Change in America
The landmark election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States has dominated the news. It was a momentous occasion demonstrating the power of democracy and inspiring belief in that system of government. There was a high turnout of people motivated to cast their vote for change. It was refreshing to see voters going to the polling stations in such large numbers in scenes reminiscent of younger democracies such as South Africa. This contrasted strongly with the apathy that has gripped many countries with a longer heritage of universal suffrage.
This election showed the effectiveness of evolutionary change. From the early civil rights movement, through a broadening representation in Congress and now with the first African-American President-elect, the United States has shown that a political establishment can adapt to become more inclusive and representative of the society that it serves. It has done so just 45 years after Martin Luther King’s famous “Dream” speech.
It is easy to say that people should be patient for change especially when their basic rights are infringed or absent. Revolutionary change can occur if we do not move quickly enough or if reform is not embraced at any level. Then we get more than we bargained for with a chaotic and prolonged reaction against the perpetrators and supporters of the old regime. William Wordsworth saw this in the French Revolution and observed that, “….the earthquake is not satisfied at once….”.
History can commend and justify the evolutionary approach. In the United Kingdom in the early twentieth century, we needed more radical social reform than the then Liberal Party was judged capable of providing. The Labour Party filled that gap and became the natural party of progressive opposition. It achieved this goal within little more than 25 years of achieving its first parliamentary representation. Early thinking included the idea of the inevitability of gradualism – the notion that moving just a few steps forward prevented a reaction that would take you more steps back. Some reforms would be irreversible, not in the sense that they could not be changed, but because they would be so self-evidently right that nobody would dare to change them.
Barack Obama’s election through evolutionary change has the potential to assist with world cohesion and this opportunity goes beyond any reference to race. The United States remains the most powerful country and its foreign policy can profoundly influence how we all get on with each other. Foreign policy of a nation-state can certainly be driven by “what is right” but there is much more to it than that. Countries all around the world have a multicultural population, notwithstanding any common nationality. It is just possible, hazarding a guess, that a foreign policy more sensitive to these differences might make the world a safer place.
Could the American experience happen here? I believe so. Our political parties and other establishment institutions are now more inclusive but can always improve. We now have the added impetus of that rare event in recent times – a week driven by optimism for the future.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
9th November 2008