Opinions

Attack on the U.S. Capitol Building – The Nurturing of Democracy

Statement by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown

U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda – January 8, 2021, Like observers across America and around the world, I was appalled by the events that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.  On a day traditionally characterized by history, pomp, and ceremony, the world instead saw more than just an act of lawlessness, we witnessed a violent attack on America’s democracy.

As America’s Founding Fathers recognized, and as we were reminded Wednesday, democracy is fragile.  Democracy is hard.  To survive, it must be constantly tended to and renewed-by leaders and ordinary citizens alike.

More than 230 years after the adoption of its constitution, the United States is still striving to build a more perfect union so that all Americans can enjoy the blessings of liberty and justice enshrined in a document that when ratified, did not represent people like me:  a woman of African descent.  From the suffragettes to the freedom riders, the effort to enfranchise all Americans has been an enduring struggle.  Issues of voter rights and registration; gerrymandering of electoral districts; and the polarization of our electorate are the subject of continued debate and concern, compounded recently by the proliferation of mis-information across social media.

Despite these difficulties, and despite the unprecedented challenge of conducting elections in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 150 million Americans exercised their constitutional right and their civic duty to choose their elected representatives at the local, state, and national level in elections that were free, fair, and absent of any significant fraud.  On January 20, Americans will witness the swearing in of America’s 46th President, completing the election cycle and the peaceful transition of power that has been a hallmark of our democracy.

While the criminal actions of those who stormed the Capitol captured the world’s attention, I choose to celebrate the unsung heroes who once again made it possible for the United States to conduct elections and embark on the transfer of power that represent the will of the people.  These heroes are the thousands of Americans who volunteered to staff polling stations or serve as election monitors.  They are the elected and appointed officials who, guided by their oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, ensured the elections were carried out impartially.  They are the court workers and judges-appointed by Republican and Democratic administrations alike-who ensured the public’s right to contest election laws to which they objected and to evaluate allegations of fraud, and who rendered their decisions in accordance with the law, not their political affiliation.  They are the civil society representatives who conducted voter education drives and the journalists who stayed on the campaign trail throughout, helping to inform the electorate.

After Wednesday’s events, many people may question America’s right to speak out on issues of democracy around the world, and they are entitled to their perspective.  As we know well, America’s democracy is not perfect, and the United States is not without fault.  As protests across America this past summer demonstrated, much work remains to align our ideals with the everyday reality of many Americans.

But when we speak out against human rights abuses, we do so not because such abuses do not occur in America.  When we speak out for press freedom, we do so not because American journalists are entirely free of harassment.  When we call for judicial independence, we do so not because judges in America are free of external influence.

On the contrary, we do so because we are mindful of the work still to be done in the American experiment with democracy and because our history has taught us that democracy must be defended if it is to endure.  While our work begins at home, we will continue to share the lessons we have learned from our own experience as we look outward toward the world around us.  We will continue to work with partners in Uganda and elsewhere toward a world where every child, woman, and man has opportunities to achieve our full potential, secure in our rights.

The principles of equality, freedom, decency, tolerance, and justice that we strive for in America’s democracy are the same principles that have guided, and will continue to guide, our partnerships in Uganda and throughout the world.