This is what democracy looks like

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

What is democracy? The general consensus seems to be that it has to do with power being held by the people, rather than the government, the military, or religious leaders. But the specifics vary from person to person.

On one end of the spectrum, democracy might look like engaging with the political system by voting or even running for office. On the other, it might involve civil disobedience and other attention-getting measures — like Cameron Whitten’s recent 55-day hunger strike outside City Hall — aimed at influence the institutions of power from the outside.

In the spirit of democracy, we asked local LGBTQ folks to chime in on that much-debated topic and the ways they participate (or don’t) in politics. A few respondents questioned whether the United States is, in fact, a democracy. All said they had a part to play, whether invited to do so or not.

More perspectives will be available online at We invite you to join in the conversation and tell us what you think democracy looks like.


Alex Horsey

Age: 16

Preferred Pronoun and Identity Word(s): He/Him/His

City/Neighborhood: Portland (St. Johns)

Political Affiliation: None stated

What does democracy mean to you?
To me, democracy is about having a voice. I guess my idea of democracy has less to do with everyone agreeing and more about everyone listening.

Do you participate in any kind of political action?
It’d be easy to say that because I can’t vote at my age, I can’t do anything. I still have a voice, and I consider it my duty as a young person of this world to use it. I make calls and write letters and emails to our elected officials about bills and issues that I care about, and in July I actually had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby in person. I believe that having a voice is more than just using it towards politicians, though. What we can and need to do is talk to each other about these issues.


Natalie Marie

Age: 32

Preferred Pronoun and Identity Word(s): She/Her/Ms.

City/Neighborhood: NE Portland, 17th and Alberta

Political Affiliation: Registered Libertarian with radical tendencies

What does democracy mean to you?
Democracy is the active participatory governing of society by its people. Decisions in a democracy are made by a majority rule. It does not function well in large modern societies as there is no method of ensuring that every member is participating and/or being represented. Democracy therefore is much more useful in smaller localized communities, as the needs of all those which will be affected by decisions made, can be taken into consideration, accurately represented, and protected from bias, exploitation, and corruption, by competing interests.

Do you participate in any kind of political action (protest, vote, lobby, etc.)? How do you engage in democracy?
I participate by voting on local issues and candidates, advocacy, protest, civil disobedience and direct action, when warranted. I also actively speak my mind, feelings, thoughts, engage in grassroots organizing, education, and support local events [and] business[es] as well as engage in critical thinking to find constructive solutions, at all times.


Ty Chance; photo by Leila Hofstein

Age: 35

Preferred Pronoun and Identity Word(s): He, Trans

City/Neighborhood: Portland/Kenton

Political Affiliation:

What does democracy mean to you?
It means having, unequivocally, the right to choose and not be denied choice through economic, social, or cultural barriers.

Do you participate in any kind of political action?
I attend protests, political performances, readings, vote, table, and engage my political community on a regular basis. Whether through attendance or creative contributions, I think visibility is still one of the most powerful tools to possess as an activist.


Caryn Brooks

Age: less

Preferred Pronoun and Identity Word(s): She is a standard-issue Sapphic

City/Neighborhood: Roseway

Political Affiliation:
Heart in Oregon

What does democracy mean to you?
Democracy means that even the people who are totally wrong according to the high court of Caryn Brooks have the same power to try to summon support and activate change as those who are totally right according to the high court of Caryn Brooks.

Do you participate in any kind of political action?
Currently I work within the system in the office of Mayor Sam Adams where I am the communications director. During my tenure I’ve taken part in everything from the mundane-but-important act of filing council documents so an issue can be heard by the City Commissioners to working on communications and outreach on these same measures. I have voted in every Presidential election (and most every other one, too) since I turned 18. In my past life as a journalist, I was often prohibited in participating directly in politics, which was a bummer. Having grandparents who fled Russia to escape the Cossacks that killed the rest of our family has instilled in me paranoia about power imbalance, an appreciation for this country despite attendant flaws, a deep distaste for any person on any end of the political spectrum who uses Nazi terminology to describe current events in America, a desire to speak out, and a soft spot for the underdog.


James Dixon

Age: 32

Preferred Pronoun and Identity Word(s): The “he/him” pronouns work perfect for me and I identify as “queer.”

City/Neighborhood: “I live in Portland in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood.

Political Affiliation: I am a Democrat.

What does democracy mean to you?
Democracy is my right to vote and more importantly my opportunity to be an active part of change in my community.

Do you participate in any kind of political action?
I jump at every opportunity that I have to sign petitions when I see people out and about. Even if I don’t support the initiative … I sign it anyway because that means that we will all get a chance to decide as a community. I engage in democracy by taking advantage of every opportunity to educate myself on the “facts” not the general populous “fiction.” I challenge people to do their research when voting on measures and propositions. I also urge younger people to vote — especially younger members of our LGBTQ community. I keep hearing, ‘I don’t like either president so I won’t vote.’ That scares me because what they don’t know is that there are so many other things on that ballot that affect us on the state and city level and unlike the electoral vote for U.S. President, we get a majority vote.


A.M. O'Malley

Age: 32

Preferred Pronoun and Identity Word(s): Female, She, Queer as can be!


Political Affiliation: Raised a blue-collar Wellstone loving democrat, currently disillusioned but still voting the blue democratic line.What does democracy mean to you?
Democracy literally means “power to the people” in an ideal world that is what it should mean. Whether that is what it means in reality, well, I have my doubts.

Do you participate in any kind of political action?
I vote every chance I get. I have volunteered for non-profit political organizations, I have attended and participated in protests all over the country since I was a wee babe.


Smitty Buckler

Age: 33

Preferred Pronoun and Identity Word(s):They, gender queer/ transmasculine

Neighborhood: SW Portland

Political Affiliation: None stated

What does democracy mean to you?
Democracy, to me, means a system of decision making that originally was suppose to be like consensus decision making that was suppose to be inclusive of all people and didn’t leave out marginalized voices. I feel that is not what we live in today. Today we live in an Oligarchy.

Do you participate in any kind of political action?
I have participate in a variety of political actions. Currently I mostly take a back seat role and support folks who do front line work. I also actively write my representatives, speak at city council meetings and other arm chair activities. I vote because even if the elections are rigged, if we don’t exercise our rights then they will be taken away.


Robin Will

Age: 64

Preferred Pronoun and Identity Word(s):Cisgender gay male

Neighborhood:Portland, Kenton

Political Affiliation: Far-left Democrat

What does democracy mean to you?
Let’s start by acknowledging that the USA is NOT a democracy; it is a republic, designed to stabilize the worst potential excesses of real-and-instantaneous democracy. But it is, or at least has been, a republic based on democratic principles: one person, one vote, where the weak could organize to protect themselves from the strong.

Do you participate in any kind of political action?
At one time or another, I have marched, demonstrated, voted, lobbied, written articles and letters to the editor, phoned and written to my elected representatives, and donated to campaigns.