Is Democracy Possible?


Is Democracy Possible in Chiropractic?


JC Smith, MA, DC

When I’ve suggested the concept of democracy in chiropractic in previous articles, I’m amazed by comments that suggest democracy in our profession is impossible. Too many warlords, too many opposing beliefs, too many difference schools of thought that would never agree to a unified profession. For whatever reasons, I’m told by some that democracy would become mob rule which suppresses minority viewpoints. Uh?


Perhaps I’m more of an optimist than some, but I think a profession-wide ballot to select our leadership and programs would work well. Yes, majority rule might suppress minority platforms just as it happens in our regular elections. But isn’t that the point of a democratic system? If your viewpoint is not supported by the majority, work to gain support until it does. It’s not really suppression as much as competition, and there will always be losers in any competition.


This dilemma about whether or not democracy could work in chiropractic reminds me of my days as a teacher/coach at Livingston College of Rutgers University. During my collegiate career running track and playing football at Cal, like most athletes we experienced the heavy-hand of authoritarian coaches who ran their team like a military boot camp. Indeed, their methods took most of the fun out of sports, which was sad considering the inherent enjoyment of sports.


While at Rutgers, I did my Masters thesis on the Dialectic of Sport. My goal was to show how play became work via organized sport. On one hand, play is naturally fun, every game is always different with unknown outcomes unlike work, which is not fun, totally predictable in its methodologies and outcomes. My point was when play is mixed with military, authoritarian mindsets, they changed the nature of play into work. In this light, sport is a combination of play with a strong work ethic that can sabotage the original intent of play—having fun.


When I arrived at Livingston College, a campus of multi-diversity where Rutgers sent its alternative and non-traditional students, they had one football team ran by a campus cop who envisioned himself as Vince Lombardi. Their first season was a whitewash with no victories even though they had plenty of talent. When I arrived at the beginning of their second season as an assistant coach I noticed his strong authoritarian methods which just weren’t working to bring out the excellence in his athletes.


After four games, the team had two wins and two loses, but they still weren’t playing up to their ability. Understanding how authoritarian coaches often take the wind out of athletes’ sails with their harsh coaching styles, I suggested to the team and coaches to have a democratic vote as to who started the games. We had a problem with favoritism by some coaches, first-stringers not showing up for practices, athletes playing in wrong positions for their skills, and a general lack of motivation and fun.


To my shock, I was amazed by the negative reactions to my suggestion to open the team operation to more egalitarian methods. Even the athletes didn’t like the idea of a vote for the starting lineup, citing possible racial undertones and cronyism. The assistant coaches weren’t supportive since their only model of coaching was the authoritarian model they’d experienced themselves as athletes. Of course, the head coach spit up his milk, gagged on it, and quit in protest hoping to oust me in a backlash by the team.


My  plea for a new system stemmed from my belief that athletics is for athletes, not coaches, fans, alumni, or for the administration. I felt if they created a fair and equitable atmosphere for the athletes to play, they might excel rather than flounder. Finally, I simply had to ask if they believed in democracy or not. If it’s good enough for our country, why wouldn’t it work for this small team? They finally agreed to give it a chance.


The first thing that happened at the next practice was most everyone changed positions. Apparently the former head coach who quit never asked anyone where they wanted to play—he simply assigned them a position. The most notable case was a tall, lean third-string tight end who asked me if he could play quarterback. I remarked that’s a very skilled position to play and asked him if he had any experience. “Well,” he replied, “in high school in Kentucky I was all-state at quarterback.” He picked up the football and threw it 60 yards. When my mouth finally closed from gasping, I asked him how did he get to become a third-string tight end? As I mentioned, the previous head coached looked at him the first day and decided he was a tight end, never asking him where he preferred to play.


The next game was a disaster in terms of organization. Although we out-gained Brooklyn College by twice the yardage, the athletes and coaches were stymied without the head coach barking orders, so confusion reigned supreme and we barely lost by a close score in a game we all knew we should have won. This led to another team meeting and we solved this confusion by creating Offensive and Defensive Coordinators who were in charge of helping the athlete call plays. It was my belief that coaches shouldn’t call the plays alone just as a teacher doesn’t answer test questions for her students. I suggested that we see how well the players had learned their lessons by calling the plays themselves.


After the re-organization occurred, the team proceeded to win its remaining five games all by shut-outs. Their play went to the next level of excellence and enjoyment. After finishing in last place the year before, they won their league championship. I thought this turn-around proved that when people or players have a say in their destiny, they will perform at a higher level. Ironically, after I left the team to coach baseball and volleyball to do the same democratization, the football coaches resorted back to their autocratic ways and the team’s performance gradually fell back to the less-than-average team within two years. Apparently changing old attitudes is difficult even in light of a positive example.


I imagine in chiropractic we would see the same fears and worries. War lords won’t agree to a democratic vote for fear of losing their grip and money, as we saw with Big Sid’s and Gerry Clum’s resistance to Mike Pedigo’s Merger effort. (Actually it was the same two presidents who objected to CCE raising requirements which makes one wonder if they’re simply anti-progress on every issue?) Despite the fact that the ICA members voted for merger with over 50% of the votes, two-thirds were required by their bylaws. (Oddly, Clum later wrote articles proclaiming a great victory for the ICA even though the majority of ICA members obviously wanted unity)


Even if merger would have happened, I daresay many hard-core hate-straight demagogues would still object and preach their doomsday dogma that if their agenda isn’t followed—“pure” chiropractic will be lost, or so they tell their mesmerized followers. Others still preach a secessionist attitude as we read in McCoy’s articles in Rondberg’s flaky tabloid. Others object to a unified front for fear of losing their own identity and not wanting to be contaminated by mixers.


Although there are many small reasons to object, none are sufficient to make me believe that democracy in chiropractic wouldn’t work well. Just as when the Republicans lost to the Democrats in the last presidential election, the Republican Party didn’t collapse, nor was it suppressed by the Democrats. Minority planks simply need to gather more support to win an election which would only foster the development of their platforms. Any fear of mob rule would be nonsense in this format.


If we had a profession-wide vote to elect one national spokesman and to consolidate the ICA and ACA into one group, the benefits would be enormous in terms of manpower and projecting a unified front to the legislators—the United Chiropractic Association. If and when this profession realizes the need to re-invent itself, this merger would be a good starting point. From a unified front we could project more political power and an improved PR image to the press and politicians. I think everyone would like to see our profession gets its act together this way except for some petty, counter-revolutionary warlords who stand to profit by their dissension.


I recall a conversation once with Dr. Jerry McAndrews about the medical boycott and their propaganda’s affect upon our public image. He commented it would take three generations before it was overcome by rational thought. If his generation was the first, mine is the second, and the new grads are the third generation who may not be hampered by this medical stigma.


I think the same can be said about the Unity issue within chiropractic. As this new generation of highly educated students realize the need for one solid political front and for a positive PR image, they will overcome the small-minded warlords who conspire to profit by this factionalism. They will ignore the ranting of chirovangelists who mesmerize the weak-of-spirit who need metaphysical concepts. They will laugh at the self-proclaimed “principled, subluxation-based” practitioners in lieu of a “principled, patient-based” approach where patients’ needs supersede DCs’ rhetoric. And in order to have this natural professional evolution occur, they just might resort to a democratic process to achieve it.


But, what do I know? I’m just a mixer watching demagogues exploit this profession as the silent majority sit on their hands wondering when things will improve.