Practicing Democracy with Carwasheros

Democracy is a practice. And like any practice, whether praying or playing an instrument, social interaction or legislation, you have to work at it to get it right. In an early celebration of Independence Day, I joined about 30 carwasheros, organizers from the CLEAN car wash campaign, CLUE-LA, and community folks, walking a picket line in support of a boycott of Aztec Auto Detailing in Century City. 

Many of the workers at the carwash are recent immigrants who came to this country for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but had found themselves in jobs in which they were neither treated with dignity, nor given adequate safety and health protections, and were not adequately compensated. And yet, they still remained faithful to the vision on which this country was founded—a vision which is ever in the process of fulfillment.

Two hundred and thirty seven years ago this country was founded on the principle that people, as a result of all being created equal, were granted certain unalienable rights, among which were the above stated “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is for this reason, according to the Declaration of Independence, that government exists.

Four score and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln, speaking after one of the most ferocious battles of the Civil War at Gettysburg, rededicated the nation to the idea that all men are created equal. Not just landowners, not just white men.

It took another fifty seven years for the legislative bodies to recognize that women were also people, and to grant them the vote.

And still, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, on anniversary of the Gettysburg address, that the century old promise of equality was a promissory note that was returned marked insufficient funds. And again, it was the oppressed and the marginalized who raised up the dream of America.

Yesterday, walking the picket line I was once again reminded that it is those who desperately cling to the vision of that more perfect union that these United States can become, who teach us all about the means to get there. It is not, as the bombastic and specious quote goes, the blood of tyrants which is needed to refresh the tree of liberty. Violence, we are reminded on a daily basis, only begets violence. It is the voices of the dreamers and the desperate, the voices of the downtrodden who refresh the tree of liberty.

Happily, in the noon heat of a July 3, two hundred and seventy three years after that day in Philadelphia, we chanted, answering the megaphone’s call with firm and proud response: “What does democracy look like?” “This is what democracy looks like!”

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