From Cairo to Madison

From Cairo to Madison

“Democracy is nothing if it is not dangerous,” declared Carl Oglesby in 1965. As president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the largest group on the white New Left, he was rebutting liberals who were displeased that communists could freely join his organization. Almost half a century later, Oglesby’s maxim has lost none of its ambiguous sting. Consider two signal events that occurred this past winter.

All over the Arab world, people thronged the streets and squares of their cities demanding popular elections. Dictators responded to their nonviolent protests with tanks and guns—and remarkably, in two nations at least, with surrender. We admire these heroines and heroes, who faced dangers unknown in the United States since the heyday of segregation. But will those elections, when they come, bring to power religious zealots who want to relegate every woman to subservience to men?

In Wisconsin, public union members and their allies protested the new conservative governor’s attempt to abolish collective bargaining. They were standing up for a moral principle that should be self-evident: the right to have a say about the conditions that affect one’s working life. Collective bargaining enabled millions of Americans to hold down reasonably secure, reasonably well-paid jobs; it helped make the United States a more democratic nation. Yet, the governor and the Republican majority in the state legislature were freely elected by the voters of Wiscon...

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