OPINION: Debate, dialogue are democracy’s oxygen

Columnist Andre Carrel advocates for writing letters to the editor of your local paper

By Andre Carrel

A study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concluded that “citizens in nearly all advanced industrial democracies [have become] increasingly skeptical toward politicians, political parties, and political institutions.” The OECD’s findings apply in varying degrees to politics in Canada at every level. We can blame politicians, political parties, and political institutions for our misgivings about politics, but that would be like blaming sunburn on the sun. The lack of trust in the people we have elected and in their decisions is not something we can blame on “them”; it is something we have allowed to take root and grow within our society.

Documenting what “the people” want is a profitable industry. There is money to be made in telling politicians what YOU want so that they may tell us, in professionally massaged language, what it is that we think we want to hear. An opinion poll declaring that sixty-five percent of the people (nine times out of ten, plus or minus 3.4 percent) support a program, or a policy, or a project is an incontrovertible indicator of support.

A focus on the degree of public support for any measure tends to ignore the naysayers’ reasons for their opposition. Support may be expressed for a multitude of reasons, but supporters’ reasons are irrelevant, their YES is all that matters. Opposition may also be explained by many reasons, but the WHY of objections warrants more attention than do the reasons for support. Even best-made plans may conceal flaws in their design, something overlooked or under-estimated by proponents.

The internet – Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others – is efficient in its spontaneity. Its weakness is its propensity to link like-minded people. Democratic politics loses its direction when citizens talk about the other more than they listen to, and try to understand, the other. Debate and dialogue, not certainty and righteousness, are democracy’s oxygen.

A letter to the editor in a community newspaper stimulates dialogue. A community newspaper lands on every doorstep, and with that a letter to the editor speaks to all, not just to the writer’s friends, associates, and/or subscribers. It speaks to the community as a whole. Letters to the editor are to democracy what sand is to reinforced concrete: a mundane but essential ingredient.

Writing a letter to the editor of a community newspaper is commensurate to speaking at a well-attended townhall meeting. It gives the writer an opportunity to explain, to give examples, to offer suggestions, to rationalize, and to present alternatives. Reading such a letter may lead to a new understanding, to an appreciation of concerns held by the writer. In other words, a letter to the editor may open a door to compromise and with that it may help to connect rather than divide a community.

“To write is to put the seeming insignificance of human existence into a different perspective” (Alfred Kazin, The Self as History; 1985). Kazin’s observation is as pertinent to a letter to the editor in a local paper as it is to the art of biography. Human existence is complex; there is nothing insignificant about it. Communication, the interchange of thoughts, opinions, fears, and desires between the jumble of people who make up a community, is democracy’s oxygen. The opportunity is there, it costs a little effort but no money, so take advantage of it: write a letter to the editor.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

Ellis Ross (left), BC Liberal party, celebrated with his wife, Tracey after being named the preliminary winner of the 2020 snap provincial election.
Ross presumptive Skeena winner in snap B.C. election

Election outcome will not be official until mail-in ballots are counted

Voting has officially closed throughout B.C. for the 2020 snap provincial election. (Clare Rayment)
Map of Skeena polling stations

Watch the updates on the map below as polling stations are counted throughout Skeena riding

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

An elderly woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past an advertisement for a television series in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. has been under a COVID-19 state of emergency for more than half the year

Province has been under a state of emergency for 32 weeks – and counting

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

Tyrell Giroux was arrested by Williams Lake RCMP on Sunday, Oct. 25. (Facebook video screenshot)
Tsilhqot’in leaders call for suspension of officers seen in controversial Williams Lake arrest

Disturbing video demands an immediate, independent investigation, says TNG

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

Most Read