Democracy lives in Miami, but only if you participate

Not long ago, if someone told you about a country making international news with its contentious leadership, where politicians openly threaten to throw their opponents in jail, where elections are dismissed as rigged, you might have thought of a troubled Eastern Bloc nation or of one of those places people disparagingly refer to as a “banana republic.

But you probably would not have thought of the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Some say that the decline in trust and civility in our political landscape can be traced to Watergate or the social upheavals of the 1960s. Some would point to the rise of cable TV news and social media.

Whatever the origins, it feels as if we may have reached a tipping point of degenerative public discourse, with the future health of our democracy in the balance.

It would be a mistake to believe that the intense polarization we experience today is simply about immigration, reproductive rights, race or any one policy or point of view. Political disagreement is natural and inevitable.

What we’re experiencing now is something more. Our democratic values and the institutions that protect them are being undermined.

The independence of our courts and the rule of law are attacked by activists who call on politicians to ignore rulings with which they disagree. Our cherished free press is disparaged so harshly that journalists are sometimes are in physical danger. The line between fact and political hyperbole is blurred, if not obliterated.

Let’s be clear — attacks on the values and institutional protections that safeguard our freedoms are neither liberal nor conservative, they are un-American.

Our ability as Americans to differentiate between policy, ideology and values is vital to a healthy democracy. We can support wildly different policy solutions to our challenges and espouse ideological perspectives reflecting fundamentally different approaches to governing, while still sharing a set of core American values. These guiding principles provide the framework for the health and vitality of our civic infrastructure.

Although it is our civic responsibility to stand up for issues we believe in, deep down we also know that a political environment where every man, woman and interest group regardless of their ideology is out only for themselves is potentially dangerous for us all.

So how do we survive these anxiety-ridden times? We stop, take a breath and re-align ourselves to these shared values, such as truth and justice.

Miamians — Democrats, Republicans, Independents and those with no party affiliation — are coming together from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8 at the Proscenium Theatre in Little Haiti to affirm to each other and to the world that, “Democracy Lives in Miami.”

That means we have to make sure that it lives in each of us.

American democracy depends on the government and its citizens telling the truth. In a democracy, offering points of view and citing evidence as part of genuine discourse are foundational principles of community and the engines for healthy politics, economics and culture.

As Americans, we expect justice from our courts and law enforcement agencies. When we can depend on being treated fairly, we become part of something bigger- a democratic community-something we have a stake in and are willing to fight for.

Our history is marked by moments when Americans took stock, and then took action on behalf of our democratic values and institutions. These moments of collective reflection and commitment include a decision to enter World War II, resistance to McCarthyism, the extension of the right to vote for women, and the Civil Rights Movement’s fight for full equality, just to name a few.

While the past has taught us invaluable lessons about securing our freedoms, it is now our task to ensure democracy for the future. Regardless of our identities and political affiliations, we must find common ground in resisting those who seek to attack, diminish or dismantle our democratic institutions.

Democracy Lives in Miami is free and open to the public. Seating is limited, and attendees must register in advance online. Don’t let anyone dismiss this call for genuine public discourse as a faint effort to be “polite” or “politically correct.” It’s not.

Simply put, if you know your political opponent shares your commitment to this country and its democratic institutions, you are much more likely to be a better listener, and thus generate more productive, solution-oriented conversations.

Jorge Mursuli is a community builder. He is the former executive director of SAVE Dade.