We must honor the sacred spaces of self-government

The Democracy Witness project began as an affirmation of the rights of all people, everywhere, to enjoy self-determination and open government. The foundation for this publication’s work is the requirement that any government derive its just powers from the voluntary and informed consent of the governed.

Last week’s attack on the US Capitol by paramilitary insurrectionists, incited to violence by a rogue president and his corrupt allies, have caused us to refocus on the importance of treating as sacred the spaces where self-government plays out. The US Capitol is one such place—arguably the most open legislative body in the world, where any person can freely engage in good-faith policy discussion with elected officials and their staff.

Some legislators have full time staff devoted to answering correspondence from those they represent. Some offices will answer millions of pieces of correspondence per year. It is possible, in the United States, for ordinary people to fill the calendar of meetings and to contribute substantively to discussions on racial discrimination, police reform, taxation, economic development, education policy, healthcare access rights, environmental protection and climate action, and on matters of peace and security.

American democracy is not perfect, but it does allow everyone to play a role, if they wish to. The attack on the Capitol was an attempt to subvert the right of hundreds of millions of people to enjoy the fruits of open government. Nothing the attackers or their sympathizers say can change that fact.

We will be using the United States Capitol as a symbol for Democracy Witness, for the indefinite future, as a sign of respect for that highest of all principles of democratic process—that people working in good faith for the betterment of their communities and their fellow citizens have an absolute right to meet with and constructively inform those who represent them in the halls of government.

Democracy is about the demilitarization of the civic space. We call on all political actors everywhere to work peacefully, and constructively, for a society in which force can never displace reason, participatory process, or the full and equal protection of the laws.

This is why we have always loved sharing images of citizens gathering to meet with government in good faith, to talk policy, to build political will for a better future. There is joy, and real empowerment, in living your democracy that way. May it again be the norm in the weeks and months ahead, and when we overcome the scourge of COVID-19 that has kept so many so far from others.

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