Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Democracy looks like someone's mom

The ruined presidential palace in Port Au Prince
On Fonkoze’s website there is this tagline: Building the Economic Foundations for Democracy in Haiti.

Now often we run into taglines that sound awesome, but don’t really jive with an organization's activity. Fonkoze’s tagline is not aspirational. If anything I think it’s the best descriptor I’ve seen so far of what they do.

Democracy seems to be a notion that’s been on the tip of the tongue here for hundreds of years. Without going into Haitian history, let’s just say the people of Haiti are still waiting. And among the things that Haitian’s seem to want (health care, education, food security, to not live in tents) democracy is a real root desire.

Underneath the loans or the vitamins or the insurance… beyond any of the services Fonkoze provides, there is this subtle current of democracy. The women who come together in solidarity groups are really enacting a deep desire to participate, to be involved in something that isn’t corrupt or coercive. And it seems like with every new group of Fonkoze women there are five more Haitians for whom Democracy is a real living, breathing thing.

Now as far as I understand it, Haiti has a long way to go in terms of political democracy. And I assume the tagline refers to the fact that with greater economic possibilities, political democracy can be built. But I can't help smiling when I think of this growing tide of women who are meeting each day to practice democracy.

Today I'm back in Brooklyn, a day after my own country's democratic low point. What sticks with me most from our weeks in Haiti is this longing for opportunity, this resistance to hopelessness. When people have asked about our trip, I've had nothing adequate to say. But maybe it's just that we saw a little hope in a hopeless place... and it looked a lot like someone's mom.

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