This is what democracy looks like
On old age, wearing stickers, and the true heroes of democracy
"This is what democracy looks like!": It's a chant often used by people who gather in the streets to protest, and it's untrue. Democracy looks like a 111-year-old woman who never misses a vote. Democracy is knowing that you won't get everything that you want, but neither will anyone else. It's showing up for the routine act of voting, peacefully and consistently, contributing more and more legitimacy to the system as the individual votes pile up.
■ Sometimes we're too quick to mistake mass activities for democracy. Sometimes, protest gatherings are useful: See the examples of the Selma to Montgomery march or the Maidan protests in Ukraine nearly a decade ago. If democratic channels are unavailable, people may well need to gather to make their voices heard.
■ But when universal suffrage prevails, polling places are secure, and the ballot box is counted fairly, then democracy looks like the individual voter informing themselves and voting their conscience -- many individuals over. The "I Voted" sticker is fun as a cultural artifact, but it's also the mark of a functional system, where people are free to indicate what they want in privacy and without fear of reprisals.
■ We honor the people who sacrificed on behalf of democratic rule when we participate in elections. We should of course honor those who risk or sacrifice their personal safety in order to protect democratic institutions.
■ But self-government isn't guaranteed by the armed forces alone. It's also guaranteed by the legitimacy conferred by mass participation. Susie Lewis, the voter who has showed up for nine decades of elections? She's a hero of democracy.