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.
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.