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Gratitude for this democratic mess
This Thanksgiving, Im grateful for democracy. Yes, its a sticky mess, but right here, right now, its the best there is. - photo by Tiffany Gee Lewis
No matter what side of the aisle youre on, or if you walk smack down the center, the last few weeks have been tough ones for America.

Just when we thought things couldnt get worse, they got worse: riots, protests, angry spewing from all sides, and the tempest in a teapot that is Facebook stirring up a rage in even the gentlest of souls.

Yet here we are, heading into a holiday that is all about gratitude.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love a gathering that celebrates thanks, family and heaps of buttery potatoes. Like many families, ours has a tradition of going around the table to share what we are thankful for. And even though the thanks this year may be on the thin side, this is what Im grateful for:

Im grateful for democracy. Yes, its a sticky mess but right here, right now, its the best there is.

Im grateful for rule of law. Sometimes it breaks down, and yes, there are some real racial issues that need to be addressed but for the most part, rule of law in America functions remarkably well. I found this out nearly two decades ago when, as a study abroad student in Russia, half our student group got thrown into jail because the police wanted a bribe.

Im grateful for free speech. Look, I know we all hate the media. We all feel wronged in this election, and we feel like were being taken for a ride, but the reality is we are now a part of the media. With Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, we have become the mighty gatekeepers. And yes, thats messy, too, and it creates filter bubbles and all sorts of verbal backwash, but the beauty of having to wade through all that is we get to say what we want, and we dont get thrown into jail for it. We dont get exiled for cracking political jokes or get gunned down by an opposing party for sticking a political sign in our front yard.

Im grateful for the right to protest. Theres been a lot of protests this year and some of it has been ugly. However, peaceful protest is our constitutional right, and its one we should exercise when we feel called upon. In many countries, an act of protest brings out the armed military.

Im grateful for the right to vote. When my husband and I cast our vote before Nov. 8, we sat at home with our paper ballot (Oregon is mail-in only) and studied each candidate, weighing our choices and researching ballot measures. We showed our kids the list of candidates, and they watched in excitement as we sealed our envelopes and dropped them in the mail.

So yes, sometimes there is voter fraud. There are protests that get out of hand. There are breaches when it comes to rule of law, and free speech gets used and abused every day, but consider the alternative.

Recently we had a graduate student from Ethiopia over for dinner. His entire family, including his wife and son, are back in his home country, which is under a state of emergency. The government has mandated a curfew no one is to be out after 6 p.m., ever. Theyve shut down the schools. Theyve shut down the internet on mobile phones. Theyve blocked diaspora-run television stations.

If you watch these forbidden stations, you may be shot. If you dont vote in the rigged elections, you may be jailed.

As our friend told us about his home country, our kids sat in rapt silence. We may pray every day for the refugees and the political unrest half a world away, but this was the real thing, sitting at our kitchen table.

We asked our friend the obvious: Will you go back?

Of course, he said. It is my home, and I must do what I can to fight against the regime. He added, in the most matter-of-fact way, And I will probably die trying.

So, Im grateful to live in a country where we can all hope to effect change without risking our lives. We can strengthen our communities. We can give voice to the voiceless. We can demand that our local and national leaders adhere to those basic rights given to us by the Founding Fathers. We can teach our children how to love and understand those with vastly different opinions.

We can continue to exercise our constitutional freedoms in a respectful, loving way, knowing that the clunky, often-frustrating democratic process is still better than no democracy at all.
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