Speaker questions democracy in America

Samantha Sigler

Democracy is not possible in America, our votes do not matter and bigger is not always better. At least, this is all true according to Susan McWilliams, an award-winning professor from Pomona College who spoke to students and staff  May 7 in Jonasson Hall.

“We are too god damn big,” McWilliams said. “Democracy is not suited to big regimes like our own.”

McWilliams began the lecture with a political joke from the election of 1952 and continued on with more throughout the lecture to lighten the subject at hand.

“Virtually all Americans have trouble describing what a positive democracy looks like,” McWilliams said.

Depicting the similarities of the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement, McWilliams said that both groups give a negative sense of what democracy looks like, but are unable to depict what a healthy democracy would appear as.

To begin to explain healthy democracy, McWilliams explained that Americans learn at a young age that voting is the right way to get things done by taking votes at the playground.

“God dammit we are Americans and we are going to vote for what the right decision is,” McWilliams said. “[However}, while the extension of voting rights have made this a more democratic nation in a formal sense, we become more informally concerned.”

Although most Americans would agree that voting is important, McWilliams points out that voting is only meaningful if we are presented with meaningful choices. The problem that follows this is that Americans know our votes don’t matter.

According to McWilliams, democracy depends on people feeling known and important. This can only happen in small states or regimes, as America is too big for it to function properly.

“Come to Linfield, everyone knows who you are and we know that matters,” McWilliams said. “Human beings are engineered in living in smaller communities.”

The idea that we need to feel important and heard is a point that McWilliams reiterated throughout the lecture. Through smaller communities, people are able to have a louder voice and feel as though they matter as a person, as well as have a vote that matters.

“[We need to] not be afraid of small communities,” McWilliams said. “When you have the experience of mattering, you don’t give it up.”

McWilliams referenced liberal arts colleges as a good example of mattering through the idea that people do not focus enough on college’s civic functions.

“They train people to be good and active citizens,” McWilliams said. “We learn how to matter [and] have the ability to affect other people.”

McWilliams also said why she felt liberal arts colleges
were important to society.

“What makes liberal arts colleges so special and so important is that they are in fact counter cultural,” McWilliams said. “It is precisely in their smallness that gives them their power.”

Quoting political theorist Sheldon Wolin, McWilliams explained that the best we might be able to achieve is spaces of fugitive democracy, moments and places where we can cultivate the habits of democratic life, and in so doing, cultivate an oasis of engaged citizenry.

“In this large, mobile and impersonal society of this United states, democracy is never going to be the dominant thing,” McWilliams said.

Samantha Sigler/
News editor