The United States is a laboratory for democracy – a centuries-long experiment in what does and does not work for people making decisions together. Moments of abject failure and soaring success punctuate long periods of disruption, shut-downs, and the regular ransacking of our laboratory. Our experimental efforts have often been thwarted by undemocratic interests. The equipment has been smashed or corrupted. The results ripped to shreds. The data distorted. The facilities destroyed. The funding cut off. Every aspect of our experiment in democracy has been tampered with by those who fear the will of the people.

Our research has been pilloried by moneyed interests, leading to misconceptions about democracy. People mock what they do not understand. They equate democracy with mere majoritarian electoral politics, or the dismal status quo of politics in the United States. Democracy is a far vaster, extraordinary field of experimentation, vibrant ideas, unusual practices, and effective tools for shared decision-making and collective self-governance. The practice of democracy engages listening, respect, justice, equality, dialogue, caring, compassion, creativity, shared decision-making, collective strategizing, and conflict resolution. It appears as participatory budgeting, collective public policy crafting, civic dialogues, community discussion practices, ranked choice voting, direct democracy, citizen initiatives, cooperative structures and much more.

If we wish to cast off the shackles of tyranny, the chains of autocratic control, the burden of massive monopolies, the constraints of totalitarianism, and the rule of corporate or oligarchic interests, then we must learn the language of democracy as an ever-evolving poetry of politics. Democracy is more than a noun, it should be a verb, an active practice of shared governance. And, as we resist the injustice of a corporate-controlled state, we must broaden our very definition of democracy.

The old practices of politics allowed this collusion of corporations, rich people, and state power to abuse people and planet. Our democracy must rise in newer, more robust forms reaching into every sector of our governance, whether it be political, social, economic, or otherwise. Democracy is a way of life, not simply voting on candidates every few years.

We must push our experiments in democracy beyond the known parameters. Looking to the past will not offer us answers for the complexity of today. The Founding Fathers could only see as far as the horizon-lines of their prejudices. They could not imagine the world we live in now, one in which people of color, women, and minorities of every persuasion demand a system of governance that is inclusive, responsive, and responsible to and for the well-being and equality of every citizen, the natural world, and our fellow humanity around the globe.

Even in the history of the United States, our notion of politics has been broadened time and time again. Mass movements for greater equality and inclusion began almost as soon as the ink dried upon the Constitution. The United States has always been a work in progress. We must look around at what our fellow humans are doing in places where they have outstripped our inquiries into democracy. We must also look to the unknown, the imagined, the experimental. We must study the possibilities and implement them as experimental practices to build upon.

The United States is a laboratory of practice. As we dethrone the corporate state and rule of the rich, we must also rebuild this laboratory, pick up the wreckage, set up new tests, repair equipment, celebrate discoveries, and fund further investigations. Such inquiry must be a bastion of our efforts to discover the true meaning of democracy; of governance of, by, and for the people, all of them, together.


Read more from The Man From The North in Rise and Resist: Essays on Love, Courage, Resistance, Politics, and Democracy from The Dandelion Insurrection

The Man From The North is a fictional writer in Rivera Sun’s novel, The Dandelion Insurrection and the sequel, The Roots of Resistance. The novel takes place in the near future, in “a time that looms around the corner of today”, when a rising police state controlled by the corporate-political elite have plunged the nation into the grip of a hidden dictatorship. In spite of severe surveillance and repression, the Man From the North’s banned articles circulate through the American populace, reporting on resistance and fomenting nonviolent revolution. This article is one of a series written by The Man From the North, which are not included in the novel, but have been collected in a book of essays Rise and Resist which can be  read here

Author/Activist Rivera Sun has written twelve inspirational and hope-filled books that celebrate our human ability to create change for the better. Rivera’s writing is syndicated nationally and her articles have appeared in over one hundred journals. She speaks and teaches strategic nonviolent civil resistance inter-nationally. She was co-host for five years of several popular radio shows, She can be reached through her website: