Year-End Reflections Prompt Increased Hope for the Future
Message from Denise Gray-Felder
As 2009 beckons, Consortium President Denise Gray-Felder reflects on democracy, inclusion and the future.
Oh what a year.
As year-end 2008 fast approaches, we, as a global community, have much to be grateful for and nearly as much to be apprehensive about. We are thankful for the first-ever Black president of the wealthiest nation on Earth, and equally thankful that such a transition can happen peacefully and democratically. We are thankful that across the globe, other governments in various states of democratic progress also are making – or struggling valiantly to make -- noteworthy transitions. The significance of elections this year in Russia, Kenya, Pakistan and even Zimbabwe capture our attention and demand our analysis and understanding of their outcomes.
While fragile peace endures in many post-election countries, we should consider carefully what the quest for greater democracy means, especially for people who are living in poor or marginalised communities. Can temporary peace lead to ultimate victory for those fighting to have their voices and votes counted despite entrenched old-style leadership that refuses to move over? What does the successful negotiation of a compromise government in Kenya teach us about how to mobilize citizens to demand their human right to have their democratic processes respected?
Democracy, it is said, is messy business. Or should we say the quest for democracy is messy business. In far too many countries of the world, simply longing for democracy is also very dangerous business. In Zimbabwe, hugely courageous citizens still hold hope for the new leadership they deserve. In Kenya, we are thrilled to know that the compromise government appears to be surviving, demonstrating the power of coalitions and worldwide advocacy.
We at the Consortium, with our global networks, continue to promote the ideal that democracy cannot be sustained without free and open media, honest citizen dialogue, opportunities to voice dissenting opinions and accessible outlets in which to do so. Thanks to a partnership with UNDP Oslo Governance Centre, we have spent a good part of this year learning more about the role of dialogue, community media and open communication in good governance and in promoting accountability among government officials. Working in Mozambique and Madagascar, we’ve learned that citizens of both countries—when asked what is most important to them about good governance—frequently mention the ability to hold their elected officials accountable: accountable for governing ethically and according to the rule of law.
There are many amazing things about the historic election by landslide of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States. Many of them have been analysed and dissected in great detail in news outlets throughout the world. . We all have read plenty about his humble beginnings, his divorced mother and loving grandparents who helped raise him, his Ivy-League education and his incredible intelligence.
For me, however, the real story is the story of how 52 percent of the U.S. voting public (versus 46 percent for John McCain) affirmed their preference to come together in a diverse coalition rather than continue to let the country be split needlessly. It is the story of how young people of all ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds partied outside the White House on election night. How on university campuses, in rural towns and urban neighbourhoods across the country people of varied backgrounds stopped strangers on the street the day after the election to proclaim “we did it!”
Obama’s campaign is affirmation for me that the winning campaigns are those in which people can be heard, are mobilized around a common set of beliefs and in which channels for dialogue are open, accessible and free. These are the basic tenets of this messy stuff we call democracy.
It is hard to describe the inner euphoria that comes with Obama’s victory; the sense that we have let out a huge, collective sigh of relief. I suspect that even those on the losing side might agree that the country is filled with a sense of the possible. Small children on trains are overheard chanting ”Obama, Obama” while veteran pundits have called this the greatest political campaign ever in the United States.
My simple hope – spawned from apprehension I have pushed aside – is that U.S. foreign policy can finally foster truly open and democratic dialogue, even when citizens of the world may voice beliefs that are hard to hear. That we can learn to listen to what people living in poverty say they want and need, and figure out to help them get it, rather than to impose our ideas and our values on parts of the world that do not want to be like the United States.
My simple hope is that by having a sensitive, caring, thinking commander in the White House that our humanity might well outweigh our military might.
My simple hope is that with a president elected by a hugely effective grassroots effort, we will figure out how to catalyse similar movements in countries we support with U.S. humanitarian aid. And that we will give them the courtesy of listening to their stories and of actually hearing them free of judgment, bias or interpretation.
And my simple hope is that while we mourn the deaths by terrorists in Mumbai, India, we not let our fears keep us from voting in the good and voting out the not so good in countries across the globe.
For this world, in 2009 and beyond, will never be able to overcome the tragedies of AIDS, poverty, childhood and domestic abuse, war and violence, environmental degradation, lack of clean water, starvation and despair unless we can all pull together – as people did in the United States on one day in November – to move beyond differences, voting our consciences as well as our heads and hearts. When we do, we all win.
As we enter this special time of year, we at the Consortium thank you for your ongoing support and for being faithful readers. We invite you to send us your ideas for stories, or offer to write them yourselves. We are especially eager to get more stories from Asia, the Arab States, Pacific Island nations and eastern Europe.
Please consider supporting the Consortium financially as we enter this crucial fund-raising period. We are now 100 percent dependent on the money we raise or earn. In these very difficult financial times, we have seen our income and earnings drop dramatically. We cannot continue our signature programs – our networks, publications, Body of Knowledge, case stories, curriculum development and research—without new sources of revenue. If you are unable to make an individual gift, please give us the gift of a new friend. Introduce us to a new contact or a new organization needing communication for social change help. Or to a potential donor who appreciates the value of people determining their own destinies and communicating their needs in their own ways.
Our hope for 2009 and beyond is that communication for social change will one day hold its rightful place among development priorities. With your help, we can get closer to that goal next year. Thank you.