Democracy isn’t a state of being, it is a process. To be democratic, to live in democracy, is to participate boldly with our neighbors in the collaborative decision making that is governance.
We’ve seen many instances in the last 40 years of anti-democratic movements gaining momentum. But we have to ask ourselves, do we truly want to be a democracy? That would mean that we’d have to let go of the myth of the American Dream. Or… we would have to work together to make it reality.
Folks seem a little extra right now. Angry and tired, and ready for someone to blame. The racists want to blame immigrants or BLM or Libtards. Liberals want to blame the GOP. Some of this anger comes from righteousness, some of it is imagined or based on disinformation.
Yet these grievances, real or imagined, can easily escalate toward violence when triggered. This can happen in the matter of minutes, hours, or over decades. Shrewd politicians use these grievances to implore voters to the polls or, in extreme cases, radicalize crowds toward violence (hello January 6th).
We hope for politicians who can work with policy experts to identify grievances in order to offer thoughtful solutions. Yet we continue to elect folks with a vested interest in the status quo. Sure there are a few progressives … but look at the national stage. Congress is made of an increasingly extremist right-wing and an increasingly do-nothing, make no waves middle of the road “left.”
Conservatives and liberals are not enemies – or shouldn’t be. Right? Life isn’t a zero sum game. There aren’t winners and losers. I mean, if you believed that … shit, I hope you wouldn’t have kids. So, we must do more to de-radicalize the many Americans who have bought into that very idea that one neighbor is the enemy of another because some dude in a bow tie says you are.
Politics is the act of collaborative decision making, as Raphael Bostic was fond of saying. If we can’t collaborate to come to agreements … we aren’t governing. We aren’t politicking. We sure aren’t leading.
Yet … we keep going this way. Of course we do … a certain few keep filling their coffers.
Where do we go from here?
First, seek to understand. To understand political power, voter preference, radicalization, to understand what it means to be part of community, to be a participant in democratic action, to be a global citizen on this particular planet. Understanding means doing the hard part; reaching out. What grievances are valid? Let’s make them known, and work toward positive communal policies to address them.
I hope as we come out of the pandemic (hopefully), that we can strive for an open minds, seeking to understand. That we can be open to the pain of others, be vulnerable with the pain we carry, be alerted to the pain we may cause, be vulnerable to the lessons learned, learn from leaders who strive to build people up, lift up those around us, learn from neighbors who have lived different lives than ours; the we be good neighbors.
We are in a time of great change and great turmoil. It is also a time of great possibility. Let’s take as many moments that we can in the coming years to seek to understand, to work toward the better union.
We really are in this together. Until we decide to be good to each other, we will fail the democratic experiment that is these United States.
We’ve been failing all along.
We know it, some of us can’t face it, some of us don’t care, some of us revel in the inequity.
Is the experiment truly dead?
I hope it’s only mostly dead.
a version of this was originally published here in January 2021.