Thankful for Democracy

by Jonathan Krall

In Grassroots Alexandria, we’ve spent nearly a year fighting for the idea that Democracy thrives when people participate, that there is more to Democracy than the partisans and the professionals, and that Democracy is rewarding. But mostly, it sometimes seems, we’ve been fighting Fascism. Personally, I’ve learned more about Fascism than I ever wanted to know, and I’m glad I have. The more I learn, the more I see how far we’ve gone in that direction. On Thanksgiving Day, 2017, I am thankful that we still live under Democracy.

Democracy is hardly perfect. For one thing, Democracy is where Fascism comes from. Fascism emerges when people vote for a strongman leader to protect them from a threat, usually imagined, and assuage a hardship, usually real. Such votes, and such leaders, do not just happen. They are supported by relentless propaganda. If enough people believe that Muslims and immigrants (and, tellingly, Jews) are a threat to our nation, the vote will give us a strongman. Here in the USA, this has already happened. I am thankful that voters in November 2017 were generally more sensible than in 2016.

Propaganda is essential to Fascism. While vilifying a threatening Other, propaganda spreads lies that can become tools of intimidation. Here in the USA, Fascist thugs can interrogate any of us, while intimating that a wrong answer will get us beaten up. “Do you believe in climate change?” or “what do you think of the Russia thing?” they might ask. Those of us who follow propaganda–and Fox News is the biggest outlet–know the thugs would want us to reply “nothingburger.” We could just play along with the thugs, but at risk to our integrity and self-respect. I am thankful that this intimidation is not yet widespread.

Hate and fear are essential to Fascism. Tiki-torch-wielding Nazis might seem laughable from a distance, but they are frightening in person. So far as I know, it is only through fear that people are cowed into accepting dictatorship. People remain silent to avoid controversy. They accept and repeat lies to avoid violence. Finally, the strongman declares martial law in response to a crisis. I am thankful for the Anti-Fascist movement that has out-shouted White Nationalist hate speech at every turn.

Grassroots Alexandria is relatively gentle. We encourage Democracy as a personal practice and a duty. We educate the public about the threat of Fascism and the danger of silence. Here is a small example. In Alexandria, our government minimizes the use of the term “climate change,” just to avoid controversy. We’ve been doing this for some time. On the Eco City Alexandria web page, “climate change” can be found only in the titles of two very old reports, at the very bottom of the page. Now that the price of silence is clearer, I hope our City Manager will reconsider. It is up to all of us, as best we can, to stand up to intimidation. Over the past year, my friends and neighbors in Grassroots Alexandria have risen to the challenge. We have pressed our political leaders to do the same. I am very, very thankful for their efforts.

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