| Photo by Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0
One must admit, President Biden’s call for a summit of democracy was a courageous and challenging move that one can only admire. The US President was very emphatic about strengthening democracy in the United States and the world over, believing that committing to democratic principles and practices is critical in meeting the challenges and threats to democracy at this time.
In his speech during the opening of the first-ever virtual “Summit for Democracy” with over 100 world leaders as well as members of civil society and the private sector participating, President Biden talked about the decline of global freedom in the last 15 years, with democratic countries including the United States experiencing some form of decline in at least one aspect of their democracy in the previous 10 years, according to the International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
“In the face of sustained and alarming challenges to democracy, universal human rights and – all around the world, democracy needs champions,” he said, admitting that even for a country like the United States, renewing democracy and strengthening democratic institutions “requires constant effort,” and that democracy does not happen by accident but has to be renewed with each generation.
“Democracies are not all the same,” the US president acknowledged. “We don’t agree on everything, all of us in this meeting today. But the choices we make together are going to define, in my view, the course of our shared future for generations to come,” he continued, vowing that the US will “lead by example…” investing in democracy and supporting its partners around the world at the same time.
As Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed out in an op-ed published in USA Today last Wednesday, “Strengthening democracy can’t be a solo endeavor that countries do in isolation. It must be approached as a global mission – governments, civil societies, private sectors and citizens working together across borders, languages and cultures – everyone committed to inaugurating a new era of rising freedom and stronger human rights protections around the world.”
Acknowledging that “democracy can at times be fragile,” President Biden also pointed out that democracy is inherently resilient and capable of self-correction and self-improvement. After all, there is no such thing as a perfect democracy. Or a perfect constitution – not even the Constitution of the United States. They have amended it 27 times to make it more attuned to the need of the times.
In her book Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, published in May 2017, former State Secretary Condoleezza Rice highlighted the need for the US to continue being active in promoting, strengthening, and spreading democracy all over the world.
“President Biden also pointed out that democracy is inherently resilient and capable of self-correction and self-improvement. After all, there is no such thing as a perfect democracy. Or a perfect constitution – not even the Constitution of the United States. They have amended it 27 times to make it more attuned to the need of the times.”
Her focus on promoting democracy is not really surprising, considering that she served as National Security Adviser and then State Secretary during the term of George Bush Jr. He had pledged to strengthen democracy and help emerging democracies build institutions that would sustain freedom and liberty. In his second inaugural address in January 2005, Bush Jr. said, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in the world.”
Admittedly, defining democracy is not as simple as describing it as the control of the majority in an organization or a system of government where people have the authority to decide through elected representatives. But there are certain parameters, such as the conduct of periodic and free elections, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, exercise of free speech, freedom of religion.
In her book, Rice wrote, “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.”
As a young democracy, the Philippines has gone through many challenges, upheavals even. We must admit our own Constitution also needs substantial changes to make it more responsive to the changing times. Critics say it was crafted hastily and essentially not thought out well. That is why those who claim that democracy is nonexistent in the Philippines and that dissent and freedom of the press are suppressed – even so far as claiming that the country is under a reign of terror and mass murder – are definitely exaggerating. The fact that these groups can speak their minds and continue criticizing the government proves that democracy is very much alive in the Philippines.
It reminds me of the time in 2014 when Condoleezza Rice was giving a speech at Norwich University. Several protesters heckled and interrupted her. When they peacefully escorted the protesters out of the building, Rice remarked, “Democracy is noisy.”
“On the International Day of Democracy, President Biden stated, “No democracy is perfect, and no democracy is ever final. Every gain made, every barrier broken, is the result of determined, unceasing work.”
In fact, in 2005, when she was State Secretary and speaking at a place in San Francisco, California that was described as “hostile territory” with protesters outside the venue, three audience members put on black hooded robes. They stretched their arms, chanting, “Stop the torture, stop the killing, US out of Iraq.” Maintaining her composure, Rice gestured to the protesters, saying, “It’s a wonderful thing that people are able to speak their minds in our democracy. In Baghdad, Kabul and soon in Beirut, they, too, will be able to speak their minds.”
On the International Day of Democracy, President Biden stated, “No democracy is perfect, and no democracy is ever final. Every gain made, every barrier broken, is the result of determined, unceasing work.”
Democracy is never static – it’s a continuing work in progress.