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Voices / Letters from readers

For many people in our nation, we’ve never had a democracy

What happened recently at our nation’s Capitol is being commonly described as an assault on our democracy. But that characterization sounds as if it’s something new and it fails to recognize the assaults that have been occurring in our country since its founding.

Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), other historically marginalized people, and those of lower income have been and are continuously assaulted. Sometimes these assaults have been physical, but other times they’ve been in the form of systemic biases. These biases exist in our judicial, policing, housing, education, financial, and hiring systems, which have unjustly prevented people from achieving the fulfilling life that our country’s founders promised.

So, for many people in our nation, we’ve never had a democracy.

I surmise that the feelings of anger, fear, frustration, despair, and sadness that many of us felt last week, especially those of us born into white privilege, are what many of our fellow Americans have been feeling as part of their daily lives.

White supremacist views are clearly, and sadly, an integral part of the country. Permanently blocking those supremacists from Twitter and Facebook accounts might make some of us feel like we’re taking action against those promoting hate, but we’re just driving those haters underground.

Those of us who have worked in conflict resolution know that doing so resolves nothing and, in fact, it makes the problem more insidious and difficult to deal with.

But there is hope for achieving a true democracy for everyone in our country. This will be achieved by at least two actions: (1) self-reflection regarding our own individual prejudices and biases that each of us carries, and (2) through factual and insightful education about our history and what it really means to form a true democracy for all of our country’s citizens and residents.

What happened has prompted many of us to start thinking along these lines, but as we’ve seen time and time again, the call for action following tragic events quickly fades.

If ever there was a time for change, it’s now. The receptivity is there. Leadership in our schools, government, businesses, and institutions have a prime opportunity to undo injustices in the systems they govern.

But, as in any democracy, it takes each of us to insist that our leadership actually do something beyond just spouting words and forming committees.

We must all stay vigilant and be willing to take some of the personal risks inherent in being actively involved in changing these systems with their deeply and historically embedded injustices, including unfair protection for those in power and penalties for those who speak out.

We are all part of keeping these systems alive. Let’s change them so they truly allow liberty and justice for all.

Michael Szostak

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Originally published in The Commons issue #595 (Wednesday, January 13, 2021). This story appeared on page B2.

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