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Politics on Point: This Is What Democracy Looks Like

A democracy is more than a president or protest chants. It's a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Nick explains what it means to be a democracy. 

Class Discussion Questions:

1) What does it mean when people say" the power in a democracy lies with its people?"

2) How do citizens participate in a democracy?

Read the Script:

"This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln certainly laid out an impressive goal in his Gettysburg Address for the U.S. to have a government that follows the lead of its citizens, a democracy. And that's what we're talking about today.

Democracy is a form of government in which the ultimate power belongs to the people. You probably already know that the United States is a prime example of this, but we didn't invent it. Originating in Greece, the name was created from two Greek words,  demos, which means the people, and  kratia, meaning the power of authority democracy. Democracy during this time in 500 B.C. Athens took the form of what is known as  direct democracy. That means all citizens are equally responsible to meet and settle all matters of the community. It kind of worked at the time because the population was smaller. Having everyone work it out on their own today would probably end up a mess though.

Over time, the concept of democracy changed and developed. We figured out a way to narrow down the number of people in charge. So rather than a direct democracy, the U.S. has what is called a  representative democracy. This means citizens elect representatives, think the presidents, governors, senators, and the like from among them to be in charge. The leaders are "of the people."

Unlike a monarchy or a dictatorship, democracy requires citizens to participate. The responsibility to decide who gets the next chance to lead is up to the people. We have the exciting task of voting to make our voice heard. That's where "by the people" part comes into play. People tend to elect leaders who align with their personal views of government positions. The goal here is that they will lead with the voters' best interest in mind, hence "for the people."

Unlike in a monarchy where leaders rule for life, or a dictatorship where the leader rules for life or usually until they're overthrown, leaders in a democracy take turns. Term limits say how long a leader can stay in office. The president is only allowed 2 four-year terms before his or her term is up.

Democracy may not be as simple as Abraham Lincoln made it sound. There's lots of working parts like checks and balances, majority rules and minority rights, political parties, that we don't have time to get into today. But for now, if you can remember "of the people, by the people, and for the people," you've got the most important part down.