Maha Zehery: Celebrating True Democracy in the United States

As an immigrant and American citizen for 40 years, I have come to appreciate and understand the meaning of true democracy.

The ordinary meaning of democracy is that the government does not control what people say or do. People can express their different opinions on any political issue without being punished. The country protects the civil rights and freedoms of its citizens. The government is not a dictatorship. Human rights are fundamental.

I have a different vision of true democracy, as I have experienced it.

True Democracy does not fear for the well-being of my eldest daughter when she became politically active and involved in campus protests during her senior year in college (against US involvement in Persian Gulf War). She has since graduated and become a successful doctor in North Carolina.

Real democracy was when my other daughter was heavily involved in racial justice reform in the Bay Area, and I was more concerned about earthquakes there than her involvement in political rallies ! Now she is an accomplished creative director living in New York.

Real democracy is not having to worry about my son, Omar, even when he had a big Afro and his hair was growing bigger and bigger. His rock band grew even bigger and became famous and popular, touring all over the United States. Now, he’s a successful entrepreneurial music producer and a big advocate for downtown Lima’s arts and culture.

Real democracy was when I participated in the Allen Lima Leadership Program, and the Lima Police Department accepted my request to ride with a police officer during his second shift, to observe the problems that occur in our community. Officer Hammond and I got along very well, to the point that we wondered if we were related. (His name is “Hammond” and my maiden name is “Hammad”.)

Officer Hammond was such a gentleman that when I told him I would like to stop by McDonald’s to use the restroom, he called his wife and asked if their bathroom was OK to bring this nice lady ( me) to use it. At his house, I remember telling Officer Hammond and his beautiful wife that my previous vision was that the police were mean and arresting us – but now I could see that they were normal people.

True democracy is having the freedom to create an interfaith group, the Interfaith Council of Lima, with 12 different religions, denominations and denominations – each of us proud of our heritage and beliefs. Last September we had a big outdoor interreligious celebration. I had invited our chief of police at the time because I wanted him to be personally present, and I also had security concerns. He kindly complied and attended wearing his uniform, and the event was very well received by our community.

I have also experienced true democracy through my work at Coleman Professional Services. I have seen how our community supports and helps some addicts get a second chance, promoting recovery and building independence for a healthier lifestyle.

True Democracy marches through the streets of downtown Lima, with different community leaders, participating in the Black Lives Matter rally.

True democracy is the freedom to show my support for a political candidate by placing a sign in front of me. Even when this sign was stolen several times from my garden, it was kindly replaced with the help of my friends. The bigger story here is that many yards next to mine displayed a different political outlook, and we still have good neighborly love for each other.

In the United States, we, the two political parties, have different views and disagreements on certain political issues. But we still need to work together to protect and preserve our true democracy.

My friends, this is my humble experience with American democracy!


Maha Zehery, an Egyptian by origin, lives in Lima. She delivered the speech at a pro-democracy rally on Jan. 6 in Lima. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, which owns the newspaper.