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What is democracy, and can it work for us?

In this new year, I have encountered the following questions: “What is democracy? What are threats to democracy?” Well…I wasn’t asked if democracy as a political structure exists or if it should be reformed.

As someone who was trained in white man’s academia and by many white men’s interpretation of political works from other older white men, dead or alive, I have no faith in this democracy. At the start of the New Mexico legislative session, these questions and my analyses have come at the perfect time.

A reproductive justice leader said what few of us of a certain political persuasion are willing to say: President Barack Obama’s election was smoke and mirrors. We put so much value into representation politics that a discussion about how it harms us is seen as making trouble. For example, Senator Muñoz, a Democrat who represents a huge Diné population, voted against abortion access, just as Representative Wanda Johnson (D), who is Diné, did. That is a [somewhat] recent example of representation potentially harming New Mexicans. President Barack Obama, while we celebrated his win twice, still dropped more bombs in the Middle East than his predecessors. His administration deported a record number of migrating relatives.

The discussion I was part of included hard truths and hurtful reminders of what this country has done to enslaved Africans and Indigenous peoples. The founding fathers were mostly slave owners. The federal government’s shape is a bastardized version of the Iroquois Confederacy. The key groups, like women and LGBTQ people, are left out of this version of governing. Someone asked, “What did the mothers of children who were about to be sold off the next day tell them?” It made me wonder what my Apache ancestors told the children and elders the nights or days before battling the federal government. What did my northern Pueblo friends’ ancestors tell their families in the nights leading up to the Pueblo Revolt in 1680?

I reflect on these things as I think about democracy and what threatens it. How can a threat exist for something that may not exist? I know that democracy in the United States isn’t a true democracy, it’s a democratic republic. But the existing system of democracy was not created with anyone not white or land owners in mind- how can it work for us? In short, it doesn’t work for us and it never will. Why are we so afraid of admitting this?

My colleagues and I wonder what happens with voters in the minority. Not in the sense of BIPOC voters but those who voted and don’t get what they voted for. The infamous January 6th event in 2021, where white people took a shit in the halls of Congress, is an example of white people getting mad about the system their ancestors created that did not work for them that year, and somehow not realizing the system will work just fine with the white man who replaced Donald Trump.

This writing is not meant to have the answers or a solution. Rather, it is the beginning of a critique of American democracy and the first of many attempts to articulate what true liberation can look like when we understand that the system we have now cannot be reformed. Indigenous Women Rising is not interested in participating in just reform for the sake of fixing an oppressive system. We want an overhaul of a white supremacist system that devalues us as queer people, nonbinary people, women, children, and devalues our land.

While we will be in Santa Fe during the legislative session, we are as aware as ever that even our own relatives in the Roundhouse, whether they are staffers, legislators, or tribal leaders, are engaging in a system that hurts themselves and their own people.

I will leave you with a bit of wisdom from Dorothy Roberts: “These systems cannot be reformed but we can work in them with the goal of abolishing them completely.”

a woman in a beanie and scarf, in a crowd of people, holding up a sign that reads ERROR 155: Democracy not found
Photo credit: Randy Colas


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