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About Democracy and Freedom of Speech

Thoughts about this past week's events at the Nation's Capital and my birth city - Washington DC

Women's March, Democracy
Women's March - a peaceful demonstration I had the honor to be part of in January 2017

I can't even remember when I first learned about democracy. I was lucky to be born and grow in societies where democracy was a given. It was the nature of the society. Just as the sun, the air, the sea and the earth are part of our natural habitat. I do recall the following quote which resonated with me the most:

"(Democracy is) The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins." Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

This literal visualization make it clear. It's as simple as that. There is a limit for what one can do, say, think or behave in any way or manner. That limit is another's turf. This is the foundation to everything. This is the basic non-written agreement, one's assumption, that no matter what - they will be able to survive. Whenever there's a dilemma - I visualize a fist swinging towards my or someone else's nose. If it is not touching - all good. If it is - then we have a problem.

Sadly, many people are confusing democracy with freedom of speech. They feel entitled to say anything or do anything without any boundary or consequence. While freedom of speech is a democratic fundamental, it cannot be exercised to cause harm. The following quote is clarifying this flaw:

"To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it."G.K. Chesterton

The best example I can think of is getting upset with someone. People who choose to live in a society can get upset or emotional, but they cannot carry out their anger or frustration in a manner that will offend or hurt another. They can use reason or action that may or may not be agreed upon, but they cannot take action or a stand that will diminish or abolish others.

Women's March, Washington DC, Democracy
Women's March - Washington DC, January 2017

I grew up in a house and in an environment that encouraged individual's participation in democracy. We don't just live our lives without taking a stand. We vote, and we accept the voters' decision, even if it's not what we hoped for. We protest and we challenge if we think that the authorities is wrong. But we do it in a peaceful manner. Some may argue that shutting down a city for a rally is a pain. While it's an interruption of one's daily life, or causes inconvenience, it is still not hitting anyone's nose.

Women's March, Democracy, Capitol Hill
Capitol Hill as seen on January 2017 during the Women's March

These past week's events in Washington DC brought back emotional memories from different times in my life. The photos in this post are showing another protest that took place 4 years ago at the exact same place. Millions of women, men, non-binary and children, gathered back then (and all over the world) to say: "Women count. People of color count. Democracy counts. People's right to choose what they want to do with their own bodies and how to live their lives." It was a call to the newly elected representatives to know that we, the people, are watching them. And if they keep treating us the way they do - there will be consequences. In spite of the frustration we all felt with the elections results - no-one carried out that frustration through violence nor disrespect of the democratic process.

Another flashback I had was to November 4, 1995 in Tel Aviv, Israel. At the end of a peace rally which was an act of support of our Prime Minister - Itzhak Rabin and his government, Mr. Rabin was assassinated by a shameless individual who disagreed with the governments actions. I was at that rally with my friends. We were young and hopeful high school graduates who were about to serve in the Israeli army. We came there to say: "Yes to peace. No to war and violence". That horrifying night shook us hard as a nation. The months after the assassination, Israel was making amends with regards to freedom of speech. Finally, Israelis understood the difference between freedom of speech and sedition. The difference between expressing your opposite opinion, and inciting people.

One of the hardest feelings I struggled with back in 1995 as well as in the past week, was the feeling that democracy extinguished in front of my eyes. In his final speech, minutes before he was assassinated, the Prime Minister said:

"Violence erodes the basis of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned and isolated... In a democracy there can be differences, but the final decision will be taken in democratic elections..." Itzhak Rabin

Even throughout the darkest moments of the Trump's presidency, I had faith in the democratic system. The responsibility of the law makers and the respect we all have to the process. On Wednesday, January 6, 2021 I lost faith for long hours. The immanent danger our law makers experienced, and the explicit contempt to symbols of our democracy by the violent mob made me feel hopeless. Even though both House and Senate representatives did the right thing, by resuming their deliberations and votings within a few hours, this feeling of uncertainty and despair is still underlying. I hope the coming days until the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and the 4 years to follow will be able to restore my trust, faith and hope in the American democracy.



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