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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The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.

— Montesquieu, 1748

I am blessed to live in a democracy, not a totalitarian state. But the democracy I cherish is constantly threatened by a brand of politics that clothes avarice and the arrogance of power in patriotic and religious garb.

— Parker J. Palmer

A politician who brings personal integrity into leadership helps us reclaim the popular trust that distinguishes true democracy from its cheap imitations.

— Parker J. Palmer

Democracy, like love, can survive any attack—save neglect and indifference.

— Paul Sweeney

Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;. . . to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.

— Paulo Freire

If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed.

— Paulo Freire

To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce; to discourse on humanism and to negate people is a lie.

— Paulo Freire

The educator with a democratic vision or posture cannot avoid in his teaching praxis insisting on the critical capacity, curiosity, and autonomy of the learner.

— Paulo Freire

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

— Paulo Freire

And these words shall then become
Like Oppression’s thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain,
Heard again – again – again –
‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.’

— Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shall we then judge a country by the majority, or by the minority? By the minority, surely.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

We have to act now to take steps so that the next time there is a razor-thin election — and there will be one, sooner or later — our civil society is strong enough to withstand foreign and domestic efforts to tear it apart.

— Richard Hasen

Abraham Lincoln did not go to Gettysburg having commissioned a poll to find out what would sell in Gettysburg. There were no people with percentages for him, cautioning him about this group or that group or what they found in exit polls a year earlier. When will we have the courage of Lincoln?

— Robert Coles

[D]emocracy is a hope zone where we pull out the weeds that strangle our possibilities and where we plant seeds that grow our lives and the lives of others.

— Ruby Sales

Rapid growth in wealth inequality results in the inevitable isolation of a very small, very rich, very privileged section of the community from the material experiences of everyone else. And when this out-of-touch minority group is enfranchised to make the decisions on behalf of people they don’t know, can’t see, have no wish to understand, and think of entirely in dehumanised, transactional, abstract terms, the results for the rest of us are devastating.

— Sally McManus, On Fairness

Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus — the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers’ enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.

— Simone Weil

Liberal democracy – as you know, in the old days, we were saying we want socialism with a human face. Today’s left effectively offers global capitalism with a human face, more tolerance, more rights and so on. So the question is, is this enough or not? Here I remain a Marxist: I think not.

— Slavoj Zizek

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.

— Ta-Nehisi Coates

Remember, there are two things that keep us oppressed: them and us. We are half of the equation. There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now OK to express ourselves publicly. We must make that day ourselves, by speaking out publicly — first in small numbers, then in greater numbers, until it’s simply the way things are and no one thinks twice. Never doubt that we will create this world, because, my friends, we are fortunate to live in a democracy, and in a democracy, we decide what’s possible.

— Tammy Baldwin

Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.True peace with oneself and with the world around us can only be achieved through the development of mental peace. The other phenomena mentioned above are similarly interrelated. Thus, for example, we see that a clean environment, wealth or democracy mean little in the face of war, especially nuclear war, and that material development is not sufficient to ensure human happiness.

Material progress is of course important for human advancement. In Tibet, we paid much to little attention to technological and economic development, and today we realize that this was a mistake. At the same time, material development without spiritual development can also cause serious problems. In some countries too much attention is paid to external things and very little importance is given to inner development. I believe both are important and must be developed side by side so as to achieve a good balance between them. Tibetans are always described by foreign visitors as being a happy, jovial people. This is part of our national character, formed by cultural and religious values that stress the importance of mental peace through the generation of love and kindness to all other living sentient beings, both human and animal. Inner peace is the key: if you have inner peace, the external problems do not affect your deep sense of peace and tranquillity. In that state of mind you can deal with situations with calmness and reason, while keeping your inner happiness. This is very important. Without this inner peace, no matter how comfortable your life is materially, you may still be worried, disturbed or unhappy because of circumstances.

— Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

People born after the Civil Rights and women’s rights movement inherited an expanding democracy, for the first time in America’s history, we were moving toward a true liberal democracy. People who inherit something often think they’re entitled, and don’t have to work for it. Nope. We have to work for it. Every day, every year, every generation.

— Teri Kanefield, @Teri_Kanefield

The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up — ever — trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?

— Terry Tempest Williams

We are at a crossroads. We can continue on the path we have been on, in this nation that privileges profit over people and land; or we can unite as citizens with a common cause — the health and wealth of the Earth that sustains us. If we cannot commit to this kind of fundamental shift in our relationship to people and place, then democracy becomes another myth perpetuated by those in power who care only about themselves.
The time has come for acts of reverence and restraint on behalf of the Earth. We have arrived at the Hour of Land.

— Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land

Our surest protection against assault from abroad has been not all our guards, gates and guns, or even our two oceans, but our essential goodness as a people. Our richest asset has been not our material wealth but our values.

— Theodore C. Sorensen

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.

— Thomas Jefferson

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

— Thomas Paine

Let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.

— Thomas Paine

We want capitalism and market forces to be the slave of democracy rather than the opposite.

— Thomas Piketty

Efficiency can never be substituted for due process. Is not a dictatorship the more “efficient” form of government?

— Thurgood Marshall

The purpose of democracy — supplanting old belief in the necessary absoluteness of establish’d dynastic rulership, temporal, ecclesiastical, and scholastic, as furnishing the only security against chaos, crime, and ignorance — is, through many transmigrations, and amid endless ridicules, arguments, and ostensible failures, to illustrate, at all hazards, this doctrine or theory that man, properly train’d in sanest, highest freedom, may and must become a law, and series of laws, unto himself, surrounding and providing for, not only his own personal control, but all his relations to other individuals, and to the State; and that, while other theories, as in the past histories of nations, have proved wise enough, and indispensable perhaps for their conditions, this, as matters now stand in our civilized world, is the only scheme worth working from, as warranting results like those of Nature’s laws, reliable, when once establish’d, to carry on themselves.

— Walt Whitman
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