Global democracy is backsliding. According to Freedom House, a nongovernmental, nonpartisan organization, the health of democracy and human rights has declined in at least 80 countries since the beginning of the pandemic.
In Myanmar last month, the military junta, which ruled and oppressed the country for decades, reasserted control after they lost power in democratic elections. In India, protests by farmers has lead to harassment of journalists, internet shutdowns and social media restrictions. In Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalnay was imprisoned after surviving an attempted poisoning by Vladimir Putin’s thuggish government. In Hong Kong, massive pro-democracy demonstrations have been squelched as mainland China tightens its grip on the populace. And let’s not forget the story so close to home for me, the Capitol riot in Washington D.C., an unprecedented effort to overturn an American presidential election stoked by an anti-democratic president. That trend has now morphed into a battery of state election laws that especially (but elegantly) target black voters.
As I watched that assault on TV, I sketched to keep my hands busy. My anxiety was through the roof at the time. I was thinking about how fragile our institutions are, how democracy requires everyone to agree on the legitimacy of the system. When you don’t even have that buy-in, what are you left with? How do you have a functioning government when losers don’t concede?
So I was thinking of forms like Greek columns breaking apart, tumbling, leaning, becoming thin and unstable and shot through with a blood-red lighting strike:
I knew I wanted to make it into a quilt.
The dates on the top and the bottom refer to the day of the Capitol riot and the date of the coup in Myanmar. I thought the second set of numbers was a significant date to bookend the piece in order to acknowledge other threats to democracy in the world. This is not an isolated trend in one country but a troubling global theme. Also, it is interesting to me that the Myanmar generals justified their overthrow of the election with language eerily similar to that used to stoke the riot in Washington.
As I was getting ready to finish this piece, I thought something drastic was needed to complete the thought expressed here. After carefully finishing the quilt completely, I thought it would be interesting to literally unravel it partially when I was finished. As I thought about this, it stoked even more thoughts on how democracy is always unraveling and always needs to be recreated by each generation. We can never stop fighting for it. It is always being remade, for better or worse.
So, this story is to be continued…