Building a Democracy for the 21st Century

March 1, 2016

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(This article first appeared in the March-April 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.) 

"Our democracy is under siege,” declares the website of the Democracy Initiative. The group is dedicated to ending the unprecedented influence of big money in politics and increasing voter participation. “Our fundamental democratic value of ‘one person, one vote’ is under attack by a barrage of aggressive attempts to restrict access to the ballot box and undermine voting rights,” it says. 

Cohen on his last day as president of CWA, urging action to build a
mass movement for democracy and economic justice.

Delegates to the APWU 2014 National Convention adopted resolutions in support of the goals of the Democracy Initiative and the union has joined the coalition.

In February, The American Postal Worker conducted an interview with co-founder Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

Q. How did the Democracy Initiative come about?

A. “Four years ago, CWA, NAACP, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Common Cause – sort of an odd mix of groups that were working together on other issues – came to the conclusion that the things we cared most about were not going to go anywhere, in terms of a legislative fix, with the state of our democracy…

“We reached out to civil rights groups, greens, labor groups, who endorsed the premise that we need to get big money out of politics and make it really easy for citizens to vote.

“We may be part of the oldest democracy, but it’s not a 21st century democracy.”

Q. What is the group’s strategy?

A. “If we understand the link between democracy and our own core issues, then we can get enough people in motion around the democracy issues to win on the other issues….

“Can we create some real fusion where postal workers and CWAers and greens and civil rights leaders actually say, ‘Hey we are working on one movement together…we are working on a democracy movement with different issues?’”

“The first thing we took on was changing the Senate rules on nominations, so you wouldn’t need 60, you would need 50. That allowed us to get over 400 nominations that would have been stopped. The whole National Labor Relations Board was paralyzed. …It’s not like it was a forgone conclusion that we would win, but we did.”

Q. What is the Democracy Initiative fighting for?

A. “The restoration of voter rights is a key goal, but we don’t just want to play defense. We want automatic voter registration and voting by mail, but there also should be an ability to show up and vote. The idea that you have to show up a given workday to vote….that drives down numbers.

“Congress refuses to even hold a hearing on voting rights or reversing Citizens United, [the Supreme Court decision that lifted limits on corporate spending on political campaigns]. They won’t even discuss it.

“We want to go on the offense, teach kids and people and build a movement around this ridiculous voter suppression.

“It’s not just about democracy and good citizenship. It’s about workers’ rights and economic inequality, climate change. We can’t get these things fixed unless the people are really directly controlling the structure of democracy.”

Q. How are you building wider support beyond those already involved?

A. “What I call it is getting broader and deeper. We are getting more organizations, that’s broader, but more important…how do we get deeper? That’s where we have the challenge.

“If you got 100 involved in a local of 10,000, we get the grassroots buzz we need and the only way you are going to get that is if you link it back to their frontline issues.”

For more information, visit

The Democracy Awakening is taking place April 16-18 in Washington, DC.

Democracy Awakening

The Democracy Awakening, set for April 16-18 in Washington, DC, will include three days of protest, education, and culture to foster a democracy of, by and for the people.

The program will consist of teach-ins, rallies and a non-violent action at the Capitol on April 18. For more information, visit

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