Is a Popular Movement to Save American Democracy Possible?
Many smart people, including Andrew Yang, think American democracy is in danger. Yet, as Vox observes, ordinary Americans do not seem to care.
Instead, ordinary people are responding to the decline of American democracy with a yawn. Worse, America’s leaders to do not seem to realize how dire the situation is.
For example, President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) held a Democracy Summit to lecture other countries on democracy. A gathering Chinese propagandists easily mocked as an exercise in hypocrisy. Biden has no moral authority to promote freedom as long as he refuses to fight for America’s democracy.
Politicians are Not Fighting for Democracy
Frighteningly, only a few national leaders, such as US Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) are fighting for voting rights in democracy. Importantly, Warnock wants to know why Democrats are fighting to override the filibuster on budget legislation but not voting rights.
Consequently, few Americans are noticing the Republican Party’s authoritarian turn and growing hostility to democracy. One reason for the ignorance is that only a few outlying media outlets such as Vox are taking serious notice of the assault. For example, the media devotes enormous amounts of attention to the Build Back Better legislation while ignoring Democrats’ betrayal of the Freedom to Vote act.
Will the American People Fight for Democracy?
For example, mass protests stopped South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s efforts to kill that nation’s democracy in 2016. The protests convinced South Korean politicians to impeach Park, and ultimately to send her to prison, Vox notes.*
I think a mass democracy protest movement could work in America by mobilizing millions. Notably, in 2020, a similar movement; Black Lives Matter staged mass protests that changed popular attitudes about race. The enormous 2020 protests show there are millions of Americans who hate authoritarianism and will fight it.
Unfortunately, those protests had no leadership, organization, or strategy. Consequently, the protests failed to create lasting change.
A Mass Movement for Democracy
However, I think a national mass protest movement for democracy could succeed with leadership, organization, and strategy. Historically, such movements have succeeded in America.
For instance, the Civil Rights Movement drove politicians to dismantle Jim Crow and expanding voting rights in the 1960s. Yet it took several years of protests and conflict to bring about change.
The Civil Rights Movement was a mass movement for democracy. So we can learn to build a mass movement for democracy today by analyzing the Civil Rights Movement.
How the Civil Rights Movement Succeeded
I think several attributes drove the Civil Rights’ movement’s success. Those attributes include:
- A popular charismatic leader who captures the public’s imagination. In the Civil Rights Movement, that leader was Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.
The bad news is I see no leader resembling King in America today. The good news is such leaders can arise fast. In 1956, King was an obscure minister in a small Southern City only a few people had heard of. By 1962, everybody in America and many people outside of it knew King was.
- An easy to grasp comprehensive vision everybody can understand. For example, King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”
- A smart strategy to implement that vision and achieve the movement’s goals. In the Civil Rights movement, it was Gandhi’s strategy of nonviolence and mass protest. The strategy needs to be simple enough that most people can easily understand and implement it. For example, sit-ins, marches, and mass protests are easy to understand and participate in.
- A strong national organization capable of enforcing discipline and implementing the strategy. One reason the Civil Rights movement succeeded was that it had such an organization. Notably, the Civil Rights movements’ success stalled after its organization collapsed in the late 1960s turmoil.
I think such a movement is inevitable in America but I do not see it forming yet. My prediction is that it will take terrible crimes and excesses on the part of leaders before such a movement forms. An example of such a crime could be President Trump or Biden ordering troops to fire on protesters.
Notably, the Civil Rights Movement enjoyed its greatest success after racist violence such as Bloody Sunday and the Birmingham Church Bombing. The Civil Rights Movement became far less effective after Southern racists realized violence was hurting their cause.
Can a Second Civil Rights Movement Succeed?
I think a Second Civil Rights Movement could arise and succeed in America. However, it will take time. Hopefully, it will not take a heap of dead bodies on some American street to ignite such a movement.
I believe American democracy can be saved, but only the American people can save it. The challenge before us is mobilizing the American people to save their democracy from their own political leaders.