President's Perspective

It’s Time to Win the War for Democracy

Denise Fairchild

If the 2016 presidential campaign tells us anything, it’s that the battle for justice is more important and challenging than ever before. The dismantling of the 1960s Great Society vision, progressive agenda and social infrastructure to eliminate poverty and racial injustice is at stake in this election. A resurgent, reactionary populist movement and agenda rooted in anti-government, anti-tax, anti-women, anti-immigrant and anti-environment beliefs, buttressed by law-and-order policies to squelch dissent, is spreading throughout the country. This is more than a fierce battle of ideas. We are fighting for the soul of America and for long-honed American ideals of diversity and democracy. 

What is especially disconcerting is the toxic nature of the fight. The public discourse is filled with fear, venom, intolerance and violence.

The sinister nature of these circumstances, moreover, is not spontaneous. It is provoked by a well-orchestrated and well-funded billionaire network.

The new book Dark Money documents the interlocking network of organizations that were created to sell a pro-profit vs. a pro-people agenda. The book stuns even the most complacent out of political apathy and civic cynicism. The fact that a strategic, orchestrated effort launched to reprogram Americans away from believing government matters and replacing it with the idea that an oligarchy and the market must rule -- even at the expense of inequality -- has captured the imagination of the American public.

Of course the gridlock of our legislative and, now, judicial, systems doesn’t help the argument for letting democracy work. But the soul of America seems to be hostage to a diabolical 40-year plan to build an interlocking eco-system of academic, research, policy and advocacy groups to foist the hegemony of the billionaire libertarian class upon the nation.

This wakeup call suggests the need to fortify our strategy for realizing a sustainable, just and democratic economy. We need a plan to dismantle the “isms” that have long lurked in the underbelly of society. An adequate response extends beyond election-year politics. Deeper and more strategic initiatives are required to maintain and advance American democracy.

A movement for justice must be as strong, strategic and long-term as the forces for inequality. Inequality is not happenstance. It is an integral element of our political economy, structurally embedded in our laws and reproduced by virtually every institution in society.

We have to develop an adequate response to this insidious, increasingly insufferable war against equality that many -- largely poor people of color -- live out every day.

We need new strategies, tactics and tools for the long road ahead. We need to collaborate in building new pathways for young people of color and others from low-income backgrounds to gain the critical thinking skills and knowledge needed to move into community-change careers. We need new systems and strategies that involve experienced community organizers, teachers and trainers as strategists, mentors and coaches to transfer the required knowledge and experience to the next generation of change agents. 

It is for this reason that ECC has partnered with the Community Learning Partnerships and the Democracy Commitment to fortify American democracy. Our goal is to develop a national network of experiential learning partnerships among community organizers, community colleges and universities to build the next generation of community-change agents. In the process, we hope to build an enduring movement for justice by engaging the disengaged in life-long change-agent careers and reclaim one of our most vital community institutions -- our community colleges -- to be catalysts of community change, as opposed to being primarily agents of industry.

The presidential election is just one battle in the enduring quest for justice. It’s time to arm ourselves with the tools to win the war.



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