Unwinding democracy – live in action

I’ve been participating in the local community events over the past few weeks in an attempt to understand how different perspectives of people from different backgrounds are shaping the current debates around immigration, religion, healthcare and a whole gamut of other issues.

The events ranged from a

  • massive march in solidarity of the workers, the women and just about anyone and everyone fighting to claim access to equal opportunities
  • a closed indoor gathering of people from all walks of lives to educate and organize themselves
  • the local council meeting of a town held in response to discuss and debate sanctuary cities

Who participated in the events?

It was a great mix of different cultures, different races, different ethnicities coming from very very different backgrounds – some which we can relate to and some we cannot even fathom. But despite the diversity What got all of us (me included) together is the willingness to take part in the politics at the local level because the decisions taken this level directly impact us, so we can come together, become aware and become more organized in our efforts.

Democracy alive and kicking 

Exhibit 1:

It was just about 7:00 pm on a Thursday night. The auditorium of the elementary school was already packed and there were several people standing right next to the door – I was one of them. There were 2 cops, one at each entrance of the auditorium. The city’s council men and women along with the Mayor took the center stage and they highlighted how the city was bustling with immigrants, immigrants who are legal. After what was a meticulously planned set of presentations, came the moment that first shocked me, then surprised me and then eventually calmed me. It was the moment when the floor was opened for Q&A.

And within a few seconds, there were about 15 people who lined up in front of the mike to ask questions. Below is a high level summary of the discussion.

Group 1 Group 2
Entry Went through all legal channels and consider anyone avoiding that should be punished People going through legal channels could afford to but those coming illegally feared for their lives and had no access to legal channels
Resource constraints Worry that those coming from outside the country illegally will put a lot of strain on the local resources Acknolwedge the initial constraints but believe that they will become tax payers and help contribute to the economy
Crime rate Worry that the unemployment and other basic rights issues will push the crime rates There is no data to prove this and if someone commits a crime then the law will take the necessary course of action
ICE actions ICE conducting the raids is justified. They are only deporting those have broken the law by entering the country illegally They are illegal due to circumstances and have not committed any crime and believe they should be given a fair chance

Time for an impromptu survey – Who do you think are the two Groups? 

Now let me reveal who the two GROUPS are – Group 1 were the legal immigrants (mostly Asians/Chinese) and Group 2 were the Americans (predominantly whites). Those in opposition were mostly concerned of the resource constraints and were not fundamentally opposed to the people coming in general. The council and the mayor understood that they need to better job to allay the fears and concerns of those opposing.

However, they were all in agreement that calling their cities as ‘Sanctuary’ cities is not acceptable for 2 major reasons

  • The definition of ‘Sanctuary’ cities is vague and as such cannot become the law
  • The fear of backlash from the Federal government

This debate was for the most part very civil since there was space for both the views, but they were also the occasional booing, shouting the other down and some very extreme views. At no point did the police intervene and the crowd along with the city council managed itself to allow a civil debate.

Exhibit 2:

The solidarity march on the International Women’s day was not just about women’s rights. It was about all the other groups who were fighting for the basic rights – the workers unions, the Muslim minorities, the Asian immigrants, the students, the professors and whole slew of other speakers from different walks of lives. The march was very well organized with proper police oversight and effective crowd management.

The defining moment for me was when two mothers took to the stage. Both of them lost their children to police shootings right in their homes. These incidents took place a few  years ago and they were still fighting for justice. They were openly criticizing NYPD for abusing their powers and how they not only committed these crimes but are also evading the justice.

It was the NYPD who was responsible for the march being conducted so peacefully but they were also being criticized at the same time. Dissent was openly being debated and discussed – a corner stone of a thriving democracy.

Exhibit 3:
There is a lot of debate and concerns about health care (repealing and replacing), about environment protection agencies funding etc, instead of these being living room arm chair critiques, local communities are engaging to educate themselves and organize to express their concerns to their local representatives.
The people would come to these meetings and go back with small action items that they would act on while continuing with their everyday lives. These included calling their local representatives, sending written requests and the occasional solidarity events to exert more pressure.

The new health bill getting rejected is an example of such direct action by the citizens.

So what have I learnt?

  • Democracy is hard work and to enjoy the fruits of a democracy, one must keep working and not simply vote and wait
  • Understanding issues without the labels (right, left, center, progressive etc.)
  • Opposing views are to be acknowledged, only then can something be done about them. Denying them will only increase the divide.
  • The basic rights – rights to livelihood, right to equal opportunities are at the crux of everything.

And lastly – get educated, become aware and get organized.

And finally 

Only love and more of it will trump hate

Only empathy and more of it will trump indifference

Only diversity and more of it will trump discrimination

Only peace and more of it will trump war

Only bridges and more of it will trump the divide

Only giving and more of it will trump inequality

Only freedom and more of it will trump oppression

Only respect and more of it will trump intolerance

Only action and more of it will trump status quo


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