In an English for Activists class on Occupy, Aki Owada had an idea for how to discuss the question: "What is democracy?" Instead of asking people to talk about what democracy is, she asked everyone to give examples of experiences they have had that were not democratic. (This is the same basic idea as the nightmare scenario, using the opposite as an entry way into a discussion.)
Here's what we came up with:
- Police telling me I can't cross the street at a demonstration. The young activists said, "be patient Grandmother!" But I don't want to be patient!
- Students in my seminar not participating, even though I try to make the class participatory.
- Neighbors putting out the garbage on the wrong days.
- Winner-take-all-elections that leave a large % of the people unrepresented in political bodies.
- Faculty meetings: we are supposed to be equal but in reality the same people dominate the conversation and others are passive so we get the same people's thinking.
- Inequality between men and women at work and in the family. Different roles, different wages, women making tea for men, even in social movement groups.
- People have sovereignty only one day every few years, the rest of the time politicians have all the control.
- The workplace: the employer uses power and control of resources to give the management more money and the workers less.
This activity gives us a nice set of criteria for democracy:
- impatience with repression and anger at the arbitrary exercise of power
- grassroots participation and initiative
- mutual responsibility
- all views represented
- equal participation, rotation of roles
- equality between people (gender, race, etc), equal conditions, roles, tasks
- regular exercise of sovereignty and decision-making power (not just once every few years)
- equal control of resources
I would add transparency and open source, but this is an interesting list.