Record numbers of Americans participated Tuesday in one of the greatest moments in U.S. history. But as Obama declared in his acceptance speech, "The road ahead will be long." We are still in an ongoing disastrous war, and amidst a failing economy. Beltway lobbyists still inhabit the halls of Washington, and while Democrats have picked up seats in both the House and the Senate, there remains nothing to ensure voters that their elected representatives – both new and old – will actually fulfill their campaign promises and listen to the American people.
Veteran journalist, Bill Moyers says that "our democratic process is in a state of crisis." Regardless of who’s in office, control lies not in the hands of the American people, but with the lobbyists and special interests that fund the political campaigns and ultimately control public policy.
But for the first time in memory, we are at a crossroads. Since the birth of our country, citizens have slowly struggled to increase our democracy for all – from the right to vote, through the civil rights movement to the civil rights act. They struggle even today to ensure that everyone has the right to cast their ballot, and that everyone’s ballot will be counted. But now a new window of opportunity has opened. That which many believed impossible only a few years ago has now become reality. An African American will lead the United States as the 44th president. But that fact alone does not ensure equality, and we need to continue our mobilization. Not only when Obama or our representatives run astray, but for greater participation in our democracy, on a daily basis – not only in politics, but also in the economy, society and culture.
Democracy does not end when you cast your vote. That is where it begins. In the words of the Portuguese academic Boaventura de Souza Santos, democracy is "without end" (democracia sem fim).
While U.S. citizens voted in record numbers on November 4, our democratic duty cannot stop there. Obama declared on Tuesday night, "This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you."
Our elected representatives should commit to fulfill their campaign promises, open up spaces of participation with decisions directly in the hands of the citizens (direct consultations, participatory budgeting, etc.), and to be willing to be held accountable by those they represent – not only during the election cycle, but throughout their entire term.
We have centuries of history to build on, and countless participatory experiences to learn from – both in the United States and across the Americas, which are blossoming with new exciting possibilities. And we too can go "beyond elections" to open up democracy in all aspects of our lives, to not only decide our political future, but our social, cultural and economic future.
"This is our moment. This is our time," Obama said on Tuesday evening before more than a hundred thousand supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park. "To put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one;"
We are one, and we have the right to participate together in the decision-making processes that govern our lives. "And those who tell us that we can’t," says Obama, "we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can."
Michael Fox is a Latin America based journalist, reporter and filmmaker. He is Co-director of the recently released documentary, Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas, which has just been on tour around the U.S., and is now available at PM Press.
Photo from craighwk