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Democracy And The Importance Of Turning Up

09/02/2017 11:14 GMT | Updated 09/02/2017 11:14 GMT

"Democracy - the belief in freedom and equality between people" (Cambridge English Dictionary)

The true meaning of democracy, for me, is that everyone in a democratic society has the right to be equal. Democracy surpasses gender, skin colour, and sexuality. Everyone, no matter who they are, has a right to be treated equally and fairly by the democratic process. At the beginning of this year, a new leader of the free world was sworn into the Presidency of the USA. Protests, democratic rights and protected by the first amendment, spread like wildfire not only around America but also internationally. What shocked me to the core however, was watching a livestream video from one of the protests in London and then witnessing the comments in real time.

"It doesn't matter, he's America's problem"

And therein lies the single greatest issue facing the world right now. Democracy is losing, and we are letting it. When I say that Democracy is losing, I don't refer to the voting process. Donald Trump was voted in legally. But did his campaign meet the spirit of democracy? No. Is it democratic to make use of 'alternative facts? To mock the disabled? To refuse to apologise? To threaten to put a political opponent in prison? To openly commend dictators of other countries who have on more than one occasion interfered with the democratic process in the U.S? There was nothing of the democratic spirit about Trump's campaign.

One would think our main concern would be the fact that a reality TV star who has declared bankruptcy four times, who has refused to release his tax returns, who has openly boasted about sexually assaulting women, and who has at best a dubious relationship with the truth, has managed to convince sufficient voters in he USA to make him the most powerful man in the world. But that isn't it. The rise of Donald Trump is a symptom of a much darker disease.

Democracy is key.

In the current political climate, anyone with their ear to the ground can sense a shift in the waters of the tide of politics. It's been happening for years. Typically in history, a rise in nationalism combined with charismatic leaders who criticise the freedom of the press, wildly exaggerate facts and who question the right to protest, has never ended well for minority groups.

Donald Trump is not the disease. He's riding the wave of nationalism that has been growing in the Western world for years. The question is; why isn't the spirit of democracy winning? Why are huge numbers of people voting for the man they believe will build a wall to stop immigration and rescind basic LGBT rights? The answer is simple: Change. People who typically don't like change have spent the last eight years watching a Democrat lead the free world in working towards equal rights for all. The same people who don't like change have elected the most radical, controversial President the world has ever seen. "Make America Great Again" is clearly synonymous with "Make America how it was twenty years ago". Immediately the page dedicated to LGBT issues has been stripped from the White House website. Already steps are being taken to stop women having the right to govern their own bodies. People who are mentally ill can now buy firearms unchecked, but a five year old is handcuffed and deemed a security risk. There's no logic to any of it, but people who are backed into a corner and confronted with change are dangerous. That's why we are not winning. We think it's 'America's problem'. We criticise others for protesting across the world and ask "what good will it do?"

The reason this dark tide is stronger than us is because it relies on our apathy and our willingness to believe sound bite politics. We ask how Kellyanne Conway can defend Sean Spicer's made up inauguration numbers as "alternative facts", but we don't think about what effect this has. It may trend on social media, but what about the hundreds of thousands of people who actually believe what they say? It doesn't matter if they are proved wrong after the event because the damage was done the minute the words came out of their mouths. Whilst serial liars are a problem, they are relatively harmless without serial believers. Serial believers are what allow the unqualified to claim they are qualified. They allow the man-baby his platform, and they believe whatever he says, no matter how absurd or whether it contradicts what he's said before. We assumed that Brexit wouldn't happen. Live on television on the day that Britain voted itself out of the European Union, there were those who voted 'leave' confessing that they cast their ballot without knowing what E.U stands for. Throughout the presidential campaign there were dozens of viral videos where Trump supporters who were interviewed couldn't name a single policy other than "he's going to build a wall".

I myself have been called a "libtard" just for tweeting in defence of LGBT rights when the executive order on religious freedom was released, as if it's socially acceptable to accuse me of being somehow mentally inferior because I believe that everyone should have the right to be who they are without being discriminated against. When did that become ok? The last year in the free world has allowed the underbelly of society to bear their warts to all without any consequences because, thanks to "alternative facts", they have an excuse to do so. Racists, homophobes and sexists are no longer afraid. The masks have come off, because it's becoming acceptable to judge others for the way they were born, and not by the actions they take. The line between 'freedom of speech' and 'hate speech' is so blurred that it's possible for people to take advantage of it without redress or consequence. It was these very people who turned up on Election Day when hundreds of thousands of people stayed at home because they were either on the fence, did not believe Trump would win, or didn't like either candidate. We didn't believe Brexit would happen. We underestimated the power of fear politics. We underestimated how many people would buy into the lies.

So what happens now?

We protect the press. We protest (peacefully). We educate. Write to your local MPs, your local governors, your senators, your mayors. But most of all, vote. Vote locally. Vote nationally. Vote in every way you can - protect our democracy and make your voice heard. The people caught up in the wave of retrospective nationalism will turn up, because hate and fear create passion and belief, so we have to turn up too. The protests that have happened around the world are only the beginning. We have to turn up, and keep turning up, and show that we believe equally as hard as they do, and that respect and acknowledgement of the rights of our fellow humans, no matter their skin colour, country of origin, gender, sexuality or whatever differences we may have, are the core values of the society we want to live in. Democracy is the single most important construct our society has ever developed and, whilst it has flaws like everything else, it's beautiful, and it works when we turn up.