It is July 4th and I have these questions for myself: how courageous am I? What must I do, what must we do, to make this democracy work?
We celebrate today our independence from monarchy and autocracy. We say we celebrate the birth of democracy, or at least the quest for democracy in this place, in this time; a quest for a home where we might have, as the founders later described it in the Declaration of Independence, the right for all to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Or in the pledge, we say “with liberty and justice for all.” In 1776, these grand statements were not even close to reality. Only white, male landowners could vote. But how courageous would I be in advancing that reality, that quest for democracy for all?
Yesterday, I was listening to an NPR podcast, This American Life, about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The movement was being torn down, suppressed, demonstrators jailed, or worse. But they went ahead anyway. The quest is worldwide and ongoing.
In the US in 2020, following the murder by police of George Floyd, in Minneapolis where he was killed, in Louisville, St. Louis, Austin, Seattle, Portland, New York, Washington, D. C.⎼ all through the U. S. and the world, protests were held. The protests I attended were peaceful.
2020 was a year when the federal government itself had become the greatest threat to democracy itself, and we had the most protests in our history. Black Lives Matter became the biggest protest movement in our history, mostly peaceful protests, calling for justice for George Floyd and other black people. There were also demonstrations calling for equity in education, for protecting the environment, protecting school children from guns or immigrant children from being separated from their parents, for protecting our humanity, voting rights, civil rights, the rule of law, etc. This is one way to care for democracy.
Peaceful protests were met by a President who fueled the flames, sent in armed forces and created even more chaos. DT tried to blame much of the violence we saw in 2020, and the beginning of 2021, on BLM, or on non-existent “anti-Fascist” groups, while he was the person most fueling violence. Yet, the BLM protests went on despite threats against them.
This morning, I was reading the summer issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Guide. There was an article by Kaira Jewel Lingo titled “How Equanimity Powers Love.” She quoted a poem by Vietnamese Buddhist teacher and activist Thich Nhat Hanh. During the war in Vietnam, Thich was seen as a traitor by both the North and South Vietnamese armies. Yet, he demonstrated, spoke out anyway against the killing and destruction.
He wrote a poem, “Recommendation”⎼
“Promise me… Even as they strike you down
With a mountain of hatred and violence…
The only thing worthy of you is compassion…”
The article also quotes Martin Luther King, Jr’s essay “Loving Your Enemies” ⎼ “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.”
And then there were the wars fought, the Civil War, World War I and II.
I don’t know if I have the strength for such courage, equanimity, or love. I know I will resist the start of a war. And I know I lack the capacity to ignore what the followers of DT, the GOP, are doing now to deny us voting rights, to deny our humanity, deny the science of global warming as they did COVID-19. To lie about their coup attempt on Jan. 6, or their drive to turn the many colors of this nation to one color. Or to turn back the clock, to turn this nation back to an autocracy, maybe a worse autocracy even than the one against which we fought a revolution.
On July 4th, isn’t this the question we should be asking ourselves? What does democracy mean to me, or require from me? It is clearly not something at a distance from us.
Maybe in the past, maybe before DT and the pandemic, we let this question fall to the back of our minds and hearts. But now, we all know its central place in our lives. We know democracy is not simply a holiday we celebrate one day in July and one day in November. It is a form of relationship, or something living we are part of, that is constantly changing and constantly in need of care.
How do we feed and care for it, so it feeds and cares for us?
*This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project. Feel free to take look.