“Democracy has taken a number of forms, both in theory and practice. Some varieties of democracy provide better representation and more freedom for their citizens than others. However, if any democracy is not structured so as to prohibit the government from excluding the people from the legislative process, or any branch of government from altering the separation of powers in its own favor, then a branch of the system can accumulate too much power and destroy the democracy.” –Wikipedia.
Last week my husband Dave and I, along with our friends, Mary Jo and Brent, drove to Washington DC to take part in the Women’s March on Washington. We arrived a couple days early and stayed in a historic AirBnB just blocks from where Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, and a few miles from the field where over 8,000 soldiers died in a three day battle.
Four people in their 60s, willing to drive over 1,200 miles to protest what we saw as a growing threat to our civil liberties. On that day, this is what democracy looked like.
Our local newspaper interviewed Mary Jo and me when they heard we were going. As we were driving through Indiana we learned that our story was on the front page. This spurred many Facebook comments and text messages thanking us for marching, and for making our opinion public. Many told us they were empowered by this, and no longer felt alone. For me, this is what democracy looks like.
The next day, while a man many categorize as a dishonest and corrupt sexual predator, who threatens our core values and personal freedoms, in short – our democracy, was sworn in as the 45th president, the four of us took to the museums and monuments that dot the Gettysburg area. In July of 1862, this is what democracy looked like.
The four of us gained a new perspective on the tensions that existed at that time, and likely will always exist in our society. We felt the gravity that in the middle of the 1800s, those very tensions caused brother to fight against brother defending with honor to the very last measure what each believed to be honest and good. We retired that night, hoping that Lincoln’s words would remain true, that we would never let that happen again.
After an unexpected trip to the ER in the wee hours of Saturday the 21st where Dave was treated and released for a severe asthma attack, we drove to the Shady Grove Metro station, 25 miles North of DC ready to embark on our march. We expected crowds, but when we arrived at the station, we were astounded to see full parking lots, standstill traffic, and an ever moving sea of pink hats. That morning, this is what democracy looked like.
Dave and Brent, who were initially going to march with Mary Jo and me, made the decision to stay behind, as it was clear the crowds and physical strain of the day would hinder Dave’s recovery. And so, the two of us waited, inching forward every twelve minutes over the span of two hours to board the metro that would take us to our nation’s capital. On that platform, and in that train, packed tightly together, we saw nothing but smiles. We spoke to people from all over, and they marveled at how far Mary Jo and I had come. As the train stopped to take on more passengers, a woman and her daughter boarded. The young girl carried a sign decorated with cotton balls and glitter, walking with difficulty on legs that were bent and wobbly. They no more than entered the car, when without a word, six people shifted position to make room for the girl and her mom to take a seat. In a crowd of thousands of people, that is what democracy looked like.
After another hour the train’s doors opened and we all spilled out onto the platform, linking arms, holding hands, and still smiling. We almost didn’t have to move our feet as we were carried along in a human wave toward 3rd Street and Independence Avenue, where the program was already underway. We never did get to the stage area, nor were we able to meet up with the people who had told us they would be there. There were just too many people, but every one of them were smiling. The only hint of violence we witnessed was a young man with his a personal loudspeaker who was shouting his own version of bible verses and condemning us all to hell. A group of women, spontaneously started chanting ‘Love trumps hate’ and closely surrounded the man, much the way that your immune system surrounds a virus. They were able to non-violently move him off the route. That was what democracy looked like.
According to my step counter, and my Google location history. Mary Jo and I walked over 6 miles that day, along with nearly half a million of our closest friends.
We heard that the organizers were unable to form us into an official march due to the massive nature of the crowd. But every street we saw was brimming with people as we moved along with our peaceful assembly. There were women, yes and men, and everything in-between. An array of cultures and ethnicities were represented as well, surprisingly many of whom were our age, carrying signs like “I can’t believe I have to protest this shit again,” and “girls just wanna have fun-damental rights.” For a few hours on Saturday, this is what democracy looked like.
We marched stores and restaurants, federal buildings, the Washington Monument and the White House, cheers erupting from within the group, or from the people lining the streets and steps. Short percussive chants broke out along the way as well. We’d hear things like “hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go,” and “hands too small, never gonna build a wall,” and “people united, we’ll never be divided!” But my favorite, and the sentiment that for me carried the day was when a lone voice would cry “Show me what democracy looks like!” The crowd, in unison, would answer, “This is what democracy looks like!” The first time I heard this call, was as we walked past the White House, and I was moved to tears. For me, this chant emphasized the fundamentally patriotic nature of why we were protesting. It also reminds all of us that democracy is meaningless without the right to peaceful assembly.
If you want to know what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like. I know I was there.