Opinion » Rhetoric & Reason

Fragile democracy



My early political conversations existed mostly on the other side of the aisle from where I stand today. I was surrounded by a conservative Christian community, which couldn't for a moment entertain a woman's right to choose or embrace the reality of a woman marrying a woman or put health care for all above profit for self. I struggled in that space, quietly questioning, pushing boundaries, challenging narratives. How can one group of people decide the worth and value of another's life or limit their access and freedoms? How can we not honor the intrinsic equity of human life? I struggled over the pressures and confusions of these questions until one day in my 20s, I left it behind. I walked into a discovery of my love of democracy. A democracy of radical acceptance and justice and love.

I know now that the questions I was asking then are the fundamental questions of democracy. The great Terry Tempest Williams says: "The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?"

As I began to tune in to the shaping of American democracy and the power of electoral politics, I was inspired, I was motivated, engaged, curious—even, dare I say, hopeful. I saw within the political process a possibility that our communities would bring to life true equity and inclusion, health and freedom, a balanced economy and sustainable housing, a thriving climate and justice for all. I found hope in democracy for a future that included me and my neighbors who didn't look like me or think like me. For my co-worker who lost her life to patriarchal gun violence, for the lone Black student in my sixth grade class who endured normalized racism day after day, for the transgendered daughter of my best friend who was being discriminated against by the leadership of her school. Democracy held a hope and a possibility for a more beautiful world, as Charles Eisenstein says.

I have held this love of democracy close, teaching my kids how to uphold a fair and just process, and facilitating conversations with others as they bravely enter the space of seeing one another. I have advocated and campaigned, stood in the gap when division and separation threatened communities and built relationships across chasms to discover that showing up for one another is where the magic happens.

During these last years, we have seen everyday attacks on our democracy become normalized. Access to health care was stripped away, lands were fracked, rainbow flags were burned, children were put in cages, families were separated, Asian women were attacked in the streets, and Black men were murdered by the police. This isn't partisan politics—this was the degradation of humanity, a systematic assault on our democracy. People have spent their days anticipating and reacting to the everyday assaults on our freedom and our humanity while others barely seemed to notice. All the while, the right has quietly and strategically made a slow and deliberate attack day by day not just on our freedoms, but on our ability to fight for our freedom at all.

Democracy is and always has been fragile and vulnerable and not to be taken for granted. In its very nature, democracy leaves room for disagreement, even ardent disagreement, while creating the structure for decisions to be made peaceably to move communities forward. But the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was the outcome of a sustained assault on the foundations that make democracy possible. The irrational subversion of truth undermining the credibility of the process, the persistent denigration of the rights of others, and the swift dismantling of democratic norms have all been designed to lead to the death of democracy as we know it.

Republicans currently have 389 bills in 48 states that would suppress the right to vote. And with the SLO County Board of Supervisors enacting irrational campaign donation limits, restricting voting access, and taking away automatic vote-by-mail ballots, gerrymandering the redistricting process as we speak, and their most recent inaction to meaningfully address unabashed racist attacks on our county clerk recorder, it is clear that voter suppression is gaining traction. We know the future of American democracy is at stake. But why aren't more people outraged?

We don't seem to be taking this as the personal attack it is. If you are frustrated about the lack of mental health care, or policing, or housing prices, or resources for the houseless community, or climate inaction, or our racist district attorney, your attention should be on what is happening at the county Board of Supervisors. Over the next six months, our five supervisors will decide if democracy lives to see another day or if our future will be decided without us. If democracy dies in SLO County, who will we become? And what story will you tell? Δ

Quinn Brady (she/her) is a community advocate, organizer and mother on the Central Coast. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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