We intend to encourage, expand and educate a community of democracy advocates, whose members have a clear vision about what democracy should be, both here and abroad.
Our vision promises democracies that do much more than hold free and fair elections. They guarantee the full array of civil liberties protected by the rule of law, including freedom of association, the right to organize, due process, individual rights, educational opportunity, and access to a free flow of information. Democracies also depend on the panoply of public institutions and civil society groups that provide checks and balances against excessive concentration of both political and economic power. Democracies sponsor the cultural, educational and economic conditions that undergird government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Arriving at Now
In the heady days after the fall of the Berlin wall, a sense of optimism reigned. It seemed that democracy was spreading across the globe. Some said it had won the world’s political values debates, thus bringing us the “end of history.”
Optimists predicted it was just a matter of time before empowered populations would expand civil society and bring democratic change. China, it was argued, would gradually become democratic once opened to trade. Post Soviet states would modernize and become representative. Developing economies would host newfound freedoms. The Arab Spring would supplant Middle East dictatorships. In a democratic world, peace would have a chance.
In our own country, government worked more or less well. Most people believed that institutions represented them, empowered them, and helped them reach for a better life.
But now, democracy is in decline. Extremist religious fanatics kill each other and attempt to terrorize us. Turkey, once the great democratic hope for the Muslim world, is going authoritarian. Putin rampages while the West thumbs its worry beads. China happily uses the Internet, once thought to be a democratizing tool, to choke off dissent. Europe’s unhappy populations toy with extremism. Rampant corruption leads to disillusion with democracy.
Here in the U.S., our foreign policy focuses more on combatting terrorism than on promoting democracy and, unfortunately, our own democratic institutions are in decline. The wealth gap grows into a gulf, one-man-one-vote is undermined by gerrymandering, voting restrictions and campaign financing laws. Politicians focus on raising money while engaging in gridlock, government shutdowns and constant campaigning. The very rich manage to shield their wealth from taxation as their representatives wage an ongoing war against our social safety net. Increasing inequality breeds health crises, single parenthood, addiction, depression and poverty. The once-solid working class flounders in search of leaders. Trade unions, under fierce attack, are less able to help. Increasingly white working class voters help bring ever more extreme right-wing candidates to office. Our democracy is becoming less representative and more dysfunctional. It is less and less seen as a model for the world.
We will build our community for democracy by recruiting from among educators, trade unionists, political party activists, journalists, public intellectuals and pro-democracy organizations.
By sharing information and insight, these democracy advocates will push for democratic reform abroad and at home. We will knit diverse constituencies together for the purpose of strengthening unions and other institutions for working people, making political outcomes more representative, improving public education, increasing economic mobility and equality, and promoting the development of civil society and democratic processes here and around the world.
By doing these things we hope to give life to the “democratic education” embedded in our title.