For five days in March of 1999 the citizens of Asuncion occupied the Plaza outside the Capitol building here to defend against the plotters of a military coup. They occupied the plaza in the face of sniper fire, mounted police, and the threat of tanks.
The protesters fought pitched battles with police and supporters of the coup plotters. They used ball bearings to cause the mounted police to slip and fall, they used fireworks, pretty in the sky, dangerous at close range, they blocked the street with a burning truck, then pushed it with a tractor down Av. 14th de Mayo to stop the advance of the Olviedistas.
It sounds like a mix of Prague Spring and the forest moon of Endor, but this is real, and they won.
To an American the question “would you risk your life to defend Democracy?” is like the question “would you risk your life to defend t-shirts?” While the first is more common (being used by some of our more unscrupulous politicians to defend some of our more unscrupulous wars) they both fall on American ears they same way. Democracy is such a part of our life that the idea that we would actually have to defend it is unthinkable. We go to work, we hang out with our friends, and we exercise our First Amendment freedoms in the same way. Democracy is so deeply ingrained in us we don’t even notice it.