It looks like the Democratic National Convention is going to really push those who like to think that there are no real differences between the two parties. For one, the Democrats won’t have to make stuff up to make their case. For another, instead of seeing one, very narrow slice of the American demographic, this week you can see everyone else. And you also can see this wonderful photograph.
Three men are sharing a laugh at a shoe shine stand. The one up high is George Davis, who is married to a delegate from Georgia. George from Georgia probably has got nothing to do this week but have fun, and it looks like he’s making a good start. His shoes are being shined by William Robinson, while Isaiah Jones is free to wholeheartedly enjoy the joke.
The electrical connection looks a bit shaky, but otherwise the place is in nice shape. No one is rich, but no one is starving, either. The guy on top probably makes a fair amount more than the others, but not enough to make anyone uncomfortable. The three gentlemen have had different lives, but they have a lot in common as well. And one of the things they have in common is having lived in America as it was transformed from a Jim Crow society to a nation where Barack Obama is president. No wonder the American flag is proudly displayed across George’s shirt.
This is a beautiful photo, because it captures the beauty of a democratic society: one in which simple association among equals can happen anywhere, because no one has to pretend that they are inferior to those who happen to have more wealth or status or authority. Preachers of prejudice and exclusion love to say that progressive ideals of equality, social justice, and the general welfare would nullify differences in achievement. That is nonsense, of course, but it is dangerous nonsense. The men in the photograph aren’t pretending that they all make the same amount of money or have the same connections to political power. They don’t have to, as they already share something far more valuable: the joy of civic friendship, which is the capacity to trust one another enough to enjoy life lived in common. That’s not a uniform way of living directed from above, but very much the opposite: a life of small differences, shared suffering, and the human comedy as it can be seen and enjoyed in everyday life.
And that is why this photograph from outside the convention hall is all about the speeches being delivered inside. And about other speeches as well, not least the vicious screeds by Hank Williams, Jr. and Chuck Norris, who claim that the “Muslim president” will bring “a 1000 years of darkness.” (And have you noticed how bad these guys look? Hatred and vicious idiocy must really wear on a man.) Against a politics of fear, exclusion, and expropriation, the Democratic party is, for all its problems, at least moving forward toward the full realization of the American dream. We should not forget that some would destroy that dream, but it is even more important to recognize how it is already here. Not everywhere, but here and there, North, South, East, and West, down the street and around the corner, whenever two or three people can enjoy a common life secured by freedom and equality.
Photograph by Linda Davidson/Washington Post.