As this wave of trailblazing thinkers and leaders respond to our national crisis, they are reviving an old American vision. We call it a vision for deepening democracy: extending more power to more people in more ways. Freedom, to this new generation, is participation in power: where the productive capacity of ordinary Americans is respected; where all Americans are invited to co-create our nation; and where everyone has a say in directing the forces that govern our lives.
The Democracy Movement is being revived today
Unfortunately, for the past decades, the American democratic spirit has been quieter than usual. As a result, our government has become distant and unresponsive, allowing corporate behemoths to dominate our economy. An out-of-touch political class feeds at the trough of deep-pocketed donors, granting an ever-smaller cabal free reign over elections and lawmaking, and leaving the American people with little control over the fate of their economy, their communities and too often their own lives. This aristocratic politics has thoroughly failed — it has not narrowed our economic divide, tempered our climate crisis, nor supervised our global might.
Fortunately, in recent years, the American democratic spirit is slowly reawakening. The first rumblings of this democratic revival are already underway. Teachers in West Virginia, LA, and Chicago are flexing their democratic muscles, often bucking their leadership to strike for control over their workplaces. Bold ideas to restructure the economy, from public banks to 21st century antitrust, are gaining steam. Florida’s popular Amendment 4 campaign returned voting rights to formerly incarcerated people. And the Green New Deal’s momentum demonstrates a renewed appetite for using public power to do big things.
And it’s not just activists and politicians that make up this groundswell — it’s a new generation of thinkers, too. In upstart think tanks, small campaigns, and tiny magazines across the country, ambitious, trailblazing policies — from decarbonization to decarceration, from civil Gideon to sovereign wealth funds, from platform cooperatives to democracy vouchers — are being developed and expanded to show America what a deeper democracy could look like.
Political scientists are expecting a generation-based party realignment in the 2020s, as the younger generations — who, polling shows, desire bigger, bolder policy — ascend to power.
This generational moment can be squandered or seized — and the stakes are high. If this latest revival of the Movement for American Democracy fails, anti-democratic forces may win the century, as Americans opt for bold tyranny over shallow politics.
If it succeeds, however, democracy can be deepened in the coming century, like it has been in fits and starts throughout our history. If so, the 2020s could be remembered as the decade when — in the wake of devastating political, economy, and health crises — Americans stepped up to build a new ways of doing things.
The Movement’s fate, we believe, will be determined, in part, by how well we can realize our visionary ideals through concrete ideas.