The first rule of democracy club is you have to talk about democracy club. No repeating slogans without understanding issues, no reinforcing falsehoods because you can't be bothered to investigate the truth yourself and, most of all, no laying claim to your rights as an individual under the Constitution if you can't also accept the responsibilities of individuals in participatory government. Democracy must be an ongoing public dialogue.

Democracy is, after all, a club. It's government by "we the people," not by "I the person," meaning we hold the rights of individuals to be sacrosanct—a tool for developing a society of laws that protect and benefit the common good. The individual doesn't get to drop out of participating, at least not if he or she wants to dialogue about what best represents the common good.

When Santa Fe Tea Party members turned up at a Sept. 15 public study session for the Santa Fe County Sustainable Land Development Plan to denounce the effort as government interference with the rights of individual property owners—without having attended any of the previous and exhaustive public input sessions and, allegedly, without having bothered to read the plan—they forgot they were part of a club.

You see, you've got the individual right to walk around naked (on your own property) but, if you pee on me (maybe over your fence), then you've compromised the common good. This is why passing out copies of the Constitution to county commissioners—as Tea Party representatives did—is the act of confused people engaged in a confused movement who are failing to have any real conversation about democracy.

You may have the right to be secure in your person and in your property under the Constitution, but everyone else does, too. Thus, the common good demands a set of regulations to guide the practices in which we engage on our secure property—not for the purpose of infringing on rights but precisely so that everyone's (remember that word "we"?) rights are equally protected.

Commissioner Mike Anaya proved himself to be somewhat confused on this issue when he agreed with the need for a vision of the future in terms of land-use planning, but suggested there are too many regulations and that it needs to be easier for people to build. Therefore, he suggested, the county should stop dictating how homes are placed or requiring certain energy efficiencies and water-harvesting schemes.

But homes are placed according to setbacks (that protect the individual and property rights of neighbors), easements (ditto) and structural safety. Stripping away these considerations strips away the common good. Water harvesting may be expensive (or at least perceived to be expensive), but we're talking about the management of a key natural resource and national security consideration that belongs to "we the people." If our democratically-chosen representatives don't take charge of shepherding this limited resource, then we risk sacrificing the common good because a relative few individuals mistake disregard for conservation as an individual right.

If the GOP's recently unveiled "A Pledge to America" had been available, I'm sure it, too, would have been passed out at the study session. It's a rambling, spiteful document that claims "an arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many," before going on to arrogantly self-appoint its own mandates as necessary without the input of anyone, much less an election.

But because the "pledge" is filled with the rhetoric of the pseudo-disenfranchised—people who believe they are not well-represented by government because they don't take the time to participate in government—it strikes all the right chords for people who like to imagine their rights are being violated, even as they sit silent while the actual rights of others (immigrants, suspected terrorists, gay people, women) are violated as a matter of routine.

The "pledge" tacitly promises to continue this process in thinly-veiled language ("establish operational control of the border"; "honor families, traditional marriage, life…and faith-based organizations"; "enact an overarching detention policy for terrorist combatants"). This is no pledge at all but, rather, a list of keywords designed to appease people who have accepted that certain words represent their desires. Such a document only will be accepted by people who, despite presumptions of being an engaged electorate, have resigned themselves to being talked to, rather than to talking.

Because, when you agree to talk, you agree that discussion constitutes a back-and-forth of ideas and an exchange of opinions designed to arrive at some final conclusion. And when you agree to talk about democracy club, you agree to an individual responsibility to the common good.

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