Remembering the Goddess of Democracy

Discussion of the Tiananmen Square protests are largely banned in China, images forbidden to look at. 

But what is our excuse for not remembering one of the most important expressions of popular democracy -- and popular dissent -- in history?

"Tank man" is perhaps one of the most memorable pictures every taken -- and a true expression of the Hero Mind. I don't even have to show you the image, you will know the image already.

But we also should remember the Goddess of Democracy. The Goddess of Democracy was created by students who wanted to reinforce sagging protests at Tiananmen Square. They needed a symbol and a movement. This was the birth of the Goddess of Democracy.


When they unveiled the Goddess, they issued this statement:

"The statue of the Goddess of Democracy is made of plaster, and of course cannot stand here forever. But as the symbol of the people's hearts, she is divine and inviolate. Let those who sully her beware: the people will not permit this! We believe strongly that this darkness will pass, that the dawn must come. On the day when real democracy and freedom come to China, we must erect another Goddess of Democracy here in the square, monumental, towering and permanent ... Long live the people! Long live freedom! Long live democracy!"

Almost 30 years after Tiananmen, these sentiments seem almost naive and childlike. The world has become a dark and cynical place. Ruling classes barely bother to hide both their disdain for the societies they govern, as well as the reality of their dominance. The political fictions about democracy and freedom that we tell ourselves in the face of outright oligarchy and oppression become increasingly untenable to accept, but we continue to accept them as truths. It is a time of drone warfare, de facto and panoptic surveillance, creative atrophy in the arts, environmental devastation, climate change, and chaos and anarchy between and among international states. These are the times that try men and women's souls. 

Perhaps the students at Tiananmen were onto something. Perhaps we are in need of new gods and goddesses, new objects of worship that will give us hope in a time where the old regimes cannot provide answers. In place of the dollar, or the laptop, perhaps our hearts and attention should be focused to those ideals represented by democracy, and by the eternal flame that those students attempted to light, in plastic styrofoam, one lonely day at the center of one of the most ancient countries on Earth--the tragedy of their failure and the certainty of their executions still a ways in the future. Perhaps we should be wondering whether, if we were to be blessed by a visit from the Goddess of Democracy, what she might say about the state of our other societies. Would she be pleased by what she might see? Or would she bow her head in sadness, her light dim, looking at us in wonder as to the things we put up with, the things we take for granted -- and the things we seem content to lose, perhaps forever?