Drawing for Democracy

On the last Friday of every month, democracy isn’t elections or protests or freedom of speech, it’s art.   That’s when Maira Kalman, an illustrator, author, and designer who teaches design at the graduate level in New York City, posts her monthly drawings on, And the Pursuit of Happiness, a blog about American democracy.    I cheered at her inauguration entry, and loved her Abraham Lincoln post, but March’s colorful edition is my favorite one yet.  In it, Ms. Kalman takes us from 16th Century England, to France in the time of de Tocqueville, to a town hall meeting in Newfane, Vermont, to a student council meeting in the Bronx.  Ah, the power of pictures.

This month’s entry by Ms. Kalman got me thinking: I own a copy of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, but I never finished reading it.  I’ve never attended a town hall meeting either (if I go, do I get to eat barbeque chicken and cornbread like the Vermonters?), nor did I serve on my student council.  Does that make me a bad citizen? 

Probably not.  Other than voting (and By the People blogger, Michelle, suggests maybe not even that), I’m not sure there’s anything everyone should do in a democracy to keep it going.  Some of us will read de Tocqueville, and some of us won’t.  I might not have been a member of the student council, but I did participate in my school’s mock trial team, role-playing lawyers and witnesses, and learning about the rule of law.   We all have our preferred civic activities.

So, while some citizens will attend town hall meetings, or run for office, or help people get to the polls on Election Day, others, like Ms. Kalman, will draw beautiful depictions of democratic life for the rest of us to contemplate and enjoy.  Ah, the power of options.

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About Tanya Brothen

Tanya Brothen is a blogging enthusiast who began writing for the web on a whim. Now it’s her job.||She recently received a Master’s Degree in International Affairs and works as a New Media Officer for the State Department. Tanya not only writes for By the People, but also acts as the blog’s organizer, keeping everyone on topic and on time. To demonstrate her understanding of democracy, she holds regular blog team meetings and usually listens to what the others have to say.

9 thoughts on “Drawing for Democracy

  1. Yes, Tanya, democracy is really about options on whether to vote or not to vote, whether to cast ballot for candidate A or Candidate B, whether to run for office or not to run for office, and yes whether to draw, write, read or not to do any of those. So, it is all about options. The moments those options are limited is the very moment democracy is killed.

    Steve Paternk

  2. Hi Steve,

    Agreed it _is_ about options, but I wonder whether there are not also responsibilties. There’s an old, often-told story about Ben Franklin leaving the Constitutional Convention. “So,” one of the crowd shouted, “what kind of government have we, Dr. Franklin?”

    “A republic,” came the reply, “if you can keep it.”

  3. Yes Michael,

    Responsibilities in a sense that we do the right thing given the options available, because responsibilities of doing a right thing also comes with the options available. For example, in his last years in power, Sadam Hussein was reported to be confirmed into power by a vote of almost a hundred percent. Now, we preach voting as a civic duty for all to participate in, however, in this case, a responsible voter would rather has an option of not voting at all. You have also alluded into such scenarios on the personal choice you make when it comes to local elections where you do have no knowledge of the candidates involved. Perhaps, in your case, someone will go as far as challenging that it is also your civic duty to go out of your way to study the local candidates rather than not voting for anyone of them at all. But, what would one do in case like the one of Sadam Husein to fulfill one’s civic duty by taking it step further beyond just not wanting to vote?

    I guess, the revolutions, rebellions, coups, or counter coups that we often see in places ruled by dictators are products animating from systems that limits citizens options at many levels. The sad part of it all, the results of those actions mentioned above intended for change never seem to change the systems, therefore, many parts of the world going through the same circle, over and over again, providing no options to their citizens.

    I guess you will now see where I am coming from. The Americans must really be blessed with “a republican” form of government that they have, which provides each and every individual citizens with options to run for office, vote, or even do nothing where you can still be represented in some ways, or at least respected in your own place.

    Steve Paterno

  4. Steve– thank you for the comment. You speak much truth. There can be no comparison between men and women who put their lives at risk in the name of democratic freedoms and those fortunate enough to ponder whether they should learn enough to vote in a local election. It has been so long since these rights and freedoms were at issue in the U.S. that many of us– myself included, I’m afraid– sometimes take them for granted.

    I have no good answer for your other wise questions, just a few personal beliefs. One is that human beings desire freedom. Another is that over time, they will achieve it. I can not tell you when, or how– and I personally would not presume to define the “civic responsibility” of someone in Saddam’s Iraq, or of a dissident in the old Soviet Union. I have never been required to weigh the real and very grave personal risks that these brave individuals assumed when they demanded democratic freedoms.

    Some countries that once were ruled by dictators today feature contested elections and a vibrant civil society. It does happen.

    Please keep posting, Steve. We are glad to have you here.

  5. Thanks, Michael, for understanding. I do agree with you that human by nature desire freedom. This at least provide gleams of hope that in a long run even those without freedom will achieve it.

    Thanks once again.

    Steve Paterno

  6. Tnaya! I got a question for long and wanted to know your opinion as a writer (Because writers have strong and clear opinions) as well as others. Question is,

    As democracy is only meaningful in presence of four freedoms then can democracy provoide freedom to nation forcefully included in a state? If yes, How????

    And if no, then what is the alternative?