Democracy is an Act

A lesson from the late John Lewis

This week was a tough one for Americans. I’ve been repeating a phrase a lot to myself in the last couple of days.

I hadn’t read or heard the phrase before, but I heard it during the debate on the objections to the counting of the Electoral College. The phrase comes from the late John Lewis’s final essay: Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation. Here’s what he said:

Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

The phrase is a challenge because it reminds us that democracy is not a gift, and we have not reached our stated ideals. Although words matter, our democracy requires more than words. It requires action.

The phrase also creates space for acceptance, though, because it allows us to accept that our nation is not perfect, and never has been. There will also be work to do. Because democracy is not an end game. It is not a destination. It is not who we are.

We are a country of great beauty, and terrible ugliness. And yet, democracy creates the chance for us to become better than we are.