This is what democracy looks like

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Free speech and the freedom to assemble are so incredibly precious. And a free press allows us to remain informed as voters as well as citizens and residents. But, they are also crucial to the functioning and survival of the ideals of democracy, if not democracy itself.

To me, free speech is a fundamental component of a healthy exchange of ideas. It means being able to voice your beliefs and notions of what society should look like along with the shape of its institutions. It also means listening to the ideas and beliefs of others without them fearing retribution or retaliation. Not deciding that one group is the only voice that matters. Not declaring one belief system superior to all others. Not demonising individuals or groups who think differently. But, forging a path towards understanding and allowing room for discussions and consensus to flourish.

I may disagree with someone; but I will defend their right to speak up and be heard so long as they do so peaceably and respectfully. I only ask that they do the same for me.

This right — freedom of speech — is delicate. And in too many places in the world, it is not guaranteed. The line between critic and dissenter is so blurred that any voice of concern becomes threatened. In some places, voices of opposition are beaten by authorities, jailed and tortured. In others, those expressing their opposition are disappeared.

I genuinely fear that soon enough that first and most precious right — endowed to us all in the United States through the First Amendment because it is so crucial to every other right — will be shattered. That voices of dissent will be silenced and opposition ostracised if not persecuted. It looks as though it’s already happening given the events of 2020.

To me, protests are truly American. Indeed, our country began as a protest against a king. And these posts are my way of showing solidarity with all those who continue to let their voices be heard, especially when it is difficult and the outcome uncertain.

Protest Postcard #4 of 50

‘This land was made for you and me’

Today’s image from 50 protest postcards reminded me of the power of music and the simple messages they bring, along with some rather treasured childhood memories.

Amongst all the patriotic songs I learned as a child, this was my favourite.

This land is your land, and this land is my land
From the California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters;
This land was mad for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway;
Saw below me the golden valley;
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
All around me a voice was sounding;
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun come shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was changing:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there,
And on the sign it said, ‘No Trespassing’
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Woody Guthrie


My grandparents in their retirement afforded me an incredible gift: in addition to their time and love, each summer they took me on journeys across the US to see it all. We’d pick a region and go explore it. Along the way in their ginormous motor home, which was bigger than some flats I’ve lived in as an adult, we’d learn factoids and history about each state we visited, stop in at the visitor’s centres as we crossed state lines to gather key info, and ‘camp’ (or glamp in today’s vernacular) in various national parks.

I didn’t just learn history; that history was situated in a context that included physical places and actual people who take shape in the individuals who populated those places during those summers.

I credit those summers as some of my most treasured family moments (even when I was a total shit). But, also, those journeys instilled in me a deep sense of pride in the rich diversity of the United States, both its geography and its people. Those summers also created a love of the road and adventure, and an understanding that the view from the ground even in parts unknown isn’t so scary. Before moving abroad, I spent a lot of time in national parks camping and exploring as well as simply relaxing and marvelling at how beautiful the US is and how incredibly varied its landscape and people are. And, if I’m completely honest, I miss being there and hitting the road to find some off-the-beaten path dinner with food that taste like nothing I will have had before or since.

Nefarious interests have divided us, far more than I suspect we really are. Those interests have pitted us against one another rather than against those who continue to pilfer and profit from us and from the land upon which we live.

But, I believe still there is room for and a place for us all in our country. And I believe it’s worth protecting and working towards making it more just and more perfect: not just for me or you, but for us all.

And, fundamentally, I believe it is still worth fighting to preserve — the land itself and the institutions designed to foster and establish that more perfect union promised to us all.