My turn, Susan Lee: Intentional changes needed to become authentic democracy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 5, 2020

By Susan Lee

Open dialogue, hard won collaboration and equitable outcomes are the heart of democracy.  

As concepts, these ideals are beacon lighting the way to justice. As realities, they can be messy — imperfectly attempted and seldom, if ever, achieved.  As Americans we are at our best, not only in the rare moments when we agree, but even more so when we struggle to hear our many voices, to find clear vision with a variety of viewpoints and to respect the complexity of diverse realities. 

Narratives from the past that served some, at great cost to many others, are no longer viable. We must examine our nation’s half-told histories and half-truths that hide the embedded structures that keep racism in place. 

See-through stories of a fabled past, of heritage and tradition cannot withstand the strong light of history’s scrutiny. Long-accepted policies and assumptions must be analyzed for the power arrangements and systems of exploitation they often conceal at the expense of our fractured nation. To find a way forward for all, those arrangements must be examined, their falsehoods laid bare.

The causes of persistent social issues are rooted in the very structures and systems proclaimed to be vehicles for equality and justice. Our nation’s political and economic structures were not designed to protect the rights of all people. Native peoples, women, those with Black or brown skin need not apply. Our nation’s institutions and forms of governance are the very tools that guard the democratic rights of some and withhold the same from the poor and from people of color.

Injustice, brutality, mass incarceration and opportunity gaps in health, wealth and opportunity are important and in need of change. 

Susan Lee is a resident of Salisbury.

But let’s not confuse these issues with a basic problem: our institutions and governing bodies are inherently biased. They serve some people better than others. To become an authentic democracy we must make intentional changes. 

Change for change’s sake will not suffice. Effective change must be intentionally driven by seeking outcomes that reflect equity and equal justice long denied. Unless we acknowledge that our institutions are designed to create and maintain inequity and commit to changing their processes and practices, issues borne of racial injustice will remain.

To achieve equity, we must examine our political systems and economic structures using a racial equity lens. 

This means paying disciplined, data-based attention to race, class and ethnicity while analyzing outcomes, looking for solutions and defining success. It involves using social science’s established tools to critically examine institutions and measurably re-construct them to benefit all. It requires the collaboration of people internal and external to social systems to diligently apply these tools. 

No one does this work alone. We need one another to see what we cannot, or will not see. This takes honest, respectful self-examination, and courage.

To create an opportunity to share visions and voices,  Actions in Faith & Justice on Thursday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., will present a free webinar titled “Community Equity Forum: Heart of Democracy. “ 

Mayor  Karen Alexander, Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins, Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield, Councilman David Post, Rowan-Salisbury Schools Assistant Superintendent April Kuhn and Deputy Chief Shon Barnes will respond to questions from co-moderators Mark Ritchie, Rev. Robert Black and Rev. Olen Bruner. The webinar will explore:

• Equity in city governance

• Citizen review boards, equity and de-escalation training for police 

• Economic investment in communities of color  

• Equitable school discipline 

• Mental health and substance abuse support

• Affordable housing

• Ending cash bail

 Registration is free at

Lee lives in Salisbury and is a co-chair of Actions in Faith & Justice.