Creative democracy: Yes we can!

Yesterday’s election of Barack Obama as President of the United States was not only promising for our future, but was also a moving reaffirmation of all that America can be.

His Presidency may not fulfill all the dreams that the candidacy inspired; some things may not change at all. But it reminds me of what Thurgood Marshall said after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, which outlawed segregated schools. When asked what the Supreme Court ruling really meant, Marshall, said that in fact nothing had changed, except that henceforth, repeating the civil rights mantra, “the law is on our side”. In a similar way, Obama’s Presidency offers no guarantees, but does offer exciting possibilities in terms of uniting Americans and restoring America’s role in the community of nations.

The election of Obama is also a reminder that democracy is not a static system, but a process in need of continual renewal by all. Dewey (1976/1939, p. 230) expresses this in his essay, “Creative democracy: The task before us”:

Democracy as compared with other ways of life is the sole way of living which believes wholeheartedly in the process of experience as end and as means; as that which is capable of generating the science which is the sole dependable authority for the direction of further experience and which releases emotions, needs and desires so as to call into being the things that have not existed in the past. For every way of life that fails in its democracy limits the contacts, the exchanges, the communications, the interactions by which experience is steadied while it is also enlarged and enriched. The task of this release and enrichment is one that has to be carried on day by day. Since it is one that can have no end till experience itself comes to an end, the task of democracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute.

Let’s have the audacity to hope that we are capable of creating of “a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute.” I might add that John McCain’s concession speech was a gracious and thoughtful step in that direction.


Dewey, John (1976). Creative democracy: The task before us. In J. Boydston (Ed.), John Dewey: The later works, 1925-1953, volume 14 (pp. 224-230). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. (Original work published 1939)

Kluger, Richard (1977, 1975). Simple justice. The history of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s struggle for equality. New York: Vintage Books.

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