Monday, May 25, 2020 is a date that will forever be remembered as one when many people finally said, “enough is enough!” On that fateful day, George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was horrifically killed by a white Minneapolis police officer in broad daylight, while bystanders stood around pleading with the officer (for more than eight minutes) to release his knee-hold from Floyd’s neck.
Floyd’s death, the latest in a long string of high-profile police killings of black people, immediately touched off a fury of protests and riots in major cities across America; and later, throughout the world. In the very first days of the unrest, it became crystal-clear as to what the twin-issues were for the protesters: systemic racism in law enforcement and police brutality.
As the protests continued to build momentum through June, it also became apparent that the protesters were demanding attention on an equally pressing issue of our times: the practice of real democracy. Unknowingly or not, the many men and women in the streets were pointing out the hypocrisy of America calling itself a democracy while systemically oppressing racial minorities.
From a spiritual standpoint, too, the mostly peaceful protests were a profound testament to the power and courage of the human soul. As the police responded to these protests with the sadly predictable force of a totalitarian nation, I began to reflect on the crucial link between real democracy and spirituality.
These protests have taught us that one cannot exist without the other. They are mutually reinforcing principles of love in action. The spiritual values of peace, love and freedom are the foundations of a sustainable and real democracy. In turn, real democracy is the external reflection of those same foundational values.
Without question, COVID-19 has revealed many contradictions in the United States calling itself a democracy. From the open swindling of taxpayers by large corporations through legislation designed as ‘aid’ to American workers, to the U.S. Government’s own shameful downplaying of a serious public health crisis to protect powerful economic interests, to the overwhelming burden of the government-ordered shutdowns on the poor and vulnerable, it is resoundingly clear that America falls well short of being labelled a democracy.
However, the killing of George Floyd SHOWED, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are not one for precisely this reason: we have favoured ignorance and fear over compassion and love. As a people, can we honestly say that we extend peace and goodwill to everyone? Do we rise above our petty conflicts of ego and treat all beings we meet as our brothers and sisters?
What would Jesus—that inspiring sage whom many of our politicians and preachers so often pay lip service to—have said if he had witnessed Floyd’s death? Would he have approved of a certain powerful leader justifying the savage police beatings of peaceful protesters to his millions of supporters? Would Jesus have condoned the targeting of people based on the colour of their skin? Finally, would he have admitted that the protests are, in part, an attempt to introduce real democracy rooted in spiritual values across the land?
Will 2020 be remembered as the year when the people of this beautiful Earth demanded real democracy in the face of widespread tyranny and oppression? An even bigger question looms: what will real democracy in the decade ahead even look like?
A real democracy would achieve 5 objectives
True and lasting peace
First and foremost, it would secure a true and lasting peace between people from all walks of life; between families, between communities and between nations.
This first expectation of a real democracy should really go without saying. If democracy cannot achieve peace, what is the point of singing its praises at all? It is no coincidence that all of the greatest social revolutionaries throughout history have sought to link the attainment of peace with the practice of real democracy.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela each routinely pointed out in their speeches that peace and the ideal of real democracy should go hand in hand. Gandhi, a man of deep faith and the inspirational leader of India’s struggle for independence, went as far as to say:
“The true democrat is he who with purely nonviolent means defends his liberty and, therefore, his country’s and ultimately that of the whole of mankind.”
Leaders as humble servants
In a real democracy, our leaders would be humble servants who embody the highest qualities of moral character. Leaders in a real democracy would probably draw inspiration from such indigenous democratic traditions like the Iroquois Confederacy.
In that Native-American compact (designed in the 1400s for mutual co-operation and self-defense between six neighbouring tribes in upstate New York and Pennsylvania), two male representative leaders were chosen from each of the six tribes, by female elders. These leaders were selected based on the demonstrated qualities of wisdom, compassion, courage and selflessness.
While in power, these men were expected to give up all their personal possessions and live with fewer material privileges than the average member of their own tribe. They were also expected to inform their decisions with calm deliberation, and were explicitly warned by their elders to refrain from any conflicts of interest. This was all to ensure a genuine pureness of heart among them.
On the whole, do our own leaders measure up to these lofty but attainable standards of leadership?
Unlimited freedom of thought
In a real democracy, all people would enjoy unlimited freedom of thought, expression and religious worship/spiritual practice. No one’s thoughts would be manipulated by deceptive media outlets in service of the rich and powerful. And not one person’s freedom of expression would be silenced by government authorities. Perhaps, most vital of all, the freedom to explore the depths of one’s consciousness would be absolute.
Controversial methods of communing with the Divine, such as through the use of sacred psychedelic plants and substances, would not be denied and would be seen as yet another way to connect to the Great Mystery.
In a real democracy, full equality would be enjoyed by all people, regardless of such distinctions as class, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and political ideology. In such a glorious state of being, there would be no need for so-called ‘social justice warriors,’ because a true commitment to the celebration of diversity would already prevail in the hearts of all people.
In a real democracy, equality would be rooted in the noblest of passions among the people, because the illusionary barriers of ‘us’ and ‘them’ would be broken down to reveal only ‘we.’
A spirit of goodwill
Finally, in a real democracy, the genuine spirit of goodwill would underlie all of our meaningful interactions with one another and inform our collective decisions on issues of importance. The people themselves, gathered in citizen-assemblies of one style or another, would arrive at consensus-driven decisions (direct democracy), with only the welfare of their communities in mind.
The pursuit of individual self-interest would be discouraged within such self-governing circles, as people would begin to see what the Russian philosopher Peter Kropotkin described as the virtues of ‘mutual aid,’ societies where co-operation (not competition) is seen as in the best interests of all for survival.
We’ve still got a ways to go
The tragic death of George Floyd has afforded us all with the rare opportunity to imagine what a real democracy may soon look like. In the meantime, it would serve us well to be aware of how far we still have to go to achieve this kind of exterior reflection of our inner awakening of spirit.
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image 1 image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 2 Image by Patrick Behn from Pixabay