Democracy (or what is what it looks like?)

He said, this democracy business is too complicated for me
I said, hey, its only a student union meeting.
He said, but why’s it got to be four hours long.
And I said, you’ve got to take everyone’s point of view.
And he said but all these arguments take up so much time, when you could be working, shopping, going to school.
We’re from a nation where people mostly listen
don’t argue, just sit down and follow through
where standing up means you might get jail time
for an illegal public assembly of more than two.

but anyway, we were taught politics just takes too much time
when you could be working, shopping, going to school.

So I came to this part of the world with its freedom of speech
a Human Rights Act, and student union meetings lasting three hours each,

Telling everyone how I wanted to find out for myself
what this whole democracy business was about:

they promised me
we’ll show you what democracy looks like
we’ll show you what democracy sounds like
we’ll show you what democracy smell like
you’ll see what civilized countries do.

and back home another guy went to prison for calling
the prime minister a liar in the news.

They had an election, and, coz my country of origin used to be part of them,
as a token of appreciation for the years of the colonialism
it was the first one I could vote in and have it mean something
because back home we know only one party ever wins:

And they said.
we’ll show you what democracy looks like
we’ll show you what democracy sounds like
we’ll show you what democracy smells like
we’ll show you what one vote can do.

But what does it mean when all the parties mean all the same things?
And what does it mean when two of them win?

And they said, don’t worry, the government will wake up and listen
if we make our voices loud enough: that’s just what civilized societies do:
we’ve got our rights, our voices, our autonomy.
They said, don’t worry kid, you live in a Democracy.

So we went outside by the thousand, raising placards and points,
linking arms and chanting, breaking things we didn’t like,
believing that maybe even one of them might hear us:
that’s what good Western governments do.

They said,
this is what democracy looks like
This is what democracy sounds like
This is what democracy smells like.

They replied, no you’re too loud too dangerous,
you cannot leave till we tell you. Why don’t you speak
at a volume we like, one they can tune out when they want to?

They replied with steel horse hooves, truncheons, shields
and riot vans, smashed fingers, blood and head wounds,
as the Parliament took a vote, pretended not to hear the jeering outside,
the cops with an air of we told you so held us in kettles
until way past midnight, let the steam rise and explode.

and the reporters caught the rage in time for the next morning’s news.

And now they say the protesters have gone too far:
cause a good government has promises to keep,
its now dangerous speak too loud about the wrong kinds of things
or stand up too tall on the wrong sides of the streets.
They got faces of protesters on their wanted posters
cause a good government protects the order of society.
Now they tell me, mask up kid, you live in a Democracy.

And I said,
I don’t know what democracy looks like
I don’t know what democracy sounds like
I don’t know what democracy tastes like
I still don’t know what it means to be civilized

Back home more people are getting arrested for holding banners in the streets
Over here more people are getting hit on the heads for holding banners in the streets.
Back home you can still be detained without trial for over 30 years.
Over here my friend is still on trial for defending himself from the police.

And I still don’t know what democracy looks like,
But I do know what the beat of samba drums sound like.
But I do know what that pepper spray smells like.
But I know what pushing against a police line feels like.

But we don’t need what they give us to have hope for the future,
but we do need strangers to link arms with one another,
we need people to agree to disagree with one another,
we need to believe in our own collective power.

Maybe this democracy business is too complicated for all of us,
Maybe I’ll never stop being confused,

But all these circular arguments take up so much time
When you could be outside fighting, deciding
for yourself: exactly what it is that’s important to you.

By Stephanie Dogfoot

Photo by Stephanie Dogfoot

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