“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. But there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, and that public opinion expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.”— Winston Churchill
Julie Oliver, Executive Director of Ground Game — a grassroots political movement driven “from below” by the constituents of a community rather than its leaders — was interviewed on CBC’s Day 6, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade was leaked, but before it was officially released. She reported on the intent of Austin’s City Council to deprioritize law enforcement of abortion care. Oliver claims that people wanting to enforce abortion laws are extremist fringe. The issue of abortion rights is so politicized that both the State of Texas and the City of Austin were at the ready to react.
Texas passed the Human Life Protection Act of 2021, also know as a “trigger law,” making abortion a criminal act, and going into effect immediately upon the Supreme Court’s decision. In preparation (and defiance), Austin drafted its GRACE — Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone — act, well before the release of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. Austin has been described as the blueberry in the tomato soup of Texas. (Austin’s motto is “Keep Austin weird!”) According to Progress Texas, there is an increasing number of Democrats in what has historically been a Republican state.
It seems obvious that in Canada and in the U.S., there are major differences in political views that seem to be geographically based. For example, there were some provinces and states that were friendlier to masking during the pandemic relative to others. So is it legal, ethical, and democratic to choose which laws to obey based on the desires of a subregion?
In the U.S., it often is. In the case of half of U.S. states, a referendum on a number of issues can be triggered by citizens obtaining sufficient support. Julie Oliver’s organization, Ground Game, exists to capitalize both on Texas’ blueberries and the ability to decide issues locally by referendum. They commit to “knocking on 1 million doors” in their first year to put policies on the ballot and to engage voters.
In addition to fighting for the legalization of abortion, Ground Game is advocating for the legalization of marijuana, a $15 minimum wage, and policies that combat climate change. As a supporter of the end result, I silently cheered when I learned that Austin (and perhaps other progressive cities in Texas) would find a way around the Roe v. Wade decision. However, another part of me asked “Is this democratic?”
I couldn’t help but ask other questions, such as:
- What defines and unifies a country, province, or state if the people are so divided that significant decisions need to be made on a city-by-city basis?
- If we make decisions in smaller geographies, do we enhance or undermine democracy?
- What decisions are significant enough to warrant not enforcing the laws of the land?
Democracy is not perfect. It is a process that we all need to work through. And as frustrating and infuriating as it can be, it is the best that we have.