Democracy in three acts

IMG_1126“This is what democracy looks like!” we chanted as we sloshed around downtown Winston-Salem through the late Spring wet snow. Thousands of moms, dad, sisters and brothers had huddled under umbrellas as one startling young voice after another took aim at the NRA and any one of the legislators who takes money from them. There was grief, but mostly anguished anger. Our senators Burr and Tillis are among the top national recipients of NRA money. Our congresswoman gives herself away for nearly free, but sleeps with the same political fleas.

The morning before the march, the county Democratic party met in a high school named Parkland getting the groaning, clanking machinery of democracy in gear. Party politics is incredibly mundane and prosaic; very, very normal people doing the next required political thing for no money at all. Amazing it happens at all. In our county a key reason is attorney Eric Ellison whose brother is a congressman from Minnesota. Eric is in the deep red territory of North Carolina, but fighting just as brilliant and tenacious fight way out of the spotlight.

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Jenny Marshall hoping to be the Democratic candidate for NC 5 District of the US House.

Every single Democratic candidate for school board, sheriff, city and county offices spoke, seeking support and energy. The very first may have been most important, Jenny Marshall, a school teacher speaking with precision about why she is running for the first time for Congress. DD Adams, her primary opponent, is more used to revving up the crowd as a City Councilwoman. Either one will struggle for votes outside the city in a district that runs to the Virginia line, but the winds of change are high and like thousands of women running this year, they are drawing from a deep well of energy.

The county and state party has more money on hand than ever before in its history at this stage in an election cycle, so there is good reason to feel hopeful about breaking the republican majority in congress and the supermajority at the state level where the regressive actions have reached absurd lengths. At least it’s a fair fight; all a grown-up wants.

You can feel the wind shifting, the block and tackling stiffen as the sails snap to catch it.

This is exactly what democracy looks like.

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This picture has hung in the halls of Shaw University for a hundred years as a witness the power never concedes without a well-educated demand.

Fredrick Douglas, born two hundred years ago, inspired generations of African American leaders in far bitter circumstances: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” He would see Cambridge Analytica as poofs compared to slaveholding Klan and disdain any who feared the battle with such. Quit whining; go vote.

He lived long enough to see Shaw University rise off the tortured southern ground in Raleigh to educate thousands. Friday the National Academies of Science held one of its formal workshops in Boyd Chapel to study the role of faith-based assets and the health of the whole population, black, white, brown, in or out of fashion. President Dr. Paulette Dillard told the story of Shaw’s iconic history as a Baptist mission to becoming the first four-year medical school in the nation. That history has been a winding and fraught road buffeted by the continual gales of racism and privilege, including losing that proud medical school at the raw hands of the Flexner Reforms (while the little two-year program up the road at Wake Forest passed through).

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Dr. Prabhjot Singh opens the National Academies of Science workshop on faith-based assets in Boyd Chapel at Shaw University.

Douglas’ picture hangs outside her office at Shaw because of another quote: ““It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” While we obviously have hundreds of broken men in positions of political power today, Douglas would focus on raising up the young. He would be cheer the young voices filling the public square, rising up strong and sharp, and clap as Emma wielded silence like a scalpel.

Saturday afternoon I gathered with others in Winston-Salem, one of 800 marches around the world to call BS on the politicians. I had seen one of the speakers before, this 14-year old young woman asking the adults to protect her generation from irrational violence.  Twenty years ago she had been my daughter Lauren at the microphone after Columbine. She, with bullets still flying, is a mom, afraid for her own kids. Back then a ridiculous radio blow-hard named Neal Boortz tried to bully her on his stupid show. It is amazing that poorly educated adults always underestimate brilliantly formed students. She challenged Boortz to a debate, which he ducked, of course. She called BS, confident she’d have the last word given their ages. She is now the most produced playwright in America, while he is blogging somewhere on the edges. He’s the same age as the fellow living in our white house, which makes the point that soon the whole generation of ridiculous blow-hards will pass.

In the meantime a gaggle of idiots has risen up to be voted out. That will not happen by magic, not on TV or Facebook or even in political conventions. It happens in the voting booth, usually when one citizen has asked another to show up and vote.

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President Paulette Dillard of Shaw University speaks to the long tenacity of the Shaw witness to hope and intelligence.

There is angst about the power of computer manipulation and dirty political money. But what could be more American than dirty politics, from counting Frederick Douglas as 3/5th human to the shamelessness of Alabama literacy test to New York’s famously fraudulent voter lists. You don’t have to join them, but you do have to beat them the old fashioned way, one vote one at a time. Facebook manipulations swaying merely a percent here or there are minor compared to the old frauds. Our electoral abyss is entirely on us, the grown-ups who have allowed such transparent piffle to get within cheating range of office. We whine about the billionaires’ money, but we moderates spend billions on hamburgers and wine; plenty to fund any political action needed to stabilize our melting democracy.

The Republicans should, of course, be ashamed of themselves. They deserve the certain bitter flood of revulsion for what they’ve done with the party of Lincoln (who Douglas served in the same White House where John Bolton now runs loose).

That’s not my problem; I’m personally ashamed of my grown-ups, the ones who have allowed ourselves to be out-spent and out-organized by the NRA twenty years after Columbine. Those folks are always going to be present on the edges of the big tent of America. But we should be ashamed before our children that we permitted them to rent the kitchen of democracy.

I’m especially embarrassed as one of the generation of faith leaders who have allowed the gospel of justice and mercy to be out-organized by the same kind of religious Pharisees that killed Jesus. People like Franklin Graham are a problem; but we’re the problem for allowing his ilk to pimp the gospel of mercy into a right wing jailhouse punk.

It is a long time till November. Expect more hand-wringing from adults who will, of course, profess shock over the other shootings certain to ricochet here and there across the villages in the next months. We could wait for the next rounds of bullets to march again. I promise you, they don’t care about us walking around the block. It is the ballots.

Elections are about one citizen getting more votes than another. So go find a decent human running for office and give them your time and some money.

Find out what precinct you are in and who the chair of the democratic party there is—and ask to help. Address some postcard, knock on a couple dozen doors. Don’t forget to give them some money, too. You’ll find there about a dozen nice people involved in most precincts, so you’ll immediately be a jolt of welcome energy. You’ll like it.

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Stained glass in Boyd Chapel. I think that bird looks serious.

Democracy is about who shows up. So show up with enough intelligence and energy to be attractive to at least one other voter who might catch enough whiff of hope to show up, too. Make sure they register to vote. Then remember to call them in November with an offer to give them a ride to vote.

It will feel good and hopeful; you’ll probably find yourself doing it more than once.

This is what democracy feels like.

About garygunderson

Vice President, Faith Health, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders and Religion and the Heath of the Public. Secretary, Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group).
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2 Responses to Democracy in three acts

  1. Thank you, Gary, for another insightful and challenging word!

  2. Gerald Winslow says:

    I am grateful that I was able to watch most of the recent conference at Shaw U. via the internet. And I’m grateful for your message, Gary, reminding all of us to “show up” for democracy. I will.

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