Julie Fisher is passionate about democracy, linked as it is to improved economic performance, increased equality, political stability, good governance and the avoidance of war. As a specialist on nongovernmental organizations and microenterprise development, she has been a consultant to numerous international agencies, including CIVICUS, TechnoServe, CARE, Trickle Up, Lutheran World Relief and Save the Children, and has served as a program officer in the Kettering Foundation. She has written three books so far. Visit her- www.importingdemocracy.org
- You have published three books so far:The Road from Rio, Nongovernments, and now Importing Democracy. From where did your interest in political matters and civil societies arise?
My father taught philosophy at the University of Colorado, and I grew up talking politics and political philosophy with him. As an undergraduate, I spent a semester in Chile, researching and then writing about the rise of the Christian Democratic Party. My doctoral thesis focused on squatter neighbourhood organizations in Latin America. Although I wasn’t totally aware of it at the time, this was my first, major focus on civil society at the grassroots level.
- In your latest book, you have focussed on these three countries-South Africa, Tajikistan and Argentina. Were there any specific reasons behind choosing these particular countries?
Since the Kettering Foundation had close ties with democracy activists in 43 countries, I was limited to those, since I needed people to support my field research. Second, I wanted to find countries in very different geographic areas. The three countries I picked all had exceptional and diverse ties with Kettering.
What is to me most remarkable about my findings in these very different countries is that their democracy activists are so similar to each other. Indeed, they could almost be interchanged for each other and go on doing their work.
- Do you think that NGOs are also playing an active role in the internal democratization of developed countries such as the United States?
I have not researched this topic, but I am aware of a number of examples in the United States. The Brennan Centre is challenging restrictive voting laws. Another important, longstanding example is the National Issues Forums, which engages people at the local level in Naming, Framing and Deliberating about policy issues.
- In your book, you stress on the fact that democracy can only be successfully ‘imported’, not exported. This means that the citizens themselves have to democratize their own country. But many people believe that one vote doesn’t make a difference. What is your advice to such citizens?
Voting is important, but it is only a small part of the democratization process. There are many other ways for people to get involved, particularly at the grassroots level.
My book focused on four major democratization topics:
- Law-Based Civil Liberties:
An individual citizen could work with an NGO as a volunteer on human rights or other law-based reforms.
- Building a Loyal Opposition:
This one is the toughest, but becoming a party activist or running for office, perhaps at the local level, is important. Getting involved with local or national NGOs working on policy issues is another approach.
- Deepening political participation:
Again, the focus can be local. Individual citizens can pick a difficult local issue and bring people together to deliberate about it.
- Democratizing popular culture:
Individual citizens can participate in reforming the curriculum in their children’s school, so that they are taught about democracy, a strong legal system and the importance of citizen participation.
- If you could change one thing in this world, what would it be?
I would like to increase global awareness about crucial importance of democratization and its ties to so many global socio-economic and environmental challenges.
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