Every September 15, the world comes together for a day of reflection on the struggle for democracy. Set against the backdrop of COVID-19, we view this year’s International Day of Democracy with a renewed sense of immediacy.
Beginning in 2007, the International Day of Democracy provides an opportunity for nations around the world to share in a collective effort to promote democratic principles centered on economic, political, and civil equality.
This year, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called upon governments to remain transparent in their response to COVID-19. In his policy brief, the Secretary-General emphasizes the importance of ensuring and respecting freedom of expression, the press, information, and assembly during this shared crisis.
As COVID-19 continues its spread, the Secretary-General’s plea falls on deaf ears in many parts of the world.
In an already limited civic space, governments are cracking down on freedom of speech and expression, controlling the narrative and information. Journalists, front-line workers, activists, and political opposition are being arrested, accused of promoting ‘fake news.’
Even the United States, the world’s leading democracy, lacks immunity to this trend. Amid a national referendum on race and the highest number of COVID-19 infections around the globe, disinformation continues to downplay the severity of the pandemic and stoke civil unrest.
Concerned with issues immediately in front of us, it is easy to wane in our own convictions. Priorities that were once at the forefront of our minds are now understandably lost in the static as we try to protect our friends and family.
However, it is in times of crisis that our convictions define us.
We must not lose sight of values learned through our own fight for democracy. We must understand that many across the world remain embroiled in this struggle.
Feeling powerless to aid or act and plagued with attempts to distract or misdirect us, we face a mounting crisis beyond COVID-19. For these reasons, it is crucial on this Day of Democracy to remember that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental right and should be foreign to no one, nor should any one person or government have a monopoly over it.
Democracy, however, is not a means to an end. By its design, democracy must be kept, constantly fought for, and practiced. It is a continuous machine that, if not well maintained, will crumble at the slightest sign of neglect.
With this sense of common purpose, and threats beyond a virus looming, nations and people who prescribe to these common values must cut through the noise to affirm their commitments to democracy.
More pressingly, liberal democracies have a responsibility to look inward. We must all champion the values that most matter to us and oil the cogs of democracy before it deteriorates. Collective voices and efforts ensure democracy. A heavy burden, yes, but one we all can share.
For those who are still committed to their own fight and those who feel democracy slowly fading away, I leave you with some of the founding language of the International Day of Democracy to remind us why we share these collective values and why we must never wane:
“Democracy is a universal value based on the freely-expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social, and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life.”