Definitions of Democracy Part One

Greetings from New York

If our civilization should come to and end, and it may, and in the future another intelligent life form would look back at the history of human accomplishments, than New York City, as it exists right now at this moment, would stand as the finest definition of our Democracy. In a country and system in which it is so easy to find fault, the streets of the central borough of the city, Manhattan, are a wonderment to behold. There democracy exhibits itself as a mind boggling anarchy of people, few of whom seem to have much to do with each other, walking, talking, crossing, in huge numbers, like busy little Incas who have skipped the blood lust event for that day, yet have an equally determined destination and manage as they scurry around along how ever tight the passageways, to never bump into one another. And if by accident they touch, however slight the bump, they stop and say “excuse me” or “I am sorry.” If they do not apologize than they are usually tourists, often Italians, whose democracy is not comparable to ours. 50 million tourists visited the city last year, many our fellow countrymen, all just wanting to experience, or at least briefly witness, what a democracy actually is. Unlike the Western United States where we drive around one or two to a vehicle burning up gas, most New Yorkers travel by subway, and hybrid electric bus, and like it. If an aged or infirm person wishes to board, and the city is full of such people, the bus knells down to let them enter, as if in homage to their physical helplessness. Because of mass transit and compressed living spaces, this media, arts, and financial center of our country, and some argue of the world, is a super energy efficient place to live. Though 8,000,000 humans manage to live on the four islands, and single piece of the mainland that make up the city; many of them do not own cars. 37% are immigrants, and while NYC is the largest city in the English speaking world, 170 different languages are spoken there. In all boroughs people walk! I saw them myself. They were walking everywhere, on paved side walks, made for just that purpose. I have been lucky in many things in life. I started out lucky too. I was born to immigrant parents in Brooklyn in 1942.
I grew up in a world of prejudice. Not any more. In the civil rights movement they used to say “its like we died and went to heaven and it was integrated there.” New York is so integrated today that you can enjoy being the only white person in a subway train. Or the only Asian, or the only Black or the only anything you want. No one could care less. Gay marriage has become law. Undocumented workers were allowed drivers licenses years ago. A while back I spoke with a gay young woman from South Dakota who was doing photography work in Manhattan. Since I like South Dakota (Sitting Bull was born there), I asked “do you ever think you’ll go back?” She looked at me and said “Are you out of your mind?”
New York is free. New York is non-violent. Every person, every type and economic group mingle here and in a world filled with violence, you see very little in the city. Between Rockaway beach, the subways, Lower Manhattan and Union Square on this Saturday evening with the temperature at 100 degrees, I must have passed among a few hundred thousand people. The only police I noticed were waiting to get on a bus. Lovers reached out to touch each other, people rushed along the street, lines formed to get into air-conditioned movies, book stores were packed with people sitting on the floor, at peace, alone and together, doing such prosaic things as reading books.
If instead you simply want to just stand there and look up, or across, or down from a high apartment window you will see an ever changing vision of city and man; magical, anarchistic and free. Just don’t stop on a side walk when you do, or they’ll know you’re a tourist.

2 Responses to “Definitions of Democracy Part One”
  1. mamacass says:

    So, democracy means running into air conditioning stores (thing I hate to do as a citizen and as a tourist), walking fast, and never stop by to ask questions ?
    Isn’t there any place for a socratic walker in NYC ?
    I loved to be as one with the heating new yorker concrete last past week, watching my legs turning dark gray miles after miles, 12 hours a day, to smell every trashes, every piss free, cigarets free, alcool free parks, every oily dinner, to smile to the videocameras that spied endlensly each one of my movement as they do in Paris, London, Berlin, and in every globalized metropolis of the 21th century.
    But what I loved more was to stop the movement and talk, in the bus with a young cuban american mother and his son, in a dely with hard working people from the Queens who talked about their return home at 4 am with few trains, at the exit of the library with a photographer who do not know yet that the word immigrant have no other sense than alterity, specially for those who make their own rules, who built their own platonician anarchy.
    Just to break the flow of minutes, not for a report, an artistic surch, or any specific project. No, just to break the minutes and push them against the wall. The old wise man said “this land is my land, this land is your land”, nowadays this song is the same but the map that is sung is much wider.
    Anarchists love to run in the countercurrent, and they loose time because when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to loose except time. Some tourists/citizen of the world have no other ambitions than meeting their seeblings, loosing themselves into humanity and force the citizen-machine to be more than part of the mass a few minutes.
    I always act that way, even in my own classroom.

    Ciao bello,

    Cassandre la touriste.

  2. Barry Thomas says:

    I love this little essay. I amm 77 and have been going to The City for years, since 1947 at least. The main goal is the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we love the subway, the buses, the streets, buildings, the people (always polite, so far), the espresso, chocolate, great sandwiches, concerts.

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