Sunday, March 25, 2007

Moyers on Learning Democracy

I try to create as much original content as I can here but some things require no annotations. This is an important read for all Americans.

From A Time for Anger, a Call to Action, by Bill Moyers (CommonDreams.org)
I have come across the continent to talk to you about two subjects close to my heart. I care about them as a journalist, a citizen and a grandfather who looks at the pictures next to my computer of my five young grandchildren who do not have a vote, a lobbyist in Washington, or the means to contribute to a presidential candidate. If I don't act in their behalf, who will?

One of my obsessions is democracy, and there is no campus in the country more attuned than Occidental to what it will take to save democracy. Because of your record of activism for social justice, I know we agree that democracy is more than what we were taught in high school civics - more than the two-party system, the checks-and-balances, the debate over whether the Electoral College is a good idea. Those are important matters that warrant our attention, but democracy involves something more fundamental. I want to talk about what democracy bestows on us, the revolutionary idea that democracy is not just about the means of governance but the means of dignifying people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency. "I believe in democracy because it releases the energies of every human being" - those are the words of our 28th president, Woodrow Wilson.

I've been spending time with Woodrow Wilson and others of his era because my colleagues and I are producing a documentary series on the momentous struggles that gripped America a century or so years ago at the birth of modern politics. Woodrow Wilson clearly understood the nature of power. In his now-forgotten political testament called The New Freedom, Wilson described his reformism in plain English no one could fail to understand: "The laws of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the weak." He wrote: "Don't deceive yourselves for a moment as to the power of great interests which now dominate our development... There are men in this country big enough to own the government of the United States. They are going to own it if they can." And he warned: "There is no salvation in the pitiful condescensions of industrial masters... prosperity guaranteed by trustees has no prospect of endurance."

Now Wilson took his stand at the center of power - the presidency itself - and from his stand came progressive income taxation, the federal estate tax, tariff reform, the challenge to great monopolies and trusts, and, most important, a resolute spirit "to deal with the new and subtle tyrannies according to their deserts."

How we need that spirit today! When Woodrow Wilson spoke of democracy releasing the energies of every human being, he was declaring that we cannot leave our destiny to politicians, elites, and experts; either we take democracy into our own hands, or others will take democracy from us.

We do not have much time. Our political system is melting down, right here where you live.



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