To the Chicago Center on Democracy community:

I would like to reach out to you to share a few of my thoughts, given the past few weeks’ whirlwind of protests, news coverage, and conversations sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and other African-American individuals.

Social scientists define democracy as a regime type or a system of government. But democracy is also a struggle.

In the United States, it has been a struggle, above all, over slavery and its legacies. A struggle to hold the nation together while eliminating human bondage; a struggle to afford economic opportunities to former slaves and their descendants; a struggle to wipe out legal segregation and to enfranchise African-Americans, in all regions of the country.

In the past few weeks, to our great shame, we find ourselves face-to-face with our failure to win the struggle for democracy. On two fronts. We are failing to protect the right to vote, and vote safely, for large segments of our black and brown communities. And we are failing to ensure that our police forces are a source of security and not violence in these same communities.

A central theme of the research agenda of the Chicago Center on Democracy is democratic erosion. And this remains an urgent agenda. In recent years, in countries as diverse as Russia and Turkey, Hungary and Poland, Venezuela and Brazil, and even the United States, democratic institutions have been undermined by their elected presidents and prime ministers. It remains of vital importance that scholars unearth the causes, consequences, and possible brakes on this erosion.

But we also remain committed to scholarship that elucidates the reasons why America’s struggles for a fairer, more inclusive, and less violent democracy have fallen short. And to explore alternative models that the world offers – different ways of organizing police forces and criminal justice systems, electoral systems, voting procedures, redistricting methods, and economic redistribution.

Let this be a moment where we redouble our commitment to becoming the most useful scholars, and most worthy citizens, that we can be.

Warm regards,

Susan Stokes
Faculty Director
Chicago Center on Democracy