Saturday 9 January 2010

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

The notion that all Americans don't 'get' irony has always been very unfair, but at times its easy to see why this old cliché is continually recycled.

Take the word 'democracy', one that like 'freedom' the United States likes to claim as its own. This is in spite of evidence of outright fraud not only in the infamous circumstances of the US presidential elections of 2000 but in 2004 too. Neither is US interference in Latin American democracies simply a matter for historians: for example, since the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia in December 2005, the US government has sent millions of dollars in funds that have ended up in the hands of opposition groups linked to anti-government violence. Obama has continued the pattern of propaganda aimed at undermining the Venezuelan government and provided tacit support for the military coup in Honduras by seeking to legitimise its sham elections. Then, of course, there is the backing provided to the Karzai government in Afghanistan, despite overwhelming evidence of election fraud in 2009.

None of this is a contradiction to the U.S. Department of State, which on Thursday launched a global Democracy is… Twitter contest. It calls on Twitter users to tweet what they think democracy is, before 21 January, using the hash symbol #democracyis, with the goal of providing "a worldwide platform in which people can discuss the meaning of democracy and exchange ideas from diverse perspectives." There's even a prize, apparently.

One of the 'diverse perspectives' that the Hilary Clinton's department would probably prefer not to hear is that over the last ten years, the most powerful examples of what democracy looks like, from Latin America's democractic decade to worldwide anti-war protests, have been in direct opposition to US foreign and economic policies. That kind of makes the opportunity to provide a 140 character explanation why the US needs to stop lecturing the world on democracy almost impossible to ignore.

So what is democracy, really? I need to give some thought to my contest entry but my own memorable example, from February 2003, looks like this:

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