I reviewed this book earlier today here. It brought about lots of feelings and thoughts and ideas and I need to get them all out here, so here we go.
Despite that we are not under a military government, there is fear and concern and violence going around in the US right now and much of it comes from the way in which our democracy does or doesn’t represent our people. Much of Aung San Suu Kyi’s vision of democracy is something we have grown up with, that we hold dear in the US and that many currently fear the loss of. Because of all of this, I alternated between moments of excitement for the democracy we have, lamenting that which we still hope to attain, lamenting the unity that we don’t seem to have, and absolutely wanting to cry because of all the things that were left for future generations to worry about.
It was in part two of the book that my original thoughts on the founders and their intentions started to shift a little. It made me think about the democracy that they created, that we have here and what we want here and what our ideals about democracy really are. It’s easy to look at the long history of US democracy and lose the ideas of a founder. It’s easy to see what we have and look at the place in history that our democracy was made in and see all the things that the founders forgot or didn’t realize would be a problem and to ignore an essential truth. They couldn’t see the problems that we have now, not just because of the 241 year gap or their social locations as older cis straight white men of their time but also due to the situation that was at hand. When the struggle is to get democracy and when those who want it are still fighting for it, violently or not, it’s hard to appreciate what democracy will bring and what it will struggle over down the road.
It’s one thing at a time and letting the future worry about what the future has to worry about. It’s about making sure the system can evolve to represent what the people want, no matter how upsetting it is to find out what they want. It’s about not forcing progress or repression, or oppression on the people by the government itself. What should make this obvious in all of our government and history classes, but never seems to, is that the Bill of Rights were added as an afterthought. They spent all that time writing a government that can reinvent itself as the desires of the people evolved, they forgot to add in or talk about those things that would ensure the government would know what the people wanted and that it couldn’t be usurped by a single entity.
Think about it. Think about those original “amendments”. We forget sometimes, but words matter and “amendment” is the word chosen for the first few rights that Americans were given under our new government. Because it amended the original document. And what were those rights? Here’s a link in case you don’t know them. A cursory look highlights the fact that the initial amendments to the Constitution of the US were those ways in which the government was not allowed to enforce their will or desire upon the people, all the ways it wasn’t allowed to take advantage of the residents. And why do we suppose that is? Because it’s for the people. Like for real, for them and not to rule over them. Well, for the people who looked like the people that wrote it, but I’m getting there too. They weren’t perfect and they had their personal issues, but none of that was supposed to get in the way of the way the government ran. As Aung San Suu Kyi eloquently insists over and over again to her people, it’s not personality politics. We didn’t follow one person and their idea of what we should do. The whole thing was put together by the people who had stood up to say they had had enough and they stood up together to do it. They were a group that represented several versions of a citizen of the time and wanted to ensure that continued to happen.
Again, though, these rights were an afterthought to constructing the way the government would run because when you’re trying to create a democracy, it’s really hard to factor in all the things that you need to know for once you have a democracy. It seems a lot like being a parent. You can read all the parenting books you want and get advice from all the people you want but when you’re toddler stages a hunger strike (while drinking plenty of milk, we weren’t completely neglecting his nutrition) because he doesn’t like the food you’re trying to give him, it’s time to improvise. It was an unforeseeable thing to deal with while you were still pregnant. Apparently, democracy works the same way and it has definitely prompted me to give the founders a break on that.
And then there’s the bits on the military and how it should (and in the US does) stay out of politics. I’m reminded of all the rules that I know of that military personnel have to be weary of in order to uphold this. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was consistently harassed by the military and denied the authority to assemble. Military members in the US aren’t allowed to even wear their uniform at political rallies (thought some do and I hope they get into proper trouble for it) because the military as a whole wants to avoid the implication that they are rooting for the candidate. They aren’t allowed to post on Facebook about it in any way that also mentions their military service, like if their profile picture has them in uniform. They go a long way for the military members to be able to get their rights as citizens while not swaying public opinion or implying that the entire service is for or against one candidate.
While I was reading this there were protests throughout the US about the outcome of our election, which was free and fair election. Okay free. I’m no fan of the electoral college either. But then Aung San Suu Kyi goes into an explanation of how they need to make sure that the minorities are heard that is eerily similar to the electoral college. We just set ours up differently but it’s about making sure that no single group overruns elections. I know the white majority did here, but our founders weren’t thinking about it terms of ethnic groups but of perspective differences, of city versus country living, of northern versus southern cultures. Though I could be wrong, I’m pretty sure the vote was limited to white people at the time since most African-Americans (or black, if you prefer) were not free and only free males could vote. That would make race or ethnic groups not a consideration of the electoral college. It makes it that much more obvious that the electoral college is broken, but maybe not in the way I was thinking of before. It needs to help find another way to balance who we find out what the country as a whole wants while not silencing minorities or other kinds of perspective differences.
Then there’s the peaceful resistance, the non-violent demonstrations. Our own are violent or not depending on which channel you turn on and that’s a problem. I don’t know anyone who feels like our news is accurate or impartial because of things like this. Aung San Suu Kyi stages non-violent demonstrations and observances. It’s the same principal that she espouses that made Kaepernick’s protests interesting to me since they first garnered attention. I know people who complain about his method, but it has been so effective at starting a dialogue in a peaceful way. According to Aung San Suu Kyi, and I can’t help but agree, a dialogue is the only way to solve a problem on the scale of which we are dealing.
Dialogue is essential because these problems can’t be solved until they are aired out and consensus is reached, reasonable consensus. It’s the reasonable part that gets us a lot, I think. I can’t imagine its very different from trying to come back together with a spouse after one of those big fights when no one was right and no one was wrong but everyone has legitimate issues that still need to be dealt with. Of course, there were some definite wrongs done in our history, which just makes the reaching consensus harder but not less important and that doesn’t make it fair, and I say that as part of the gender who is resolved for parity in government because equality would mean going back and making up for lost seats on all those congressional sessions we weren’t allowed to be in for over a hundred years. But still, dialogue is the only way. Our struggle for democracy started and ended with dialogue, the violence was in the middle because one side wasn’t willing to come to the table until they had no other option. I feel like we’re again at the point when it comes to race in this country which brings us back to Kaepernick and all the National Anthem kneelers he’s since inspired. He does a great job in pointing out that we continue to maintain the status quo because the appropriate parties don’t all want to sit at the table and change it and we all know that some already know they don’t want to enforce whatever changes come their way. The amount of people calling it stupid or criticizing his method should make that obvious, as should the fact that so much of the initial conversation turned to his method and his background and what else he does or doesn’t do for black communities.
Here’s the thing though. He’s doing it PEACEFULLY and LEGALLY. And yeah, it’s the National Anthem. The song that was meant to be our song of praise and devotion and the one that was written while we still had slavery in this country and while it was getting worse despite the fact that the Constitution said ALL men are created equal. I’ve seen it pointed out before and I’ll repeat it now, that’s the difference between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. “All men are created equal” was a mantra in the government of this country even while there were slaves, so non-white communities can’t afford to assume that all includes them. I get how that seems like just a semantic problem, but it’s a reality and only a semantic problem to those who have the privilege of ignoring it. To the rest, it’s a problem. Kaepernick started alone and was even quiet. All he did was refuse to stand, which he doesn’t have to do. Yes, on certain memorial days, like 9/11 or December 7th, I think it’s important to stand anyway and acknowledge the sacrifices of those people who died on that day because of forces against our democracy that allows him to demonstrate this way. I would like to think that we could honor those who sacrificed their lives on some days that are separate from the struggle that he continues to bring notoriety to, but even then it’s not a requirement of the legality of what he is doing, just a courtesy that I hope the kneelers extend for days of national tragedy. But still, DEMONSTRATE.
Not only are his reasons valid but his method is the most beautiful exercise of protest because it brings together everything. It is a testament to what the country was founded on and what was left out which is beautiful beyond any way that I could measure.
But to bring it back around to Aung San Suu Kyi, this is also not a form of protest that is afforded to the military because the military is not supposed to be political. Active duty personnel are required to stand at attention during the playing of the National anthem. There’s a fairly infamous video of a military woman sitting during the anthem on base. There are lots of reasons why this was not the right time or place for her to take part in the protest. I understand her reasons, which she also goes into in her video, and I also understand the other reasons that many others pointed out about the heritage of the military she voluntarily joined and the order to stand for the flag that she ignored. But all of this ignores another problem.
The military and it’s members cannot be seen taking sides in politics. It would call into question the military’s ability to do their job when either side wins and corrodes the trust and confidence that the people have in the military to do what is lawful when laws change. If you look up the military endorsement from our own recent election, it should boil down to former members of the services and retirees because the active duty military is meant to be neutral. They are called to support the government no matter which political party is in power and no matter what political turmoil is going on, no matter their personal thoughts on what is going on. Military members who openly engage in politics or political debates change the way people feel about the military’s ability to do what they are ordered to do and it shifts the focus away from the demonstration or issue itself. I’m with the young woman on doing it as a citizen of the US but not identifying herself as active duty while she does it.
But she’s not the only one in uniform to have done this. There are countless examples of the military and National Gaurd doing questionable things in the history of our country and sometimes to our very own citizens during times of great turmoil, such as the Civil Rights Movement. Whether or not they were doing the right thing in the act of what they were doing, this book has brought a new appreciation for that military members and the military as an entity, doesn’t insert itself into the politics of the country. That said, I need to find out why. Not sure if it’s written in our founding documents or some military law or what. But this where my mind went as thought about this incredible book in this strange time.
Thanks for sticking it out with me. That book was amazing and it just brought out this whole new appreciation for all the “should”s of our government. We don’t have to worry about creating democracy, we got to grow up with it and yet there’s still so much work to be done.
Disclaimer: I meant no disrespect to any parties and apologies for any given. Let me know in what way something was off or offensive and I’ll fix it when I see the comment. That also goes if something was wrong in some way. Thank you for your patience!