Power operates in every domain of human life: in families and communities; in social, civic, and economic organizations; and in political states and regimes. Reclaiming democracy means contending with power.
Yet reformers are often reluctant to confront problems of power. Revealing underlying power dynamics can be complex and uncomfortable. It is often tempting to try to solve problems by instead looking for policy fixes, new technologies, and informational solutions.
Recasting challenges of democracy as problems of power makes visible a distinct set of solutions. Considered in this frame, the embrace of antidemocratic authoritarian ideologies around the world is not just a rejection of particular candidates, parties, or policies. Instead, it is a reflection of the profound mismatch between the motivations or interests of the public and the actions of those with authority to act.
Reformers can also seek to strengthen the capacity of people to exercise their voices in the democratic process—and instantiate the authority they have to hold economic and political leaders accountable within institutions. Realizing democracy must be about building the motivation, capacity, and authority that people of all kinds need to act as a source of countervailing power to institutions of the economy and the state. That is realizing the promise of democracy.
Research on the idea of “policy drift” shows that even when unique political coalitions are formed to pass policy, the policy often drifts from its original intent in implementation, shifting to reflect the underlying power dynamics in a policy domain or community. Reformers can pass campaign finance laws to get money out of politics and voter registration laws that make it easier to participate, but unless they also address underlying questions about the disproportionate influence of the wealthy and the lack of motivation and capacity among many to vote, the underlying problem remains unsolved.
Read the full article about fixing democracy demands addressing the underlying power dynamics by Hahrie Han at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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