Democracy Reimagined: How to Fight for a Better Democracy
I imagine a democracy that includes everyone’s voices, without any suppression and interference. Whether it is protesting on the streets for more equitable policies or voting at the ballot box, the people ought to be able to exercise their constitutional right freely. Right now, our democracy does not reflect this; in fact, it is broken. People of color disproportionately fall victim to voter suppression and gerrymandering. Lobbyists and corporate interests seem to have held many politicians to ransom. Many, especially in the immigrant community, are afraid to even participate in our democracy as their livelihood is at stake. What can we do to ensure a democracy that works for all?
I believe that the starting point is to expand the boundary of what we know or assume to be true. This has to do with our upbringing and the values that our culture and environment instilled in us. However, the world is a grand mosaic, and we are bound to meet people who have a different set of values and beliefs from our own. We must let our beliefs evolve in the face of lifelong learning. For instance, when I was very young, I lived in a relatively homogeneous country and the thought of people of different races, ethnicities, and other social identities mingling with one another never occurred to me. However, now, living in Queens, the most diverse county in the United States, I see people from various countries and cultures, and because of this, I have come to appreciate the beauty of diversity. Recognizing the benefits of diversity is the first step to understand the worth of every person in society.
Once we listen to others’ stories and understand their backgrounds, we have the responsibility to identify our privileges and think how we can use them for the betterment of those who are less privileged. This can be applied to all causes of social justice, such as educational equity, immigrants’ rights, and equal pay. In my case, for example, I am privileged to have been able to attend college. While I had the option to keep to myself and focus solely on my own academic achievements, I have intentionally used my privilege to become a catalyst of change in my community. One cause that I have devoted myself to advancing is educational justice. By committing myself to teaching and advocacy initiatives, I pay it forward for younger students who face an educational disadvantage, as I did when I was applying to college. When we use our privilege to elevate others, and others use theirs to lift us up, we equip one another to fight for justice directly at the root of the problem.
Recently, I read a book, called “Mandela’s Way” by Richard Stengel, that revealed in my mind a democracy that leads to liberation for all, one that treats everyone equally and recognizes their worth. One passage describes a concept that originated from a Zulu proverb, called ubuntu, which is “the idea that people are empowered by other people.” I am convinced that we must practice ubuntu—mutual empowerment—in our daily lives because a better and true democracy depends on all of us to act.