The biggest thing about democracy is that it starts small

imageBefore putting the final touches on today’s edition of Siuslaw News, we did something we haven’t done in eight years. At the bottom of our Opinion page is a small section with the heading “Where to Write.” In it are the addresses of our representatives at the county, state and federal levels.

At the top of this list is our nation’s President, which has now been updated to reflect today’s inauguration of Donald J. Trump.

The peaceful transition of government has now officially been achieved for the 45th time since George Washington took the first — and very same — Oath of Office some 227 years ago. At the time, Washington remarked it wasn’t his inauguration that was important but the second inauguration that would be the most significant. He recognized one of the first and most important tests of Democracy would be the peaceful transition of power — something that had never been achieved in human history in such a way or on as grand a scale.

Eight years later, when Washington handed over the presidency to the newly-elected John Adams in 1797, it was more than a notion; it was a reality. But more importantly, it was an example of how a nation of people could participate in a process of discussion, debate and even disagreement but still emerge unified as Americans thanks to a shared belief in our nation’s Constitution and what it represents. 

However, this morning as I sat listening to coverage of the inauguration taking place in our nation’s Capitol, I was struck by the notion of another inauguration taking place almost simultaneously just a few miles away at our local elementary school.

As President Trump addressed the American people promising a new direction, a “return to greatness” and more accountability in government, 8-year-old Grace Dotson stood before her third-grade constituents and spoke about the basic principles that make a democracy.

How every voice counts.

How voting is a part of that voice.

And how participation is important.

Grace and her classmates already understand — and have participated in — the fundamentals of a working and successful democracy thanks to a classroom election that began in November and mirrored our national process — except without the name calling.

Like President Trump, an Oath of Office was administered to President Dotson today, although with notably less fanfare than was taking place in our nation’s Capitol.

No crowd control.

No military bands.

No live coverage on media platforms around the world.

Because of this, we often forget that the heart of democracy isn’t in Washington D.C. It beats within the hearts of Americans of all ages through their faith in, understanding of and commitment to the ideals we share as a nation.

Those ideals don’t begin in grandeur within the halls of the Capitol Building. They start small, with citizens and communities willing to voice those ideals to their elected officials at the city, county, state and, eventually, federal level. It’s important to remember that the biggest part of a democracy is that it starts small. It’s not a large rock lobbed into the center of the lake; it’s the ripple effect caused by Americans willing to take the time to toss enough small pebbles into the same lake.

For that reason, those who supported President Trump have a right to be happy; those who didn’t support him have a right to be unhappy. But as Americans, we have a much more important right, which is to be active participants in our democracy now and in the years ahead.

This morning, while our nation participated in another peaceful transition of power in the aftermath of one of the most polarizing elections in American history, a small group of students some 2,833 miles away here in Florence, Ore., were participating in their own version of the democratic process — and beginning their own ripple effect by embracing the ideals that have served us well for nearly 230 years.

Ideals that live on in the hearts of small pebbles like Grace Dotson…






Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist for News Media Corporation and editor at Siuslaw News. He is the author of “Humor at the Speed of Life” and “Pearls of Writing Wisdom: From 16 shucking years as a columnist.” Write to him at


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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

26 thoughts on “The biggest thing about democracy is that it starts small”

  1. Hi Ned. I love this post. I commented on another post what a breath of fresh air (not in those words) it would be if the pomp and circumstance was skipped after the solemn swearing in of PoTUS. The person doing that job was hired. The money spent on the pomp could be better spent elsewhere.

    I hope Grace does her class proud.

    I hope this question doesn’t make e sound like a $&#)#. .Why wasn’t there a where to write before? I didn’t vote for DJT, I want to make that clear, so I’m not bagging. It is a good idea to put up a page like that. I hope the links stay forevermore.

    1. We’ve had a “Where to Write” section in our newspaper for many years. However, I think the idea of adding something like that to my blog isn’t a bad idea 😉

  2. An insightful commentary, as always. I would like to see a time when each registered voter would be presented with a pocket sized copy of the US Constitution. Further, I would like to see a time when all citizens demanded that their governmental officials, all levels, approached their duties within the limits of that document. A time when constitutional scholars would take on that mantle in an effort to defend the document rather than as a pathway to creating loopholes in it. Keep beating the drum, Ned, and more and more people will hear the cadence and march to it.

  3. An 8 year old won the school election? But why hasn’t her birth certificate not been released? And how could she possibly make a good leader if she never ran a business in her life? Why hadn’t she done anything to prevent 9/11? Impeach her! Send her to detention!!
    (Sorry, just giving a more complete picture of our democracy 🙂

      1. What?? This needs to be investigated! It should cost approximately a billion dollars and hopefully things won’t be overturned…..

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Ned. My husband and I are humbled that you mentioned our daughter in your inspiring writing.

  5. Great piece Ned.. It seems you are making some good improvements since becoming the editor. It is a good thing to include a “where to write” and what a fantastic thing to put on her resume! I bet Miss Grace has a future in politics! Well done! 🙂

    1. Thanks, my friend. This was my editorial for Saturday, which coincided with a piece one of our reporters did on Grace Dotson for the same issue. It was a great opportunity to offer some levity the day after the inauguration.

  6. Your country’s democratic power is about to be challenged like never before, Ned.
    Well, almost like never before; hopefully we won’t see another civil war.
    In the end though, you’re going to be all right.
    I’m guessing…

    1. I have faith in our system, even as whacked out as it is at the moment. But if anything good is going to come from all this, it’s a renewal of the commitment by media outlets to get back to the basics of solid reporting, and also our commitment as a nation to get involved in our own democracy.

No one is watching, I swear...

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