When someone asked what he thought about Western civilization, Mahatma
Gandhi replied, “I think it would be a good idea.” Inspired
by this, three dozen progressive scholars, lawyers, and activists—including
Howard Zinn, Gore Vidal, Mumia Abu Jamal, Ramsey Clark, Immanuel
Wallerstein, Ellen Wood, Michael Parenti, David Harvey, and I—have
created the International Endowment for Democracy (IED) to highlight:
the tragic and rapidly deteriorating state of democracy in the
hypocrisy of our government’s efforts to engage in what it
calls “democracy promotion”
kind of fundamental reforms needed to make our country into a
activities of many groups and institutions in the United States
who are trying to turn things around
U.S. democracy has never been what it claimed to be.
What’s different now is that the person sitting in the oval
office is a usurper (more Napoleon III than Bush I), having stolen
the last two presidential elections and, with this, even the modest
degree of influence Americans once enjoyed over their rulers has
practically disappeared. The policies followed by this illegitimate
government display the same arrogant disregard for democratic values
and procedures that brought it to power. At home, the tragic events
of 9/11 were used as a pretext to make an unprecedented assault
on American civil liberties in the so-called PATRIOT Act and to
carry out an economic program that favors corporations and the rich
as never before.
Abroad, our illegitimate government has become the major danger
to world peace, having started two unnecessary wars (at least one
of which was based on lies) and threatened several others. Economically,
by bullying and bribing weaker nations to adopt “free market”
economies, the rapidly growing gap between America’s rich and
poor (including the misnamed “middle class”) has been
reproduced virtually everywhere. While in the environment, the U.S.
government’s unwillingness to admit global warming, let alone
act on it (other than to make it worse), has raised the stakes to
the point where the future of our species is in jeopardy.
The solution would seem to be more democracy. But if big money dominates
the political process at every turn (drawing up programs, nominations,
campaigns, advertising, consulting, media, lobbying, to say nothing
of setting and administering the election rules)—as it clearly
does in the U.S.—then, as a popular joke goes, “our government
is the best that money can buy.” The formal right that everyone
has to speak their mind and vote, and the regular occurrence of
elections help legitimate what is, in effect, a pre-determined outcome.
Democracy, like any other set of practices, is connected to a whole
set of preconditions, which in this case involves a significant
degree of social and economic equality among all its participants.
It comes along with these preconditions or it doesn’t come
at all. Thus, any serious attempt at political reform must include
equally strenuous efforts to democratize all the sectors of social
life (especially the economy) that feed into the political process.
Only by leveling the political playing field in this way will the
United States ever have a government that is truly “of and
by the people.”
Democracy promotion, the declared aim of U.S. foreign policy, therefore,
has to start in the country that needs it most, which is the U.S.
This is not because there is less democracy in the United States
than anywhere else—a few other lands are worse off in this
regard—but because the democratic deficit from which we suffer
is a greater hazard to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
all across the globe than the policies followed by any other government.
he International Endowment
for Democracy (IED) has been set up to enable people everywhere
to play a part in the struggle to extend democracy in the United
States by expressing their solidarity with and giving aid to some
of the many groups that are involved in these struggles. Where some
of the most important interests of Americans and non-Americans coincide,
the enormous potential for cooperation has hardly been tapped. Together
with the World Social Forums and the spreading actions against the
political and economic dictates of the U.S. ruling class, we consider
the International Endowment for Democracy part of the essential
next step in the democratization of capitalist globalization—except
this part also allows people everywhere to join in the struggle
at the very heart of the world system that needs to be transformed.
Our motto: in the words of the U.S. comedian, Dick Gregory, “If
democracy is a good thing, let’s have more of it.” A lot
more of it. For more information, www.iefd.org.