Egypt: Is this the Civic Revolution we have been waiting for?
As we watch the millions of Egyptians gathering throughout the cities of Egypt, I wonder if we are witnessing a true civic revolution—a revolution based on inclusion, human rights, and human dignity. If so, this should be an inspiration to us in the United States. We had a civil war, of course, but not a civic revolution. We are still waiting for it, just as the people in Cairo’s Liberty Square are waiting for theirs.
We did have a revolution. Our revolution against the British, however, was really a commercial revolution. It was a revolution of property-owners: the rights of citizenship were reserved for the owners of property. No women or children, and certainly not slaves or Native Americans, became citizens after the Revolution. In fact, the compromise between the Northern and Southern states that would count slaves as 3/5ths of a person was necessary to form the Union. For the most part, it was a fight for property rights, not civic rights.
Our Civil War, a century later, was also mostly about property rights. For the slave states, they believed that the federal government did not have the right to take their property—their slaves—even if they also believed slavery was wrong. As we now watch the former slave states celebrate the 150th anniversary of their seccession, we should remember that yes, it was about state rights, but the state right they wanted to keep was the right to keep the slaves they had bought. At one level, the Civil War was really a property war, but perhaps at an even deeper level, it was also about the civic revolution we have never had.
We have had movements toward a civic life together. African-Americans were allowed to vote. Women acquired the rights of citizenship in the 1920s. Workers gained civic rights with the rights to organize unions. The Civil Rights movement protected the civic rights of minorities. Some local governments are responsive to the people. Progress has been made. But if you look at who controls our national government and our corporations, as well as many other institutions, it is the property owners. We too are waiting for a civic revolution that would bring democracy to the United States.