Why I Still Believe in Democracy in an Age of Fear and Manipulation

I’ve never been much of a fighter, but I’m going to fight: #WritersResist #WriteOurDemocracy 

I’ve got my father’s athletic build, but I’ve always existed more in my head and heart than in my body. I think some of that has to do with the brutality I experienced as a child in a rural town south of Boston, MA. Most of the kids I grew up with did little with their minds and everything with their bodies. To be smart, to create, to aspire was to set yourself up for harassment and/or a beating. Brawn and bullying earned acceptance. Brains earned retribution. Even so, I preferred brains because of an eerie foreknowledge that these kids weren’t going anywhere. Everyone knew it. I did. They did. And we were right. Today there are families in the fourth or even fifth generation of welfare still living in the same house in the same town. I know of schoolmates dead years before their prime whose deaths had no impact on anyone around them. Their lives had already ended with graduation from high-school. These were the bullies who lay in wait as I rode my paper route, hurling rocks, bottles, even their shoes, calling me names I was too young to understand. That was 50 years ago, and there isn’t a single one of them alive today. Most were dead before age 23. It took me decades, but I’ve come to understand the sense of futility that killed them. And I recognize it in some of the forces that coalesced to “make America great again.”


My childhood neighborhood was populated by families who left South Boston and Dorchester during mandatory busing in the sixties and seventies, moving into summer cottages or even motel rooms to escape schooling their children with black people. These families brought their bigotry with them, treating aggression as a matter of fact, never seeing the hopelessness and ignorance they perpetuated through early pregnancies, spousal abuse, alcoholism, and later, drug-addiction. I knew well the anger and resentment that churned within these folks. You could see it in their eyes. What I never understood, until quite recently, was that they were afraid. Afraid of falling lower, afraid of anyone different who might rise above them, and afraid of the ramifications of their ignorance. I knew, first-hand, the violence of which some of them were capable, and I’ve always known that out there in this vast land of ours, there were millions more just like them.

Yet despite all that I witnessed, I’m optimistic about America. Even in this darkest of moments, I believe in the fundamental goodness of the majority. And because of that, I am confident Democracy will prevail. We have exemplars in recent memory: people who fought world wars, marched in protests, and in some cases, were killed or jailed for their beliefs. Beliefs, as it turns out, that benefited all of us and moved the country forward. (Even if it doesn’t feel that way at this very moment.) They had it much worse than we do, though they did have one thing we don’t. As Americans in a different time and place, they had each other.

Fake News, Social Media, Corporate Greed; these things are anathema to fundamental human decency, and in the greatest communication revolution since the invention of the printing press, these toxins have hit hard. We are in a transition period that has caused many of us, including a surprising number of middle-and-upper-class white voters, to lose our bearings and give in to fear. We are fearful of our safety, fearful of job loss, fearful of the other—and the unknown. We’ve allowed corrupt forces to prey upon these anxieties and even enabled them to convince the more gullible of us that our afterlife is hanging in the balance unless we react and vote a certain way. As Americans, this has separated us.

“Gay Marriage is Terrorism”

I realized the degree to which decent, religious people were being manipulated the day a distant family member announced, “Pastor says gay marriage is terrorism.” The pathos of this remark hit me with both barrels. Let’s consider the political genesis of this absurd statement.

A marginalized, older woman seeks community at her church. There are several reasons for doing so: people tend to be welcoming, the “do’s and don’ts” are quite clear, and it seems like a safe space to socialize without fear of rejection. In this setting, she finds a purpose in a life lived by the wayside and comfort from her faith, which is just about all she has. This is all for the good and, until the last few decades, a personal choice that was universally respected through the separation of church and state. So far so good, but where do gay marriage and terrorism come in? As integration took hold in the mid-sixties, certain political (and hypocritical) forces in this country had an epiphany. When these crooks studied the fundamentalist religious community, they saw large numbers of people, some gullible, others not, who gathered in the same place on at least a weekly basis. In political terms, a captive audience or, one might also say, a bunch of sitting ducks. (There are few other venues other than church where one can disseminate a message to a large number of people without subliminal advertising.) Merely breach the division between church and state, and legions of misguided souls would crusade for their beliefs while never realizing they were being exploited for a pre-determined, political agenda. Want to perpetuate a racist stance in a post-Wallace era? Mask it in the sanctimonious dictates against abortion and homosexuality. Get these righteous folks riled up enough to vote your way, and you’ve achieved your racist goal without ever showing your hand. Throw in a lot of gerrymandering, and you’ve got political domination. It’s so simple. And so un-American.

We must adapt

On the eve of the inauguration of “he who shall not be named,” we appear to be a nation divided. Old white men in the last gasp of their dwindling power are struggling to turn back the clock, prostituting themselves while cloaked in hypocrisy peddled by the most indecent collection of charlatans in the history of this country. This is the ghastly culmination of that 50-year strategy that blurred the lines between religion and politics, furthering the agenda of the few while trampling over the many. How do we rectify this? You may consider me an innocent, but I believe the answer has always been right in front of us. America has been here before. The answer can be found in the history of our democracy and those who protected it for us. We must be vigilant, as our founders were, against tyranny. We must be courageous, as our mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers were when they fought in world wars and faced a great depression. In this dark age, we must be adroit, compassionate, and relentless in exposing injustice, not just when it happens to those whose causes we might champion, but when it happens to ANY and ALL Americans. The demons are the same; it’s the pace that has quickened. And so, we must be quick, too.

This all sounds so simplistic and perhaps even naïve until you recognize that the age-old response I’m describing has become lost to us in recent years. We don’t rally to causes; we post. We don’t communicate; we curate. We don’t engage in compassionate discourse; we allow social media algorithms to sort us into affinity groups. We preach to the choir, full of righteous indignation, then sit back, satisfied; our passions rated by clicks and impressions, which, in the final analysis, impress no one. These days, the game is rigged so we can’t be heard.

We need to change the game. Here’s how.

Most Americans are decent people. Perhaps not always well-informed or quick to change, but decent people. We must never forget that. Corporations are mindless amalgams with agendas that often run counter to humanity and decency. The regime that is about to take power is corporate and has the weaknesses of such entities: inability to relate on a human level, myopia, the smug belief in their superiority, and lack of loyalty to any cause. More than anything else, corporations fear exposure. They fear anything that undermines profit and power, which they see as the same thing. So let’s expose them.

The misfits who are taking over the government on January 20th were able to do so because decent people were divided by the manipulation of religion and the echo-chamber of social media (and some Russian shenanigans pitched to a receptive population). Some people were living in a bubble, unaware that their fellow citizens were paying a horrific price as industries changed and jobs evaporated. Well-intentioned citizens who believe in this country and take pride in their work, whether it be the news media or the FBI, remained silent as an unthinkable buffoon suddenly became a President-elect because of their silence. Others wondered why the only one seemed to notice their despair looked and acted like a stooge. He upset them on many levels, but he was all they felt they had. Again, we were fragmented, divided, cut off from one another, bedazzled by reality TV and social media. Always talking. Never listening. So let’s listen from now on.

The fascists who are trying to shut down the ethics office count on our fragmentation. They pit us against each other and distract us with so-called “moral” issues to immoral ends, just as they manipulated the poor church lady to equate gay marriage and terrorism. But there are many more of us than there are of them. The vote count for the past election proves that point. So let’s unite.

We must break through the distractions and barriers placed between us and retrieve the decency, respect, and strength that has always represented the best in this country. We may have been taken unaware this time, but we still have the critical mass, the intelligence, the courage, and the resilience to turn things around. If you stop and think about it, that’s what’s always happened from George Washington to Lincoln to FDR to JFK to that elegant man and his magnificent wife who will leave office in 5 all-to-short days. They protected Democracy. For us. Now it’s our turn.

I am so over this

I’m tired of being bullied. I find it inconceivable after my early experiences and decades of struggle to gain equal rights that, at my age, I’m fighting the same battles I did as a kid. But I’ll say this much. I’ve done it before, and I’m doing it again. I know these fools all too well. Underneath it all, they are con-men and lackeys, insecure and small. And the America I know and trust is a sleeping giant, who, when roused by injustice, will kick all these bastards to the curb faster than you can say welcome to the resistance.

Vigilance, Courage, Compassion, Velocity, Unity, Humanity, Democracy.

I’ll meet you in the street.

#WritersResist #WriteOurDemocracy http://www.writersresist.org/

A C Burch is and award-winning LGBT author who writes about the lives we live and the families we create. Learn more about him at www.acburch.com


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