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What does democracy look like?

Courtesy of the author

I am not a protester by nature, at least not the “in the streets” variety.  Part of my aversion to “in the streets protesting” is that I don’t quite trust a crowd mentality, on the left any more than on the right. I prefer nuanced, well-thought-out and articulated ideas and those come from a different channel. However, in today’s environment, I am rethinking my resistance to crowds and protest. 

After the election, when my husband and I were deeply distressed, he did a lot of preaching to the choir. That’s me. Fortunately, we share the same views and the same distress. I kept saying, “We should be out in the streets!” This “choir” was ready to sing, albeit a tad off key. My crowd aversion was quickly forgotten. When things are so wrong, my instinct is to take to the streets to declare it.

It was a small step from that sentiment to attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and that caused me to reassess my crowd aversion. It was a joyous and inclusive crowd, driven by the same instinctive awareness of what is right that drove me. There is a time to take to the streets and this is it. Marching to the chant of “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like” felt absolutely right deep inside. I chanted with fervor, believing those words. I believe in democracy and inclusiveness and, yes, kindness. Those are the things for which I am comfortable protesting.

The immigrants and refugees order

The action against immigrants and refugees upset me more than anything prior, and that is saying a lot. Perhaps because we can clearly see the impact on people, and perhaps because it feels personal. My grandparents were immigrants and fortunate to have immigrated in the early 1900s. Had they waited until the middle of the century, they would likely not have escaped. Jews were not welcome in the United States, and many were turned away and sent to their death. Many of my family did not make it out. With 50 family members murdered in the Holocaust, I am aware that in another time, I could easily have been trapped on the other side. I also realize that it takes a certain comfort in one’s safety and place in the world to challenge, to protest. I imagine that few of those detained felt that safety. For that reason, I have a responsibility to protest on their behalf. 

Courtesy of the author
Susan Weinberg and her husband, Martin Arend

I have been trying to find the best way to respond. When the news broke barring immigrants from seven Muslim countries, I wrote to my senators and congressman. I gave money to the National Immigration Law Center, I signed a petition and posted information, but all felt like small steps. 

I was greatly heartened, however, by the protests at the airports. There is something about showing up that feels important. It is how we say, “This is not right.”  Protesting requires our bodies to follow through, and there is something about that physical action that kicks the rest of us into motion. It is the difference between a spectator sport and actually playing.

A time of firsts as people are stirred to action

This week we joined the political protest in downtown Minneapolis. We first stopped at our studio to make a sign, then joined the 5,000 people at the federal courthouse plaza. When we first arrived, I spotted a friend. She told us that she had gone to the Women’s March in St. Paul, her first protest. Her friend commented that this was her first protest.  

That is what I find remarkable. People who would normally never protest are stirred to action, so disturbed that they are taking to the streets. That evening I chanted loudly, half dancing up Hennepin Avenue, feeling the energy of the crowd and grateful for our shared passion. 

This is what democracy looks like.

Susan Weinberg is an artist, writer and speaker who works out of her studio in NE Minneapolis. You can read more of Susan’s posts on her blog Layers of the Onion where a version of this piece first appeared.


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Comments (38)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 02/03/2017 - 07:01 pm.


    Protest all you want just don’t break the law… One persons soul warming march for “cause Du Jour” is another person version of a wasted day. That is what democracy in America truly looks like.

  2. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/03/2017 - 07:54 pm.


    Let’s stop comparing this Trump’s immigration order with the Holocaust and instances when Jews were not allowed to come to America. Jews were singled out in Germany for total destruction while people now worry about Muslims who can’t come from countries which are 90% Muslim…

    • Submitted by Curt Carlson on 02/04/2017 - 09:12 am.

      The Holocaust did not spring fully-formed from Hitler’s brain. It started as a campaign to make Germany inhospitable for Jews, to encourage them to leave. We can learn from history, if we care to.

    • Submitted by Roy Everson on 02/04/2017 - 09:20 am.

      Democracy often works

      Long before Jews were singled out for destruction there was a history of oppression. Perhaps a civil rights movement in an earlier era, replete with non-Jewish allies, demonstrating what democracy looks like, could have shaped a better future. Given the success of many social movements, albeit at a glacial pace, we have reason to believe. Having been at two of the recent demonstrations, optimism is a rational reaction.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/04/2017 - 04:45 pm.

        How it happened

        Mr. Carlson, the Holocaust did spring from Hitler’s brain – it is all in his book. Sure, the history of anti-Semitism was on his side but he was the one who did it. However, it is actually irrelevant because the article compared a specific event (not letting Jews to America) with current event of not letting citizens of some countries to America… and that is what I objected to. But to address your point, no one is trying to make America inhospitable to Muslims or encourage them to leave, right?

        Mr. Everson, sure, there was a long history of oppression and anti-Semitism. I just don’t see how it translates into our times, especially considering that, according to the FBI’s 2015 hate crime statistics, there have been more anti-Semitic hate crimes in America than Islamophobic ones…

        • Submitted by Curt Carlson on 02/05/2017 - 11:41 am.

          Selective reading

          Perhaps you should have read my reply before you objected to it. I said that the Holocaust did not spring FULLY FORMED from Hitler’s brain. In fact, according to historical accounts like Volker Ullrich’s ‘Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939’, Hitler’s original plan was to make Germany inhospitable to Jews, not to exterminate them. It’s pretty hard to look at Trump’s statements and actions regarding Moslems to argue that he’s not trying to make America inhospitable to them. I would have to believe that denying reentry to visa- and green-card-holding Moslems is clearly encouraging them to leave.

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/07/2017 - 08:51 pm.

            I don’t get it

            Trump’s action was directed against countries, not religion, and it was mostly directed towards those who have never been here. Green card holders were included by mistake, to the best of my understanding, and it was corrected right away. What does it have to do with inhospitality to Americans?

            • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/09/2017 - 09:49 am.

              Ben Franklin

              They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither. He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.

              • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/09/2017 - 08:29 pm.


                Should we revolt against car reguistration and taking off shoes in airports? The fact is, we have given up some liberties long ago… and it was reasonable because in life there should always be some balance and the choice is quite often between bad and very bad. I would say that being blown up by terrorist qualifies as “very bad.”

                • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/10/2017 - 09:15 am.


                  99.9% of the population will NEVER be blown up by terrorists. I have greater chance of falling off my own roof. Should I tear my house down in terror?

                • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/10/2017 - 11:40 am.

                  Perhaps a better question

                  What is the conservative notion of justice anyway? It seems to me to be some bizarro world in which proactive justice is anathema in areas where it makes the most sense (and causes the least disruption to individual liberty while protecting large amounts of people) things like food, environmental, and safety regulation. Here we are told we cannot possible prevent abuses and must only seek to punish bad actors after the crimes occur. Conversely we are told that reactive justice is insufficient to stem the tide of Islamic terrorism and as such we MUST rigorously detain and vet each and every visitor from whichever countries we choose (to protect the miniscule few who might find themselves in line of a theoretical attack, and at the cost of the total loss of individual liberty for those affected). How is this conservatism again? It’s almost like there’s some ulterior motivation, I wonder what it might be…

                  • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/10/2017 - 07:30 pm.

                    Here is my answer

                    True, 99.9% will never suffer from terrorism directly but are you OK with 0.01% being killed or maimed? And falling from roof is quite possibly more likely than being killed in a 9/11 type attack bat you have an option of not going to your roof; you may hire someone who knows how to do it and to safeguard lives of those you hire we have OSHA. We don’t have an option of never going to public places, do we?

                    Conservative justice… First, as I said before, I am not really a conservative even though some may think that I am based on some my posts but they miss my other ones. I never said that I am against all government regulations in general and FDA and EPA in particular even though I think they sometime overdo what they are supposed to do, as any government bureaucracy. I can also say that in their case there is at least a chance that a restaurant that serves bad food will not be in business for long based on market. When we talk about terrorists, that is not an option and, since the main function of government is providing security, making sure that terrorists do not come here makes sense.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 02/04/2017 - 05:08 pm.

      Curt (Carlson) hit it on the head

      The broader, or underlying, issue — and valid point of comparison — is demonization of particular groups of people in order to justify their persecution.

      To jump over the context leading UP to the Holocaust and then say the Holocaust is the only legitimate benchmark for comparison — so everyone should just stop doing that — leaves out way too much of the story (and relevant potential similarities).

      Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the Holocaust: Hitler didn’t take power one day and start herding people onto trains and into the gas chambers the next.

      His political career began in 1919 when he joined the German Workers’ Party (the NAZI) and turned out to be that party’s best, most inspiring speech maker which got him to the point of party leader.

      “Hitler was a powerful and spellbinding speaker who attracted a wide following of Germans desperate for change. He promised the disenchanted a better life and a new and glorious Germany. The Nazis appealed especially to the unemployed, young people, and members of the lower middle class (small store owners, office employees, craftsmen, and farmers).”

      It took 14 years for the politics in Germany to line up to the point where the German Workers’ Party was in a position to be able to appoint Hitler Chancellor and do it in a way that gave him the absolute power of a dictator while (somehow) still being in accord with Germany’s constitution, beyond legal reproach.

      The second phase of his march to the Holocaust started then, in Germany:

      “Following the appointment of Adolf Hitler as German chancellor on January 30, 1933, the Nazi state (also referred to as the Third Reich) quickly became a regime in which citizens had no guaranteed basic rights . . . In 1933, the regime established the first concentration camps, imprisoning its political opponents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others classified as ‘dangerous.’

      “Extensive propaganda was used to spread the Nazi Party’s racist goals and ideals. During the first six years of Hitler’s dictatorship, German Jews felt the effects of more than 400 decrees and regulations that restricted all aspects of their public and private lives.”

      So that scratches the surface of the 19 years between 1919 and 1938 and, to that point, Hitler’s “activities” (against everyone on his list of “undesirables”) were limited to actions taken INSIDE Germany and, while they included concentration camps, the Holocaust was still a ways off. Up to that point Hitler seems to have confined his actions to non-lethal demonization and persecution of various groups of people, including, but not limited to, Jewish people.

      Another thing Hitler was busy doing between 1933 and ’38 was building a military machine (“re-building the military” that had been decimated by WWI) that was powerful enough to ALmost conquer the world. (A good trick in country that is roughly the size of Texas.)

      Germany invaded Poland in 1939, World War II was on, and it was in the years that followed that the REAL, “practical mechanisms,” were put into gear: The “roundups” and transport of people to the concentration camps where the actual, highly-engineered, slaughter of the Holocaust took place.

      Given your long-time (and interesting) expression of your appreciation of “the American way” and your disdain for authoritarian forms of government, I would think you’d be extremely wary of anything that smacks of “government-initiated and sanctioned” demonization or persecution of ANY group of people, regardless of geographic location, religion or anything else.

      I’m not saying the new president is the reincarnation of Hitler, but when it comes to the idea that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” it seems to be the case that abominable events like the Holocaust are ALWAYS preceded by demonization, indoctrination (“of the masses” to convince them of the “validity” of that demonization) and persecution of whichever group happens to be in the crosshairs (or just another handy tool in the process of accumulating power).

      I find myself a little surprised to notice you (out of all those who comment here) defending or excusing that kind of thing and criticizing anyone who may be disturbed by their perception or suspicion that the president or government MAY be engaging in it.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/04/2017 - 08:06 pm.

        Well put

        To say nothing of the fact that fascism came in several flavors, while Hitler was the most terrible, I daresay we wouldn’t care for the likes of Mussolini or Franco either. Both of whom are probably better analogs to our current fledgling strongman anyway.

        • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/05/2017 - 09:18 am.

          Irrelevant flavors

          Sure, we wouldn’t want Franco and Mussolini here but neither would we want Chavez and Castro… But what does it have to do with the current situation? And to calm people’s fears, I would like to remind that FDR was very much in the mood to do things his way, too…

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/06/2017 - 01:48 pm.

            Current situation

            Trump has a lot in common with Chavez and Castro.

            • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/07/2017 - 02:52 pm.

              Like what?

              • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/08/2017 - 10:58 am.

                For Openers

                Megalomania, and a personality cult.

                • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/08/2017 - 07:37 pm.

                  Not really

                  What persoality cult if sdo many Republicans can’t stand the guy… On the other hand, please consider hiow many people “love,” “adore,” and “admire” Obama and Clinton…

                  • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/09/2017 - 11:58 am.

                    “Love, Adore, and Admire”

                    You’re very close to the “Liberals think Obama is the Messiah” meme popular among conservative “wits” a few years back.

                    Every President has admirers–even Nixon had some people who approved of him as President when he resigned. Trump supporters seem to be setting new standards for “admiration,” by voting for a man whose stated policy aims will hurt them (repeal of the ACA), but voting for him because he is at once a “straight talker,” but is someone who won’t keep the promises that will hurt them.

                    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/09/2017 - 08:35 pm.

                      I am

                      Many Trump’s voters voted for him as the better of two evils and even those who didn’t never said they loved the guy – at least I never ran into that being reported. And I personally never met a person who admire Trump while I met many-many people who admired Obama and Clinton… People who voted for Clinton quite often expressed love and admiration for her and that has been widely reported (and was evident in MinnPost comments). Admiration for Obama was even greater – even Mr. Black admitted that he admired him.

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/10/2017 - 01:43 pm.

            As written in a number of posts

            The word is Fascist tendencies:
            The first link is to the 14 points: Feel free to agree or disagree with the author. They are a good starting spot.
            The 2nd is a plug by someone perhaps liberal perspective (no I did not read it fully a quick headline scan) aligning the 14 points with Trump.
            Yes, in other posts out here, it was documented, the relationship between fascism, trump, and the present republican party. Suspect many folks (like Willy) and others, don’t see this as a political reach, but rather an educated observation and standard deduction or derivative of that observation. (Read not politically motivated)


            • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/10/2017 - 07:31 pm.

              Sorry – your link didn’t work and there was no second link… However, you may find similarities among anything – that is just an exercise in semantics until those similarities are meaningful. And by the way, I always compare Obama’s left with socialism and you always push back… But I lived in socialism while no one mentioning fascism has ever experienced it…

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/04/2017 - 10:40 pm.

        I disagree

        I do not see any group of people that is being demonized or persecuted by American government at the moment unless you count terrorists as a group of people. On the other hand, I would not consider acknowledgment of realistic understanding of a threat to be demonization or persecution. If anything, I would say that the group that is demonized the most is that 1% that apparently holds all the wealth making us all suffer… and that group was all extinguished several times in history of mankind in different places (and in the Soviet Union, twice). It is not persecuted yet… but who knows… if we consider the indoctrination of the crowds and the young by some people… And now, getting back to the specific “target” which, I assume, most people here believe to be Muslims, please consider statistics of hate crimes in America: as I said in my last post, Jews are still the main target…

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/06/2017 - 05:27 pm.

          Have no fear

          I expect they’ll get around to them too, eventually. The alt-right doesn’t strike me as a group to be satisfied with mere dog whistles. Tell me Ilya, in your “realistic” threat assessment is there a threat level that demands the detention and cuffing of middle eastern toddlers and infants? How about one for those seeking medical care, or those that have served our country as allies? We’ll just disregard the missing chapters on white supremacists, they must have gotten misplaced somewhere, I suppose.

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/07/2017 - 08:55 pm.

            A question

            Actually, most of anti-Jewish actions are committed by the left, not by the right… Can you give me a reference proving that toddlers and infants were cuffed? But if they were, that was obviously wrong and should have been prevented… And those helping America should be let in… So as you can see, I see the problem and am willing to correct it. Now please tell me, do you think we should be letting anyone who wants to be here? Isn’t it how rapes and terror acts happened in Europe? I mean will you acknowledge that your side is not totally right and we need to pay attention to our security?

            • Submitted by Robert Lilly on 02/08/2017 - 09:12 am.

              Nobody is saying we should just let in anyone who wants to.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/09/2017 - 01:57 pm.

              “[M]ost of anti-Jewish actions . . .”

              Why did the Republicans in the House of Representatives refuse to agree to a resolution that noted that Jews were singled out for destruction in the Holocaust?

              • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/09/2017 - 08:41 pm.

                Here is why

                I guess it was because those who brought up that resolution did it for purely political reason, not because they care about Jews…

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/10/2017 - 09:15 am.

                  Political Reasons

                  Does the House of Representative ever do anything for non-political reasons?

                  Let me ask the question another way: Why did the President’s Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation fail to make reference to the targeting of Jews (as the proclamations of Presidents Bush and Obama did)?

                  • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/10/2017 - 07:32 pm.

                    Because all previous proclamations were purely political as well and I don’t care whether those proclamations are issued or not and what is in them. I judge people (and Presidents) by actions, not words and proclamations…

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/09/2017 - 07:50 pm.

            Please elaborate!

            “Actually, most of anti-Jewish actions are committed by the left, not by the right”

            Fascism is consider “Right wing Philosophy” Hitler etal were by definition considered fascist, largest anti-jewish, short of the Egyptians that comes to mind. .
            Curious how you connect the dots.

            • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/10/2017 - 07:34 pm.

              I apologize

              I am sorry, I missed the word “now” in my post but I thought it was obvious sine I was talking in present tense. So yes, historically, it was the Right who were the most anti-Semitic but things have changed lately and now it is the Left – just look at Europe and how Sanders was attacked when he dared to defend Israel in the beginning of his campaign.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 02/03/2017 - 09:16 pm.

    Showing up

    Yes. I share the author’s concern over “crowd mentality”. But we’re living in a time when “showing up” really does count for something.

    I’d like to propose that we also return to the older term for these marches -“demonstrations”. When I was younger, people would participate in demonstrations. There were demonstrations for peace and demonstrations against nuclear weapons and the arms race- without any specific agenda. Watch “Take Her, She’s Mine” a James Stewart, Sandra Dee movie about youth rebellion where James Stewart is arrested for going to a sit-in demonstration. That’s from 1963 when activism in Hollywood had become very passe. But it was still during the Cold War when even demonstrating against the USA’s nuclear superiority in arms was considered a subversive.

    Can we please get over that? In this day and age, we need to demonstrate in solidarity against a world that increasingly assumes that our silence is assent.

  4. Submitted by Pauline Wahl on 02/04/2017 - 08:30 am.


    You expressed it so well. I’m no longer singing TO the choir, I’m singing WITH them. I swear it cures depression while letting the public as well as your elected representatives know what you’re voting for.

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/04/2017 - 09:43 am.

    This post is an important reaffirmation of the American Idea, and needs to be expressed.

    In the Trump era, it is becoming ever more dangerous to express dissent from his decrees–is anyone paying attention to his threats? to his personal attacks via Twitter? But we must dissent. And marching is one thing Trump will actually pay attention to: he’ll see it on TV, his main source of information.

  6. Submitted by Nancy Hall on 02/06/2017 - 07:40 am.

    Thanks, Susan!

    This IS what Democracy looks like. We do need to take to the streets to be heard! And we also need to encourage the people who stay home and t be bothered to cast their vote for Democracy on Election days.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/09/2017 - 09:33 am.

    Democracy isn’t free

    and it is always under attack, thus we must always be vigilant: So was the message of WWI and to many of us the message of today, democracy is under attack, we look at Trump as Fascist, if one has a bit of an inquiring mind it is easy to associate his actions, selections to cabinet posts etc. (and their beliefs) to the embodiment of a Fascist type regime. What bothers me the most is the amount of collaboration from the right! Elections do have consequences, and if we allow the Fascists to continue to take away some folks rights, when will they come for ours?

    This Quote from Martin Neimoller rings as apropos today as it was in the 40’s

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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