Being an immigrant and an American citizen for the last 40 years, I have come to appreciate and understand the meaning of true democracy.
The regular meaning of democracy is that the government does not control what people say or do. People can express their different opinions on any political issues without being punished. The country protects civil rights and liberties for its citizens. The government is not a dictatorship. Human rights are fundamental.
I have a different view of true democracy, as I have lived it.
True democracy is not fearing for my eldest daughter’s wellbeing when she became politically active and involved in demonstrations on campus during her senior year in college (against the U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf War). She has since graduated and become a successful medical doctor in North Carolina.
True democracy is when my other daughter was heavily involved in racial justice reform in the Bay area, and I was more worried about earthquakes there than her involvement in political rallies! Now she is an accomplished creative director living in New York City.
True democracy is not having to worry about my son, Omar, even when he had a big Afro and his hair grew bigger and bigger. His rock band grew even bigger and became famous and popular, touring all over the U.S. Now he is a thriving entrepreneur music producer and a big advocate of the arts and culture of downtown Lima.
True democracy is when I was involved with the Allen Lima Leadership program, and the Lima Police Department agreed on my request to ride along with a police officer during his second shift, to observe what issues are happening in our community. Officer Hammond and I hit it off really well, to the extent that we were wondering if we were related. (His name is “Hammond,” and my maiden name is “Hammad.”)
Officer Hammond was such a gentleman that when I told him I would like to stop by McDonald’s to use the restroom, he called his wife and asked her if their bathroom was OK to bring this fine lady (me) to use it. At his house, I remember telling Officer Hammond and his beautiful wife that my previous vision was that police officers were mean and pulled us over — but now I could see that they are normal people.
True democracy is having the freedom to start an interfaith group, Lima Interfaith Council, with 12 different religions, faiths and denominations — each one of us proud of our heritage and our beliefs. This last September, we had a big outdoor interfaith celebration. I had invited our Chief of Police both because I wanted him personally to attend, and I also had some security concerns. He kindly complied and attended wearing his uniform, and the event was very well received by our community.
I have also experienced true democracy with my role working at Coleman Professional Services. I have seen how our community is supporting and assisting some drug addicts to have a second chance, by fostering recovery and building independence for a healthier lifestyle.
True democracy is marching in the streets of downtown Lima, along with different community leaders, participating in the Black Lives Matter rally.
True democracy is the freedom to display my support of a political candidate by putting a sign in my front yard. Even when that sign was stolen from my yard a few times, it was kindly replaced with the help of my friends. The bigger story here is that many yards next to mine displayed a different political view, and we still have a neighborly love for each other.
In American, we, the two political parties, have different perspectives and disagreements on some political issues. But we still must work together on protecting and preserving our true democracy.
Folks, this is my humble experience with the American democracy!
Maha Zehery, a native Egyptian, lives in Lima. She delivered this as a speech during a pro-democracy rally Jan. 6 in Lima. Her column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of the newspaper.