Sunday, May 1, 2016

                            Democracy at home and abroad.

 
Together with untold destruction and suffering, we did bring democracy to Iraq. To be sure their elected parliament has not been able to legislate or to govern because they have been too busy yelling at each other, pelting each other with water bottles, or even getting into fist fights. They have democracy but it does not work.

But that is for us only too familiar a phenomenon. Members of our Congress have not gotten into fist fights but they also have been unable to legislate. They are too busy bickering. They have been unable to ascertain how the government is working. Congressional hearings  have become public relation events in which each party is trying to blacken the name of the other.

What is worse there are now two kinds of citizens: citizens with money and citizens without. The former have influence on the government. The latter are pretty much left out in the cold.

Citizens--the kind without money--have however rallied and during several days during the middle of April significant numbers of protesters sat in in front of the capital in Washington, DC. 400 citizens, practicing civil disobedience, were arrested on one day. Not only does  everyone know  of the blatant corruption of our democracy but there are many citizens who are not willing to put up with that. 



They are asserting their democratic rights by protesting, by committing civil disobedience, by getting arrested.

In a democracy the people rule. When the democratic system works smoothly, everyone has a say, everyone is heard, and all work together to govern themselves. When the democratic system does not work, as is the case in the US as well as in the Iraq, ordinary people need to come to the seat of government to claim their rights as autonomous citizens of the democracy.

This is what has been happening in the United States. Today's news reports that it is now also happening in Iraq. Ordinary folks in Baghdad invaded the Green zone and the parliament building and the elected legislators either ran away or hid in small rooms in the parliament building making a rather disgraceful spectacle of themselves.

That, of course, is excellent news. People in Iraq are learning the real lesson that democracy does not consist of having periodic elections, often paid for by rich citizens or corporations, but that when the government is not functioning, the people have a duty to take back their power and demand that their elected representatives either do their job with integrity, or leave town and go back to where they came from.

The Iraqi protests made the front page of the Sunday paper. The protests in Washington DC were barely mentioned in the media. The free press, which is an essential ingredient in any democratic system, is in the pay of billionaires and chooses what news is suitable for their readers to hear and what news is better hidden from them.

When, after living in the United States for five years as an immigrant, I became a citizen, the judge in the downtown Chicago courthouse insisted on reading the entire Declaration of Independence to all the new citizens before him. In his final comments he urged us to never forget that the United States was born in a revolution. It is not periodic elections that makes our republic remarkable. It is the revolutionary spirit in which citizens are willing to go to great lengths to assert their rights to govern themselves and not to be governed by corporate managers.

We are indebted to the protesters in Baghdad, in Washington DC, and many other US cities for remembering the revolutionary history of democracy and for remembering that that history has not yet come to an end. The revolutionary impulse remains the soul of democracy.