We The People: Democracy in 2020

July 28, 2020

Solidarity protest against anti-black violence in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June 2020. Credit: Karen Elliot/Wikimedia (CC).

In the midst of a pandemic where the world has been told to keep distance, we have witnessed people use democratic mechanisms such as protest and freedom of speech to join in solidarity on the common message of what it means to be "equal under the law" and be represented in the phrase "We The People." Over the past two months, mass protests have erupted around the world over the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, whose deaths have put racial injustice once again at the forefront of conversation. This moment has created an inflection point that challenges the status quo and pushes for a more inclusive meaning to the phrase "We The People," not only in the United States but around the world. Both the U.S. Constitution and the United Nations Charter begin with those three words and go on to list universal democratic principles of peace, justice, and equal rights of individuals that as people we have agreed to uphold. These social contracts that have been drafted and agreed to by the people have been put into question as the world continues to witness the exclusion of certain populations from fully benefiting from these rights that we hold to be self-evident.

The belief that people are equal under the law and have a say in how to govern themselves is imperative for individuals to utilize democratic mechanisms to further flourish in society. But for the past decade, global democracy has been in decline and open societies where democratic principles prosper have been exploited by repressive regimes manipulating these principles for the betterment and empowerment of state rule. The exploitation of these democratic ideals can delegitimize social contracts that are inherently democratic and which are rooted in the foundation of our international community. The mass protests around the world have shown that despite a decline in democracy, people are demanding better governance and fundamental democratic rights. The exclusion of people from fully living out these principles of freedom of speech, expression, and justice for all will perpetuate the global decline in democracy. As Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Quarcoo notes, "democracies will continue to lose credibility and legitimacy" if governments continue to ignore the racial injustice that is prevalent in our societies. Therefore, it is even more critical today for leaders and officials to speak clearly and consistently on behalf of democratic ideals and to ensure that those who perpetuate racial injustice are held accountable. Reaffirming democratic principles that make up these social contracts— which citizens utilize to enhance individual freedoms—is critical for people to believe that these social contracts actually hold meaning.

Upholding democratic ideals through institutions, government, and through the work of the people is essential to the legitimacy of the U.S. Constitution and the UN Charter, which lay out fundamental democratic rights. As U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton eloquently explained on NPR's podcast, More Perfect, "the myth in the U.S. Constitution is the handiwork of black people who enjoyed it least when there was nothing but racism and by believing those words, they made them live. Black people should be at the forefront of those who celebrate the constitution, not because it is perfect but because they have made it more perfect."

In her book Democracy, Condoleezza Rice writes, "The paradox of democracy is that its stability is born of its openness to upheaval through elections, legislation, and social action. Disruption is built into the fabric of democracy." Therefore, democracy is the best mechanism for the expansion of who is represented under the phrase "We The People" because it is the best channel to invoke social change.

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