Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What Does Democracy Look Like?

I am not a protester by nature. Well that's not strictly true. I have strong opinions and I don't hold them back.  I prefer to do it with the written word from the comfort of my home, allowing me to be thoughtful in my approach. In real time, I can be a bit of a hothead. Most of the time my Midwestern roots kick in and I bite my tongue. Still my husband has watched me nervously in airports when I've not been happy about how things were unfolding, worrying a bit that I might push my displeasure too far.

Part of my aversion to "in the streets protesting" is that I don't like crowds. It is not just the discomfort of crowds.  I don't quite trust a crowd mentality, on the left any more than on the right. I prefer nuanced well-thought-out and articulated ideas and those come from a different channel. In today’s environment, I am rethinking my resistance to crowds and protest. 

After the election when we both were deeply distressed, my husband did a lot of preaching to the choir. That's me. Fortunately, we share the same views and the same distress. I kept saying, "We should all be out in the streets!" This choir was ready to sing, albeit a tad off key. My crowd aversion was quickly forgotten. When things are so wrong, my instinct is to take to the streets to declare it.

It was a small step from that sentiment to attending the Women's March in DC and that caused me to reassess my crowd aversion. It was a joyous and inclusive crowd, driven by the same instinctive awareness of wrongness that drove me. There is a time to take to the streets and this is it. Marching to the chant of "Tell me what Democracy looks like.  This is what Democracy looks like" felt absolutely right deep inside.  I chanted with fervor, believing those words. I believe in democracy and inclusiveness and yes, kindness.  Those are the things for which I am comfortable protesting.

You know it's bad when Ole and Lena protest
You know it's bad when Sven and Ole protest
The action against immigrants and refugees upset me more than anything prior and between choice, health care and the environment, that is saying a lot.  I think it is because we can clearly see the impact on people. To me, it feels personal. My grandparents were immigrants and fortunate to have immigrated in the early 1900s. Had they waited until the middle of the century, they would likely not have escaped. Jews were not welcome in the United States and many were turned away and sent to their death. Many of my family did not make it out. With fifty family members murdered in the Holocaust, I am well aware that in another time, I could easily have been trapped on the other side. I also realize that it takes a certain comfort in one's safety and place in the world to challenge, to protest. I imagine that few of those detained felt that safety. For that reason, I have a responsibility to protest on their behalf.

Responsibility. That is a lot of what it boils down to.  Lately my husband and I have talked a lot about personal responsibility. We are fortunate to have flexible time and the financial ability to support causes that matter to us, to grab a flight to join a protest in DC or elsewhere. That underscores our responsibility and eliminates many of the excuses we are often prone to for not engaging.

This feels like a pivotal point and I have been trying to find the best ways to respond. When the news broke barring immigrants from seven Muslim countries, I wrote to my senators and congressman. My congressman, a conservative Republican, gets a steady stream of notes from me. He needs the most prodding. I gave money to the National Immigration Law Center, I signed a petition and posted information, all pretty small steps. 

I was greatly heartened however by the protests at the airports. There is something about showing up that feels important. It is how we say "This is not normal nor right".  Our biggest threat is if we allow these government actions to become the new normal, if we post on Facebook and then move on with our everyday lives. Protesting requires our bodies to follow through and there is something about that physical action that kicks the rest of us into motion.  It is the difference between a spectator sport and actually playing.

You know it's bad when Susan and Marty protest

The United States has not always inspired pride.There have been times when it was mired in isolationism and bigotry, much as is threatened today. I hope we can help our country be one of which we can be proud, but I know it takes critical mass and I can't make it happen by myself. So tonight, I did something about it.

My husband and I went to a political protest this evening.  We first stopped at our studio to make a sign, then joined at least 5000 people in downtown Minneapolis. When we first arrived, I spotted an artist friend. She told us that she had gone to the Women's March in St Paul, her first protest. Her friend commented that this evening was her first protest.  That is what I find remarkable. People who would normally never protest are stirred to action, so disturbed that they are taking to the streets. Tonight, I chanted loudly, half dancing down the streets of downtown, feeling the energy of the crowd and grateful for our shared passion. 

This is what Democracy looks like.

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