The unfolding story of democracy

openDemocracy's editor-in-chief surveys the last two months of oD coverage
Tony Curzon Price
Tony Curzon Price
3 November 2010

The unfolding story of democracy, human rights and liberty which openDemocracy is here to tell has a meandering plot-line. Remarkably, maybe, some of the turns seem to point in hopeful directions.

Not all hopeful, of course. In Europe, the xenophobic right seems to be gaining in confidence, entering government in the Netherlands, entering parliament in Sweden, and influencing government policies everywhere – from France's expulsion of Roma to Germany's doubts over multiculturalism as a model of social harmony. Markha Valenta, the Dutch academic and a very welcome addition to the select team of oD
columnists, opened her "Inter Alia" series with an analysis of Europe's new "non-racist culturalism". She argues persuasively that to diffuse that xenophobia will require a re-interpretation of the meaning of the Holocaust in Europe.

There are hints of a similar shift in political mood in the USA, in the activities of the Tea Party, as analysed by Max Blumenthal in "Days of Rage". The Tea Party is rebuilding the old Republican coalition of imperialists, fundamentalist Christians and free-marketeers through an appeal to a simpler time of the cold war, and an even simpler time before the New Deal of a small centre. As Peter Baldwin argues, however, the USA and Europe differ in that those who are really fed up with the centre in Europe are in Germany - the big power at the centre, and not nostalgists for a life beyond the centre's empire, as seems to be the case in the USA.

South Africa is going through troubles of "dominant party" democracy. The ANC is so politically dominant that it is very hard for the state, the party and even civil society not to be swept into the internal political battles of the party. So, with the proposed Information Bill, party factions who feel they have been publicly shamed by the free press are seeking to muzzle it. This is a real test of how dominant party democracy might develop – a theme I explored at length in interviews with South African experts in two podcasts.

The poor, still with us

The Millenium Development Goals celebrated the tenth year of their definition, and Michael Edwards, in characteristically combative mood, wonders why the poor are with us still. There are lessons that have to be re-learned about poverty reduction, but most of all the link between empowerment and sustainable poverty reduction needs to be always remembered: too much work towards the MDGs is an exercise in creating technocrats and their dependants. You can read more of Michael Edwards’ blog from the MDG conference of the Brooks Centre at Manchester University.

50.50, our gender section, has been very successful at covering events -most  recently the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

An interesting note on one way we can partner such events: openDemocracy does wonders for the Google visibility of an event. If you search for "Ten years of war against poverty", Mike Edwards' blog went straight to the top of the search list in a few days.

Hopeful directions

And what about the hopeful directions in all this? Actually, we cover lots of stories that are uplifting – from stories of people and groups coming together and making a difference (like the local Moscow residents who are resisting government and corporate pressures to put a motorway through a local forest) to stories of entire democratic political systems "working well" (for example Brazil, where the polarisation of the Labour and Social Democratic parties should be applauded, as Arthur Ituassu does.

openDemocracy coverage

These are just a tiny fraction of the stories we've covered over two months. We're publishing about 6 significant pieces per day, and almost all of them are gathering serious and informed comments on top of that.

I'm very proud of the commenting culture we have managed to evolve, which usually does not descend into nasty ad hominem. And when it does, our volunteer moderators are pretty intolerant of it.

In terms of openDemocracy's own developments - we closed the reader fundraising campaign successfully, Rosemary Bechler started in her position as editor – you can read more on her plans and editorial philosophy here and we launched a trial of our "Guest editor" programme.

And there are more changes to come, which we’ll be announcing on the site soon. OurKingdom relaunches for the new government, and much else besides.

The editorial team continues to participate in and sometimes stage live events, mostly in London, but also elsewhere:

  • Geoff Andrews, who has written so brilliantly and influentially for us on Italy, represented openDemocracy at this year's prestigious British Council Pontignano Conference in Rome.
  • Rosemary Bechler opened a seminar on Paul Hirst's 'Associative Democracy and the Big Society', a topic much in the air as the Labour party looks to find some driving ideas beyond New Labour.
  • I have just chaired a Verso Books launch on the renewal of participatory democracy through public media.

And the whole team is gearing up for the London launch event for Charles Shaw's "Exile Nation" about his incarceration, his battle with drug addiction and his anti-prohibition activism. You are very warmly invited to join us for an interesting evening entitled “Who’s addicted to the war on drugs?”

Tuesday 16 November at The Hub, 34b York Way, King’s Cross, London, 7pm

Email [email protected] for more information or to reserve a place.

You will notice that we are putting many more faces on the front page. Each week's editor has an introduction box, our columnists now have photographs ... we are giving body to a community that is heading into its tenth anniversary year. We are starting to plan for the anniversary. The actual date of the first openDemocracy article was 13 May 2001. We are aiming to contact all our authors and ask them to look out another 10 years. And there will be an event next year, more of all these excitements in the months to come.

As ever, thanks for your support by reading and donating to openDemcoracy.

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