If I have heard it said once, I have heard it said a million times: "I just do not know how to think about this presidential election cycle." If the truth be told, I have said this to myself.
Yesterday an answer came to me, but it came in the form of another question: "Is this our Arab Spring?" A knee-jerk response to this question might be that the thought is ridiculous. Whatever the issues — and there are plenty of them, we do after all have a democratically, or at least quasi-democratically, elected president and congress. We all know that corruption is present, but most would agree that it is a bit outrageous to compare the U.S. to Mubarak's Egypt or Qaddafi's Libya.
Scholars have strained to understand the pro-democracy movements beginning in Tunisia in 2010 and spreading to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and beyond, now known as the Arab Spring. Interestingly enough they point out some dynamics that are tantalizingly similar to what we have experienced in these past months.
Florence Guab in a report entitled Understanding Instability: Lessons from the Arab Spring , written for the Arts and Humanities Council, asks how it was possible to miss the factors that eventually led to the uprisings. I have lost count of the number of times this question has been asked in relationship to the rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Guab also posits that while analysts finally did correctly identify some of the root causes of the uprisings, they failed to grasp the impact of the interplay among them. We see inklings of this insight emerging as analysts comment on the U.S. situation. New York Times columnist David Brooks noted, "Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams." He then adds, pointing to an interplay among factors, "The American system is not working for them."
On the other hand, Sanders has his own coalition of the disaffected pointing to unpaid corporate taxes, college debt, ever increasing income inequality, and superPAC influence on elections, with the sum total of the interplay among these factors leading to allegations of an oligarchy rather than a government "of the people, by the people and for the people."
In light of the complex interaction among all of these factors, one might be forgiven for concluding that we have lost our democracy. Maybe thoughts of our own Arab Spring aren't so ridiculous after all.
Then there is the anger, and it is not the anger that Augustine spoke of as one of hope's beautiful daughters. It is the anger born of fear, distorted perceptions, and unresolved personal issues. It is vicious, incendiary and irrational. It rushes to judgment and is the antithesis of St. Paul's great hymn to charity. (1 Corinthians 13) If not skillfully managed, we learned from the Arab Spring, it has the potential to suffocate the nascent seeds of societal self-renewal. This is sobering indeed.
Where do go from here? I had breakfast with a friend the other day. She told me her daughter is a doula. Coming from the Greek word meaning woman servant or caregiver, in current usage doulas are women who offer emotional and physical support to a woman and her partner before, during and after childbirth. Doulas, we are told, help to keep the birth normal and are considered valuable additions to the birth team.
Serious issues that have been crying out for attention for decades have finally seen the light of day in this election cycle. More than one scholar speaking of the Arab Spring has noted that that the real challenge is to translate popular protest and anger into real and lasting change. People power by itself is not enough, they tell us.
Maybe it is time to stop shaking our heads or fists in disgusted bewilderment about what is happening in this election cycle and recognize that our democracy is trying to be reborn in our midst. Maybe it is time for all of us, women and men, to begin acting as doulas to the process.
Most of us have been training for a life time for this role. Whether it is through raising a family, being a member of a religious community, or heading up a business, we have imbibed the core decency inherent in the principles Catholic social teaching. We know the importance of the common good, the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of Earth, the importance of work. We have learned, often the hard way, the pragmatic rewards of collegiality and subsidiarity. Life itself has taught us that non-violent communication skills complemented by anger management techniques have their own rewards.
Last but hardly least, if you are reading Global Sisters Report it probably means that you are in one way or another, a meditator. Contemporary scholarship tells us that regular meditation calms the amygdala— that part of the brain which fuels our spikes of anger and the knee jerk reactions that some of us come to regret.
What a reservoir of resources we have to offer this election cycle. Doulas more than anything show up. How can you show up to make certain that what could well be a national re-birth is not aborted? How can you insert yourself into the public debate, calming the anger, skillfully weaving people power into public policy for lasting change? How can you act as doula to the rebirth of democracy in this historic moment?
[Margaret Galiardi, is a Dominican Sister from Amityville, New York, whose passion is the contemplative integration of justice and peace for people and planet. She is a “lover of the wild,” a spiritual director and workshop and retreat leader who has lectured nationally on the New Cosmology and the Christian Story. She spent a year living with the Trappistine monks in their monastery on the Lost Coast of Northern California in the Redwood Forest.]
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