This is What Democracy Looks Like
Last night, I took perhaps the most unique plane trip of my life, from Jacksonville, Florida to Washington, DC. For one, it was the most energetic and enthusiastic bunch of passengers I’ve ever encountered, but beyond the energy level, 90 of the 100 or so passengers were women. Most of whom were proudly sporting their pussy caps, ready and fired up for the historic Women’s March today. This is democracy in action: hundreds of thousand of protesters in the air and on the highways, simultaneously descending on the nation’s capital to have their voices heard.
Earlier in the day, we watched as our new president took office, much to the delight of his supporters but the utter dismay of so many of the rest of us. Waiting for my plane, I read about an exchange between a protester and a Trump supporter, in which protestors were shouting, “this is what democracy looks like!” To which the Trump fan shouted back, “no, this is what democracy looks like,” referring to the inaugural parade behind him.
Fact is, while folks from either side may disagree with this, both sides are right.
Democracy is both the support of our candidates through the voting process, and it is the gathering of protesters in the square and on the street.
A healthy democracy, on the other hand, definitely has nothing to do with the acts of violence perpetrated by some protestors in the inauguration parades yesterday. That is a stain on the movement and detrimental to the democratic process, which relies on the ability of members of the populace to consider multiple viewpoints, to discuss issues and compare options, and to work together towards collectively beneficial solutions. These acts of violence and aggression only ensure that one side will never again listen to the perspective of the other. Particularly the guy who drove up from Florida with his car covered in Trump stickers, only to have it destroyed by protestors – his fierce resistance to all things liberal is quite assured at this point.
However, a healthy democracy also relies on a helluva lot more than just standing up once every four years to cast a ballot for one side or the other, and then resting our hopes on one man (or we can still hope that someday – one woman) to solve our societal problems.
This kind of occasional participation is a sign of a democracy in trouble.
What I saw today in the Women’s March, though, was a thriving democracy. Democracy at its finest.
Today I saw people from all sides of the country, north, south, east, and west, coming together to stand up for the rights of all Americans. These were Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and perhaps many other faiths. These were women and men, young and old, rich and poor, black, white, Latino, Asian, and Middle Eastern people. City livers and rural folk alike.
This was perhaps the best cross section of America I’ve ever seen come together for any cause. Likely because the issues facing some citizens reflect the issues that face all of us as citizens.
This was a crowd that showed up to remind our leaders that all voices matter.
The rural blue collar workers who have seen job loss, rising cost of life, and dwindling wages for years made a powerful statement this election. And it’s clear that very few have benefited massively over the past decades while these and many other communities in America have suffered.
But there are many more voices that were heard today: women who are sick of their bodies and minds being disrespected by men more powerful than them; Mexicans and other immigrants who have come to this country to work hard and fulfill the American dream alongside the rest of us who have had those opportunities, only to be confronted by discrimination and sometimes outright hatred; Muslims who rightfully fear for their place in America and their personal safety, because of the ignorance that drives violence and nationalistic aggression on all sides; the LGTBQ community that has suffered discrimination, ridicule, and violence; and African Americans, who have suffered so long the discontent of living in a society that has left them behind and has frequently excluded them from enjoying the fruits of the American dream, both by force and by more subtle, systemic discrimination.
Today we saw America standing together to amplify those voices.
These were American citizens exercising the most powerful weapon we have as members of this country: our unity.
One could feel nothing but optimism and hope in the air, despite the fears that all of us share about the next four years. After an inaugural speech laced with darkness, hearing Trump’s apocalyptic vision of the current state of America, it would be easy for all these voices left behind to cower down in fear and disillusionment. But these 500,000 or more citizens stood together, marched together, and vowed to continue working together to protect the rights of all.
I’ve no doubt that these next four years will see some significant, and perhaps at times very turbulent change. We can only hope that our fears about Trump are misplaced or exaggerated, and that the dark picture he painted yesterday to describe the present doesn’t in fact become our future.
Judging from the force of protest, the will of the people to stand up to injustice, I see a much brighter future. Democracy in this country is designed to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Whatever these next years bring, we will continue to stand together and demand justice from our leaders at all levels of society, and we will protect those who are threatened by discrimination or who are excluded from pursuing the American dream. We will do this through the power of our unified voices and our dedicated, collective action.
That is what democracy looks like.