From the sound of it, Congress is to blame for everything wrong in our lives. It has a single-digits approval rating, and it seems everyone on the street and in the media knows it can’t get anything done. You can only conclude that our elected representatives are missing what’s obvious to everyone else: Democracy is easy.
But is it? From my experience groups of people who have to make decisions must operate by Robert’s Rules of Order. We hold elections precisely because there are often many sides to every issue, and just as many people with varying opinions and views who are often reluctant to compromise. Put any 535 Americans into a room, and the prospects of them making decisions and getting home in time for dinner every night are not good. Our 50 state legislative bodies struggle with similar problems. In Wisconsin and Texas, for example, elected representatives from one party left the state rather than negotiate democratic solutions at their capitols. Closer to home, you’d expect city councils to have an easier job; especially if you assume local business is a piece of cake. Yet many city councils -- such as the one here in Washington, D.C. -- have sessions disintegrate into name-calling, with representatives leaving the room.
Further, if you’ve served on a school board, you know these elected bodies struggle to get communities to support public schools at levels that allow kids to excel without burdening citizens and businesses beyond their tax-paying capabilities.
Democracy at the national, state and local levels is the way we do business, and it has never been easy. From the earliest days of our republic it has been a frustration – as well as our salvation and greatest asset. Democracy is everywhere and it’s always messy. Decision-makers must constantly wade through opinions, facts, pseudo-facts, debates and disagreements. The process often includes insults, sarcastic digs, rhetorical questions, personal attacks and deep-seated bitterness. Some participants quit before decisions can be reached. But for those who endure, there is a vote and a decision. They hope the decision marks progress but, for many people, the gains never seem big enough. Folks with high expectations are disappointed they didn’t get everything they wanted.
Democracy, for all its lofty aspirations, creates winners and losers on every issue. Too many participants only keep score on their own issues. They don’t embrace the notion that democracy is an incremental process of governing that allows us to experiment based on the collective experience. Their expectations are often high because they only recognize their own viewpoint. When the democratic process works and decision-makers compromise on multiple viewpoints, they meet no one’s expectations. Is that failure?
I’d argue that any group dedicated to using the democratic process to render decisions is a successful body. A decision reached by compromise represents progress, albeit incremental, by those who share a mission uniting them. Sometimes the decision is unexpected and the outcome unimagined, but that’s the nature of compromise. If the body has a long-standing role in decision-making, it will make more decisions, and those too will likely be compromises.
Democracy isn’t perfect but it beats every alternative. Yes, it IS messy. And yes, it ISN’T predictable. But it IS a reflection of every dimension of an issue (and the people involved). And it ISN’T a one-decision game. Ever.
Best of all, democracy’s underlying principle is fairness in a forum of many viewpoints. What democracy guarantees each of us is representation and the chance to affect every decision.
For those in the archery and bowhunting business, the Archery Trade Association is the democratic forum where our industry can unite and make decisions in everyone’s best interests to ensure a strong future together. The ATA Board is open to everyone to attend and voice their viewpoint. We debate and discuss the ATA Trade Show, how to grow archery and bowhunting, and every imaginable aspect of industry business.
In fact, the ATA’s democracy not only works, it has a good track record:
- The ATA Board developed the Trade Show as a platform to do business. Countless companies owe their successful start to the ATA.
- The ATA Board decided to use the Trade Show as a mechanism to fund programs to grow archery and bowhunting. This Show has generated more than $15million to fund programs like NASP, the Minnesota wounding study, and many other successful ventures.
All it takes for the ATA to succeed is company executives exercising statesmanship by uniting on behalf of our industry At the end of the day, Benjamin Franklin was right about why any small group of passionate advocates who are bound together by their convictions must work together: “If we all don’t hang together, then we will most assuredly hang separately.”