Democracy can mean a government or organization where all the citizens or members have a say in decisions, usually with majority rule. Democracy can also be used to communicate a general spirit of social equality. Democracy is “rule by the people” — and how democratic a government is depends on who is really included in “the people.” Thus, in the ancient seat of democracy, Greece, women and slaves didn’t have a say in the decisions about public power. Today, many would assert that wealth gives more power to some in political decisions. Today, political democracy is generally used to mean inclusion of all citizens with equal voices in decision-making.

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When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right.

— Eugene V. Debs

I have just as much right to stay in America — in fact, the black people have contributed more to America than any other race, because our kids have fought here for what was called “democracy”; our mothers and fathers were sold and bought here for a price. So all I can say when they say “go back to Africa,” I say “when you send the Chinese back to China, the Italians back to Italy, etc., and you get on that Mayflower from whence you came, and give the Indians their land back, who really would be here at home?”

— Fannie Lou Hamer

With the people, for the people, by the people. I crack up when I hear it; I say, with the handful, for the handful, by the handful, cause that’s what really happens.

— Fannie Lou Hamer

This thing they say of “the land of the free and the home of the brave” is all on paper. It doesn’t really mean anything to us. The only way we can make this thing a reality in America is to do all we can to destroy this system and bring this out to the light that has been under the cover all these years.

— Fannie Lou Hamer

The only thing I really feel is necessary is that the black people, not only in Mississippi, will have to actually upset this applecart. What I mean by that is, so many things are under the cover that will have to be swept out and shown to this whole world, not just to America. This thing they say of “the land of the free and the home of the brave” is all on paper.

— Fannie Lou Hamer

Political freedom, rightly understood, means that the will of every member of the commonwealth, guided by intelligence, shall be employed in deciding what is for the common good, that is, in creating those conditions on which the highest efflorescence of every human personality depends. This is the reason why autocracy is odious, and the ever wider extension of free political institutions is a dear and noble aim. This is the reason why those who have served the cause of freedom have served a great cause, and in serving it have themselves been greatened.

— Felix Adler

But why is democracy as against autocracy, or what we call freedom, so stringent in its appeal, its evocations? Certain conditions are indispensable to spiritual growth, the growth and heightening of human personality. Political freedom is one of them.

— Felix Adler

In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.

— Fran Lebowitz

To me democracy is an exciting, living practice, what we do every day. To most democracy doesn’t relate to our daily lives and it sure isn’t much fun. I now see that to engage in democracy, to jump into this living practice we all need something tangible to act on…

— Frances Moore Lappé, Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet

Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of democracy.

— Frances Moore Lappé

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

People are asking me about the race problem…. I know of no race problem. The great problem that confronts the American people to-day is a national problem — whether this great nation of ours is great enough to live up to its own convictions, carry out its own declaration of independence, and execute the provisions of its own constitution.

— Frederick Douglass

Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated.

— G. K. Chesterton

Democracy has given to conscience absolute liberty.

— George Bancroft

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.

— Gilbert K. Chesterton

Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven.

— H. L. Mencken

I hate war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatreds it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in the place of democracies, and for the starvation that stalks after it. I hate war, and never again will I sanction or support another.

— Harry Emerson Fosdick

Of course I believe in free enterprise, but in my system of free enterprise, the democratic principle is that there never was, never has been, never will be, room for the ruthless exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few.

— Harry S Truman

You don’t spread democracy with a barrel of a gun.

— Helen Thomas

At every turn when there has been an imbalance of power, the truth questioned, or our beliefs and values distorted, the change required to restore our nation has always come from the bottom up from our people.

— Howard Dean

The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.

— Hubert H. Humphrey

We cannot use a double standard for measuring our own and other people’s policies. Our demands for democratic practices in other lands will be no more effective than the guarantees of those practiced in our own country.

— Hubert H. Humphrey

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’

— Isaac Asimov

Democracy is a small hard core of common agreement, surrounded by a rich variety of individual differences.

— James B. Conant

I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.

— James Baldwin

We slowly learn that life consists of processes as well as results, and that failure may come quite as easily from ignoring the adequacy of one’s method as from selfish or ignoble aims. We are thus brought to a conception of Democracy not merely as a sentiment which desires the well-being of all [people], nor yet as a creed which believes in the essential dignity and equality of all [people], but as that which affords a rule for living as well as a test of faith.

— Jane Addams

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

— Jane Addams

We have learned to say that the good must be extended to all of society before it can be held secure by any one person or any one class. But we have not yet learned to add to that statement, that unless all [people] and all classes contribute to a good, we cannot even be sure that it is worth having.

— Jane Addams

We have learned to say that the good must be extended to all of society before it can be held secure by any one person or class; but we have not yet learned to add to that statement, that unless all [people] and all classes contribute to a good, we cannot even be sure that it is worth having.

— Jane Addams

All around the world, reproductive rights serve as a bellwether: Where abortion access expands, it’s usually a sign of democracy and human rights expansion more broadly; where abortion access contracts, it’s usually a sign of rising authoritarianism and a walking back of human rights.

— Jill Filipovic
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