President Obama's speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2012, will be a powerful inspiration to civil society activists across the world who are fighting for democracy, an end to human rights abuse, for press freedom, for justice and against corruption.
While the president's prime target audience was in all those countries where radicals have attacked Americans and U.S. embassies and consulates, it has a broader universal appeal. It came, after all, just days after the Kremlin announced that that U.S. AID will no longer be able to support pro-democracy civil society organizations in Russia.The President told the United Nations:
The future must not belong to those corrupt few who steal a country's resources. It must be won by the students and entrepreneurs, the workers and business owners who seek a broader prosperity for all people. Those are the women and men that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will support.
Corruption is the single greatest cause of massive poverty in many of the world's poorest nations, of the most grievous human rights abuses and of the widespread undermining of equal justice for all in many nations. This U.S. Administration has been a forceful support of many anti-corruption initiatives within a broader agenda that has seen President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encourage civil society activists in many of the most oppressed societies to speak truth to power.The administration's efforts have been ratcheted up since the outbreak of the Arab Spring. As the President noted at the U.N.:
It has been less than two years since a vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest the oppressive corruption in his country, and sparked what became known as the Arab Spring. And since then, the world has been captivated by the transformation that's taken place, and the United States has supported the forces of change. We were inspired by the Tunisian protests that toppled a dictator, because we recognized our own beliefs in the aspiration of men and women who took to the streets.
And he added, "We insisted on change in Egypt, because our support for democracy ultimately put us on the side of the people."
The U.S. Administration has been given far too little credit by the mainstream media for its insistent advocacy of the core American values that the president underscored to the General Assembly in New York. But, for many civil society activists, this U.S. encouragement -- especially as it comes from the highest echelons of the U.S. Administration -- is enormously encouraging.
Many of these activists, from Russia to Sri Lanka, from Belarus to Zimbabwe, are risking their lives every day as they move forward to organize mass public efforts to curb corruption in their governments. Many exceptionally brave investigative journalists and bold public prosecutors in many countries are taking equal risks to secure public support for precisely the values that President Obama articulated. We do not applaud and recognize these heroes sufficiently.
If you believe, as I do, that individuals can change the course of history, then you will understand why support for the civil society activists across the globe today who are campaigning for issues crucial to a civilized and just society is so important. I believe these activists will enjoy mounting success, especially as the U.S. continues to be in the vanguard of forcefully and loudly making their case.
Civil society movements that support nonviolence and strive to promote the values that took ordinary people in Tunisia and Egypt into the streets, despite the brutality of the security forces, are gaining in strength. Efforts by the Kremlin to cut off some of their funding, or by violent radicals to stir up anti-Americanism in the Middle East and beyond, will not succeed.
The facts of the matter is that President Obama and the rising numbers of courageous civil society activists across the world who share his views and are strengthened by his U.N. speech, are on the right side of history now.