Fighting Democracy Taught This Kansas Resident An Important Lesson: Politics Should Be Boring
Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Inas Younis was born in Mosul, Iraq and emigrated to the United States as a child. She is a writer and commentator who has been widely published in various magazines, websites and anthologies.
I was almost 10 years old when my family came from Baghdad, Iraq, to the United States. Life in America, though difficult at first, was graceful and simple compared to life under authoritarianism, characterized by unpredictability and fear.
Even as a child, I intuitively understood that the comfort of life in America was not a given, but a function of something bigger. Well-paved roads punctuated with regulation signs, reliable electricity, fail-safe traffic lights, and not just government props designed to create a semblance of order, and law enforcement that failed to wield power arbitrary nor caused panic. These characteristics of a well-organized society inspired a sense of reverence for a nation that felt automated by an unseen force.
A strength that many Americans took for granted, as if it were simply a fact of nature.
In my naivety, I could not understand how a society with freedom as an organizing principle could be organized in this way. Everything about my early childhood in a police state had ingrained in me the belief that freedom equals chaos and that society needed the restraint of deprivation to maintain its morality.
Too young to indulge in philosophical speculation, I gave in to my Americanization and inevitably developed the audacity to dream. My first teenage dream was to act in my school’s theater production. This dream was quickly stopped by my first audition on stage.
I was humiliated by the offstage sneers from my peers as I tried to sing an accented rendition of Woody Guthrie”This land is your land.” I walked offstage feeling like an uninvited guest in someone else’s country, someone else’s dream. But rather than leaving that stage and all it stood for for good, I took on all of the behind-the-scenes duties of our remaining school productions.
It turned out to be a consequential and rewarding experience as it helped me learn two essential lessons. The first was the importance of collaboration and its corollary, the division of labor. The second was the importance of behind-the-scenes support to ensure every performance was masterfully executed. The more invisible our efforts behind the scenes, the more powerful the performance.
Although the backstage team doesn’t seek the kind of applause that on-stage talent does, I came away from this encounter with the firm belief that being behind the scenes is a noble and heroic role, worth living for. to be played.
Over time, theater has become an appropriate metaphor to help me understand how good government should work. The invisible force responsible for making my life so comfortable and efficient was not just the behind-the-scenes work of thousands of people fulfilling their assigned roles, or the sensible decision-making of officials. It was also a set of ideas with a plot and a narrative; in other words, a story.
Over time, theater has become an appropriate metaphor to help me understand how good government should work. The invisible force responsible for making my life so comfortable and efficient was not just the behind-the-scenes work of thousands of people fulfilling their assigned roles, or the sensible decision-making of officials. It was also a set of ideas with a plot and a narrative; in other words, a story. How this story unfolds depends not just on the coordination of individuals, all operating in good faith, but on a system and a narrative that can stand independently of them.
Freedom was the organizing principle that allowed this magnificent American way of life to evolve, but so was discipline, responsibility, and a set of non-negotiable ideals and principles.
From that point on, my journey to citizenship became more than just an application process. It became an ideological embrace of those same ideas. The idea that freedom is a political concept and not a metaphysical one. The idea that morality is a product of choice, not coercion. The idea that freedom is constrained by principles made possible by, dare I say it, government.
Don’t get me wrong, as an immigrant who suffered under the tyranny of authoritarianism, I couldn’t have been more suspicious of government power. In fact, there was a time in my life when I developed a fear of the system. It was too good to be true, so I decided it must not be true.
The system became a mysterious non-entity that was responsible for everything that was wrong with the world. I became an anti-establishment radical and adopted a religious personality that trafficked in conspiratorial thought, characterized by paranoid speculation and fear of the boogeyman of my generation: communism.
I was saved by my love of reading. I was also lucky to have grown up in a time when that love was limited to books rather than becoming a gateway to the internet, a world without. I made a conscious effort to educate myself about the workings of government.
Education has become my inoculation against misinformation and propaganda. Demystifying the process and acknowledging how very tedious and slow American democracy was and is has become the antidote to my paranoia.
I am so lucky to live in one of largest cities in america. As a resident of Overland Park, a avant-garde city that nurtures civil society and the public realm, I have the opportunity to observe the tensions and challenges of every mundane aspect of my life being enthusiastically argued and challenged.
People take issues like the different types of road surfaces, whether we should have chickens in our backyards, and where to stop signs very seriously. I watch the process, the long and tedious and sometimes slow process, with great relief, as it reminds me that the system is still working exactly as it should.
What I love about Overland Park, a city that uses practical solutions to our practical problems, is what I love about America. Some people find politics at this level incredibly boring. But politics should be boring. And for someone with my lived experience, the more boring it is, the more exciting it becomes.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own review, here.