DISCLAIMER: TRIGGER WARNING. References to domestic violence.
Democracy is rusting sea-foam green in New York harbor—a French colossus given as a gift to remind us of the yoke we fled from and the prize we are reaching for. She was once bright as a penny, but the arranged marriage was loveless and has taken its toll. She welcomed for centuries the refuse from a thousand teeming shores until they grew jealous of the shelter of her skirt folds and decided her spacious skies were growing too full. The Mother of Exiles birthed the Fathers of Walls. They surrounded her with guards and guns and barbed wire fences. They equipped prison buses with child seats and lost the babies they strapped into them.
They grew industry and amassed wealth on the backs of humans they treated as property and Democracy grew too tired to fight. When she cried, she couldn’t be heard over the rattling of chains and the screams of the whipped. When she looked to Justice for help, she found they had blindfolded her sister’s eyes. Democracy now stands alone in the night, afraid to lift her lamp because the roaches don’t run from the light anymore.
Democracy is the trophy wife of capitalism. Abused, molested and debased, she covers her bruises with red, white and blue makeup so she can go out in public on her fourth of July anniversary. Rockefeller and Carnegie, J.P Morgan and Ford all kicked her nearly to death but brought her roses and apologies after. Now she waits for Bezos and Zuckerberg to come home drunk, secure in the fact that she is well-stocked in bandages and concealer. She believes that because she was born of flawed men that she herself is flawed and deserves her lot. She has forgotten that the sacred can be birthed from the profane, that the wingless can dream of flight, and the sinner can aspire to grace.
Democracy is a lonely mother in a nursing home whose children fiercely defend their freedom, but ignore the responsibilities needed to keep those liberties alive. Half of them show up to visit her every four years, promising to keep in touch. She smiles selflessly, knowing she will die waiting for their call.
Democracy is a latch-key kid walking home from school, stepping on crack vials and spent shells because her parents are too busy grinding to see how much the neighborhood has changed She walks with her head down, avoiding eye contact with Wall Street wolves ready to pimp her to the highest bidder. She tries not to notice the real estate developers street sweeping a hundred cultures into the dustbin of fetishism and gentrification. She can barely see over the piled bodies of black men and boys who made the mistake of selling cigarettes, or wearing hoodies, or simply possessing too much melanin on a sun-shiney day.
Democracy is a frail but tough cancer survivor, all headscarves and brave smiles, whose body is ravaged by the tumors of racism, fear, greed, and apathy. She has gotten in good trouble with Harriet Tubman and John Brown, and the slaves of the Amistad. Arm and arm with Martin and Malcolm and John Lewis she has marched for a cure a thousand times and been beaten, and fire-hosed, and pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed. She has been under the knife, under the gun and under the bus. She has had two-hundred and forty-four years of chemotherapy but no remissions. If you inquire of her health, she will tell you, “today is a good day.”
Democracy is a woman who named her unborn baby, “freedom.” It died of neglect and rots inside her womb, but she is in Alabama and can’t get an abortion.
Democracy is Twain’s violet that sheds its fragrance on the heel that crushes it. She is a face on a milk carton who disappeared without an Amber alert.
Democracy has learned to bob and weave. She milks her Johns for all she can and gets in the wind. She bides her time, because all that matters are the children: The little brown girl that sees a vice president that looks like her. The Muslim woman that sees a fierce advocate in Minnesota, who fled Somalia to find her spiritual mother. Democracy is an eighty-year-old woman getting her master’s in Political Science and stepping up to a mic to speak out. She is the Easter bunny and Santa Claus. Only the innocent are gullible enough to believe in her, but only the wise know that she is each one of us at our best, when we are not thinking what can be done for us, but what we can do for others.
Democracy is the face in the mirror when you are brave.