Democracy has been defined as "a political system in which the whole people make, and are entitled to make, the basic determining decisions on important matters of public policy." While the United States is often touted as the world's leading proponent of democracy, many U.S. citizens find themselves unable to engage in one of the central acts of democracy—creating public voice through public engagement. Public engagement in the United States is constrained by our inability to talk through our shared, complementary and divergent values. This lack of public engagement and our inability to speak in a "public voice" is also driven by a cultural tendency to reduce complex public issues to simple "for or against" policy positions. The process of building a public voice in the United States is further complicated by the vast racial, ethnic, linguistic and economic diversity, and the imbalance of power that exist among these separate sectors of our society.

The history of this country is replete with the struggles of people to overcome these power imbalances and create opportunities for their voices to become an integral part of the public voice. But, as the 21st century approaches, these same citizens find themselves on the brink of a new battle over citizen participation. This battle is being defined around access to and use of technology. Currently, most Americans are merely bystanders watching the rapid advances in technology shift the political, economic, and social terrain in which their viability as citizens is being determined. For members of the African-American community, and indeed for all communities of color and for economically disadvantaged communities, their ability to participate as "equal" citizens will now, in part, depend upon their ability to shape the technological world that is redefining the concept of public discourse and public involvement in the political process.


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