Following the news of the U.S. Capitol riot, and talking to people I’ve met since then in Curacao and Aruba, it seems to me that a great many others reacted as I did. We were shocked by those images, and deeply concerned with what has happened to democracy in America.
One lesson I’ve learned from these recent events in my country is that we must never take democracy for granted. Democracy is not an immovable, indestructible rock; it is a living thing that needs our constant scare and attention.
For its roots to be healthy, democracy needs to be grounded in the truth.
To learn the truth we need a free and vibrant press, to seek out the facts and present them without fear. We need to respect others’ opinions and accept that our own is not the only valid point of view. But opinions are not facts and we need to know the difference. We need to beware of efforts to mislead us, and not take as fact everything we read or hear, even if it happens to agree with our opinion.
To grow straight and strong, democracy needs respect for the rule of law, and for the separation of government powers.
Democracy allows protest as a legitimate form of seeking change but it is most effective when done peacefully. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose memory we celebrated earlier this week, never gave up on his hope for a democracy. He never gave up on his country and he never gave up on peace despite the beatings, lynchings, and violence he witnessed.
In order to survive, democracy needs a judicial branch which is fully independent, and judges who earn their position by virtue of a mastery of the laws, not adherence to a party line. Fortunately, we saw examples of this independent judiciary in the repeated affirmations in our courts that the results of the November elections were sound.
To survive, democracy also needs a legislative branch that will rise above partisan politics to provide reliable checks and balances to the power of the President. We have seen some examples of this as well in recent days. After the Capitol riot, a freshman Republican Congressman from Michigan called for accountability. He explained that he was crossing party lines to vote for impeachment after January 6 as “a call to action for us to reflect on these events and seek ways to correct them.” Several of his fellow party members joined him.
I was moved by the actions rather than words of another Congressman, a Democrat from New Jersey. After fulfilling his Constitutional duty and voting to certify the presidential election on the night of the riot, he emerged from the House chamber. Appalled at the vandalism he had witnessed at the Capitol that day and the wreckage it had left, he immediately picked up a trash bag and started cleaning up the garbage on the floor of those historic halls. The People’s halls.
And the most importantly, we the people all have a duty ourselves to care for and sustain this precious experiment of humanity called democracy. We as individuals need to stop and think what we can do – inform ourselves, vote responsibly, and translate our care for democracy into action in our own way, in our homes and communities. This work is urgent and enormous, but I want to be a part of it.
Since arriving in Curacao I’ve been enjoying learning Papiamentu. During my studies I discovered the wonderful haiku of Elis Juliana. Reading them, and thinking over the situation in America, I was inspired to try writing one. At the risk of exposing my poor skills – I have a long way to go, I know – I wanted to share the following with you:
No ta baranka firme
Ta palu bibu.
Allen S. Greenberg
Consul General and Chief of Mission to the Dutch Caribbean