about the state of American democracy. Baby Boomers and Zoomers seemed less trustful of democracy while Millennials respondents were more hopeful.
“I’m less confident in democracy,” Aaron Thompson, a 66-year-old retired military veteran, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “Democracy only works if you’ve got something working for the best interest of the people. All factions involved have to be working in the best interest of the people and we don’t have that here.”
Auston Kennedy sees it differently.
“Democracy is still the best form of government that we have come up with thus far,” the 26-year-old financial software support analyst told Atlanta Civic Circle. “We often fail to execute it well but its potential remains enormous.”
The metro Atlanta millennial doesn’t appear to be as disillusioned as those in a 2020 University of Cambridge study. That study found 55 percent of Millennials are more disillusioned with democracy than generations were before them.
The university’s Centre for the Future of Democracy tied the dissatisfaction to younger people being shut out of jobs and other economic opportunities. It also found democratic satisfaction was at a record low worldwide. Data from The Federal Reserve shows a distinct wealth gap between millennials and previous generations. Older millennials have yet to save as much wealth as previous generations accumulated at the same age.
The Cambridge study spans nearly 50 years, 160 countries, and more than four million respondents.
Similarly, a 2018 Pew Research Center study on generational views on politics found “divisions are now as wide as they have been in a decade, with the potential to shape politics well into the future.”
The study found Millennials and Gen Xers are “far apart” from Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation on immigration, race, foreign policy, and the scope of government. It also noted: “Millennials continue to have a distinct — and increasingly liberal — outlook.”
Now three years later, that gap appears to have widened. It also now includes another generation: Gen Zers who, experts say, are among the most ethnically diverse and most-educated generation yet.
Last year, Millennials and Gen Zers defied a global pandemic and marched in the streets in protest of myriad social injustices. Meanwhile, many of their older peers, seething over the 2020 presidential results, stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
In the midst of it all, Georgia became ground zero for much of the nation’s political tug-of-war.
Former President Donald Trump’s showdown with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger over the state’s election results.
Georgia’s new election overhaul law has drawn the ire and scrutiny of those who see it as an attempt to roll back voting rights. Republicans at the state and national level contend the changes they want will strengthen the election process and restore voter confidence.
President Biden highlighted the polarization in his Memorial Day speech saying “Democracy itself is in peril.”
“We’re confronting some threats we haven’t seen before,” Charles Bullock, Distinguished University Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “And one of those events, the most important one, is the unwillingness of the former president to concede that he indeed lost. Certainly, there have been close elections in the past, but never before have we had a president who has refused to acknowledge that “yeah, I didn’t get enough votes.” So by saying the election was rigged, that raises questions about whether the will of the people has indeed been registered.”
It certainly raised doubts in Gen Zer Ramielle Williams.
“I’m not very confident about democracy right now, “ the 23-year-old Rex resident who works for Dell Technologies told Atlanta Civic Circle. “The democracy is flawed with all of the voter suppression efforts. I feel like local and national political leaders who are in power are trying to silence our voices, especially in Republican-led states like Texas and Georgia.”
Williams’ political views are increasingly shared among others in her generation and nowhere is that more evident than college campuses.
In his 54 years at the University of Georgia, Charles Bullock has not only witnessed some of America’s biggest historical moments in politics, he’s also taught about them. The Vietnam War. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy. Watergate. 9/11. Obama and Trump. At least four generations of students have come through his classroom, each with their own signature views. In the early days, they were whites who mostly grew up in segregated communities. Now, his students are more ethnically diverse and exposed to more information and perspectives.
“There’s been a great change in the maturation experience [of students],” Bullock said.
Early on, Bullock’s political science classes drew “a lot of students volunteering in campaigns… the bulk of which were republican.”
But the last six or seven years,” it’s not been as overwhelmingly Republican,” he said. “The son or daughter may be volunteering for Jon Ossoff or Raphael Warnock or Stacey Abrams. Now I have a number of Democratic activists in class
In short, he said, “Republicans are dying off and their grandchildren are voting Democratic.”
Unlike previous generations, today’s students are exposed to a plethora of information — not all of which is accurate.
“Social media and the level of misinformation can be more readily available and accessible than truth,” Tammy Greer, an assistant professor of political science at Clark Atlanta University, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “I am competing with social media and there are times when social media seems to win.”
Georgia Tech Associate Professor of Public Policy Richard Barke says most of his students are skeptical about “what they hear from candidates and profit-seeking media” but many haven’t been exposed enough to the ”troublesome historical complexities that make simple flag-waving civics lessons so tempting for those who want to tell teachers what to teach.”
To help students understand, Barke asks them two questions:
Should 50 percent plus one of those in class be able to determine exam questions and grades for the other 49 percent?
Do they want the general public to vote on which drugs and medical devices to approve or whether to hike taxes to pay for improved schools?
“If not, then how should we think about the pure democracy that Madison warned us about,” Barke said. “What’s the alternative?”
In William Boone’s American Government classes at Clark Atlanta, students often have what the associate professor of political science calls a “romanticized” view of democracy. They believe, he said, that they have unlimited rights under democracy which they believe is chiefly steeped in the First Amendment.
“That is not the case,” Boone told Atlanta Civic Circle. “Each of those rights have some limitation placed on them by law and by what in the Constitution limits them.”
In the end, “Democracy is trouble,” Barke said. “It’s intended to be trouble. There will always be a tension between voting processes and policy but our history suggests that it’s better to err on the side of too much democracy than the alternative.”
Read what some metro Atlantans have to say about democracy here, and if you’re so inclined, we’d love to hear your views about Democracy. Email Tammy Joyner to join the discussion.
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