By Shea Howell
July 4, 2016
July 4th celebrates the first American Revolution. It is important to remember that the corporate elite never liked democracy. From the very beginnings of this nation, democracy has been feared, limited, and manipulated. Race and wealth have played essential roles in that manipulation.
In the earliest days, the right to participate in decision-making was limited to a small circle of European descended property holders. Over the course of the next two and a half centuries, massive social movements expanded the circle of those included in democratic processes. In the 1960’s the civil rights movement shattered the last hold of the elite on limiting the vote. No more second class citizenship was the profound challenge raised by African Americans and other people of color, as they demanded a voice in determining their own future and the future of the country.
This moment of triumph culminated in the voting rights act of 1965. But it was short- lived. Within a few short months, the cities of America would rise up in rebellion, and the forces of law and order seized the opportunity to reassert a nation of white privilege. Corporate powers backed a new Southern Strategy that depended on inflaming racial tensions. Thus Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the Bushes all made their way to the presidency by playing to the deepest racial fears of white voters. As corporate power consolidated and economic inequality grew, poor people, women, people of color and immigrants were held up as the causes of all the nation’s problems.
The new democrats, under the leadership of Bill Clinton were little better. While offering a more inclusive vision of America, the policies emerging from the administration were intended to assist the consolidation of corporate power.
Nor was this effort to protect corporate power by invoking racial hatred been limited to the US. In a recent article discussing the vote to leave the European Union Laleh Khalili notes in Truthout, “The British political classes have refused to reckon with the country’s colonial legacy and their steadfast refusal to acknowledge the racism interwoven in its institutions have only exacerbated this xenophobia and racism.”
This refusal has consequences for democracy. Khalili explains “beginning with Margaret Thatcher’s scorched-earth neoliberalism, policies of privatization and austerity—during both feast and famine—have led to a degradation of national life, a diminishing of social mobility and a growth in inequality in the UK.” We should not be surprised by the vote to leave the EU, nor by the open racial violence surrounding it.
This diminishment of national life, distortion of democracy, and evasion of the real questions facing us not only nationally but on the verge of planetary collapse is being challenged at every level. The recent report by CIVICUS on the State of Civil Society saw this past year as one of “citizens taking to the streets to demand change in countries all over the world, “from Chile to South Africa and from Armenia to South Korea, with public anger fueled by skewed and unequal economic systems, corruption and the failure of governments to put citizens’ interests at the heart of their actions.”
Democracy, direct action and the demand for a public voice is emerging everywhere. It is being “met with violent state response, which should be seen as part of a broader pattern of restrictions and attacks on civil society.”
This week, as we celebrate that first American Revolution we need to face the fact that representative democracy has become distorted and brittle. It once again represents an ever- smaller circle of white wealth and narrow political interest. We, the people are called to create new forms of governing ourselves that will establish a just, compassionate and sustainable community life. This new American Revolution is our challenge.