Back Story

Democracy, in three acts

Thirty-two years ago, when D. was graduating from law school and applying to work in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, the FBI came knocking. As a prospective federal employee, he was subject to a security review and clearance. The FBI wanted to know all sorts of things about him: workout routines, alcohol use, ways of handling stress. I thought it was pretty funny when the agent asked me if I would describe my relationship with the man I lived with as “personal or professional”.

They also wanted to know if he was “patriotic”.

I paused a moment, letting the question sink in. “I think anyone who wants to devote his time and talent to protecting the civil rights of Americans is patriotic… Don’t you?”

~ ~ ~

At some point in the war with Iraq, drivers in our area protested U.S. actions by slowing traffic, bringing the teeming roads of the entire metropolitan area to a stand-still. School children sat on buses for a long time that morning. It was a mess.

A colleague, in from out of town and supportive of the administration, was beside herself. “In a time of war, people should support the president,” she fumed. “It’s your duty as Americans!”

“Then what is it people should be fighting for, if it isn’t the right to select or maybe object to our own leadership?” I wanted to know. “Isn’t this the very stuff of democracy?”

“Maybe,” she allowed, “But I don’t like it….”

~ ~ ~

Last night I sat in a room of more than 70 people, peacefully assembled, to consider our rights and duties in the face of regime and trajectory we find deeply troubling.

I listened as people explored their hopes and fears and considered our collective options. My deepest, gut-gnawing fear is that we will discover just how fragile democracy is. That something will break that simply can’t be restored. I vacillate between visions of that awful prospect and a persistent, determined belief in the resilience of that same potentially imperiled system. dont-stop

What I heard gave me hope.What I heard was a deep respect for and faith in America’s fundamental structures and institutions. For the Constitution. For the judiciary. For citizen engagement and voter empowerment. For the future.

I thought: this is what democracy looks like.


3 thoughts on “Democracy, in three acts

  1. Thank you Lynn. I am optimistic. We have a much greater clarity of who we really are and who we ant to be as a unit. I see us as kind, compassionate, loving, & smart. Our shared ideas for humanities highest & best interest is more apparent than ever before, from bumper stickers to signs in the streets – we are united. It seems to be taking some people longer than others to understand and I do have compassion for them. Most are really truly afraid, some are glued to Fox News which creates more fear, or uneducated enough to believe we need to roll back time or that it is even possible, or so prideful they struggle admitting mistakes, or they want to be on the side of the bully for power or money or to somehow be spared … I could go on and on. I just spent 10 days in East Texas (very different than Austin, where I live) and I listened. Everyone knew, or at least thought I was on a different team – afterall, I am from Austin- I found as I listened, trying to grasp some understanding without defending any position, people shared more and more. Honestly, it was heartbreaking. We are all – well most people- inherantly good, the Light we are Shining will prevail, I am certain of it. We must persist in shinning as it looks like it may take some folks longer to come into the light. I greatly appreciate you.


    1. In the Quaker faith of my upbringing, we speak of holding someone in the light, of holding space and and hope and faith that good will prevail and keeping that person – any person – in our hearts with that spirit foremost. Its a useful frame right now.


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