Ailing America needs a Friendship Day and a pro-democracy movement
When the U.S. realized that a premier democracy with its own colony was a tad hypocritical, it finally gave the Philippines independence in 1946–on July 4th.
But it was kind of a backhanded independence. To have it on that day was itself an oppressive symbol, an extended form of “psychological” colonization. Filipinos realized they needed their own day to celebrate freedom and chose June 12, when the Philippines first broke free from Spain after the Spanish American War.
Filipinos, however, didn’t want to bail on a good excuse to party on July 4. So the date was kept, though relegated to “Friendship Day.”
Still, not a bad compromise, really. Maybe even for America to emulate now. We need a Friendship Day here—for all Americans, among each other.
It could be a reminder that we’re on the same team, as President Obama liked to keep saying, in a way that everyone could understand, when he was trying to bridge what has become the great American divide.
But here we are in mid-2021, after the twin disaster of an actual pandemic and a political pandemic–four years of a president who, though out of office, is still hellbent on destroying our democracy. After all that, what are we left with? Not a sense of unity. Not in an America where no one can seem to agree on anything. Masks? Vaccines? The Constitution?
And let’s put aside hot buttons like abortion, policing, or race, for now.
Let’s just think of practical matters of import, like how do we fund and fix our infrastructure to make sure our country’s roads and bridges are safe for all? America is crumbling, and partisan bickering is making it all crumble faster.
How can we balance our priorities and close the income gaps that exist in society so the focus in America is less on the rich, and more on benefitting poor and middle class working families?
And then we have the basis of our democracy itself. How do we make sure that everyone gets heard in our country through the fundamental right of franchise? Not the right to open a Jollibee or a Panda Express. The right to vote. That kind of franchise.
If you believe that all people should vote, and that low turnout is a shame on democracy, then you’re talking maybe a little like Andrew Yang. He recently lost the Democratic primary for New York City mayor, but in a post-election podcast this week, he was upbeat about voting and expressed he’s bullish on mobile voting.
Mobile voting? There’s an app for that? Something that might bring droves of young voters to the polls. Some kind of VoteDash? Possible, if it’s un-hackable. Just remember the Republicans want to deny you a chair and some water while you wait in line to vote in some states. That’s where this country is these days.
On the other hand, if you maintain that the presidency was stolen last November from Trump, then you believe not only in the “Big Lie,” but in its enabler, the myth of voter fraud.
And then it’s likely you were either part of the insurrection of the capitol or supporting the violent actions on Jan. 6. Is all that worth investigating—to protect our democracy? The GOP establishment says, of course not.
It prefers the anti-democracy solution: restrict voting because that will restrict the non-existent fraud. Nothing like addressing the fake problem so as not to look like you are ignoring the real problem.
Yes, the GOP believes in tightening up democracy. Exclude people from voting by making the rules tighter and tougher so that even legally cast ballots are disqualified. For example, you vote out of precinct or have a mail ballot mishandled. These are laws that will likely hurt Asian Americans and other people of color disproportionately.
That’s the example in the Arizona case that went to the Supreme Court. This week in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the six conservative justices (including the three Trump appointees) beat back the three liberal ones to side with voting restrictions. Already 17 states have restrictive laws, with Nevada, Texas, and Florida, with the most Asian Americans. And now challenging any of them will be near impossible.
This is another blow to perhaps the single most important civil rights law on the books, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Already gutted over the years, last Friday’s ruling is the alarm for Congress to take action and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act in order to restore protections that would preserve our democracy.
The VRA is still not totally useless. There is still Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandates bilingual ballots and language assistance for Asian Americans and other language minority voters. It’s the reason in Lowell, Massachusetts ballots must be available in Cambodian. In Santa Clara County and San Jose in California, ballots must be in Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese. And in Bergen County, New Jersey, ballots must be in Korean.
That’s the Voting Rights Act in action for our Asian American communities. In fact, in June, AALDEF sued the city of Hamtramck, Michigan for failing to provide ballots in Bengali, as required by law.
But what good is a bilingual ballot or assistance when other restrictions are imposed to make sure your vote is voided on some technicality.
Louder than fireworks, the cries for a restored Voting Rights Act should break eardrums on the Fourth.
At a time when we should be uniting and rallying behind the flag, our country is more divided than ever. We’ve lost sight of this thing called democracy and what independence gave us for 245 years.
It shouldn’t be democracy for some, and not for all. But that’s how it’s working out.
And it only gets worse, especially when Trump, the master gas-lighter, continues to hold rallies like he did on Saturday night in Florida, revving up a crowd claiming again the election was “stolen and rigged.”
“I am not the one trying to undermine American democracy,” Trump said, then got his loudest cheers when he said, “I am the one trying to save American democracy.”
Maybe he felt compelled to have a rally on the week the chief financial officer for his company was indicted in New York for tax fraud. It’s Trump’s way of trying to drown out the truth with bombast.
It would be better if he just stopped telling lies about the election last November which only furthers the divide and distrust among Americans in our electoral system.
It would be better yet if Americans weren’t riled up by Trump to the point where we could see each other as friends rather than enemies.
A Friendship Day among each other would help. Maybe then that could lead to a full-fledged pro-democracy movement. An ailing America could use it.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for the Inquirer.net North American Bureau. See his vlog at www.amok.com and Live on Facebook Watch at 2pm Pacific, Mon.-Fri.