Perspectives

Now as Ever, Democracy Needs Its Defenders

Freedom advocates are deeply needed now and in the future, because history won’t bend by itself if we idly stand by while others struggle for justice and democracy.

Tens of thousands of Bahraini protesters carry a liberated prisoner in the Pearl Roundabout of Manama City.

The following remarks were delivered by Mark P. Lagon, president of Freedom House, at a recent event celebrating the organization’s 75th anniversary.

Perhaps a trifle too often, it’s been said that the arc of history is long, but bends toward justice. But it requires people to be “arc benders,” taking action. Innovative Freedom House professionals from Washington to New York, from Mexico to Mali to Myanmar, from Kyiv to Kampala to Kyrgyzstan, assist the world’s “arc benders” to change their own countries. The women and men of Freedom House are themselves “arc benders.”

When formed in 1941 to shake Americans out of their isolationism to take on the Nazis, as the likes of Charles Lindbergh back then called for “America First,” Freedom House was a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

When Stalin lowered the Iron Curtain, and we honored with Freedom Awards architects of Western institutions like George Marshall, Arthur Vandenberg, Dean Acheson, Harry Truman, and Jean Monnet, Freedom House was a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

When McCarthyism reared its ugly head, Freedom House was a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

Through the civil rights movement, and with Martin Luther King calling for civil rights legislation while speaking at our annual dinner just four days after John F. Kennedy was shot, Freedom House was a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

During détente’s drift, when the White House snubbed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Freedom House was a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

When there was an opportunity to propel former Warsaw Pact nations toward democracy by welcoming them into NATO and the European Union, Freedom House was a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

When some say that fighting terrorism requires turning a blind eye to Egypt’s and Saudi Arabia’s ghastly rights abuses, Freedom House has been a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

When illiberal voices kindle corrosive nationalism, invoking the four Ms of migrants, Muslims, Mexicans, and misogyny, Freedom House should be a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

When China’s model of growth with corruption but without dissent needs answering, Freedom House is a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

When some think that democracies cannot afford the true bargain of supporting peaceful democratic change abroad, Freedom House is a bold bipartisan voice for moral clarity and leadership.

Our authoritative assessments, forthright advocacy, and crucial assistance to activists show why we shouldn’t merely celebrate Freedom House’s estimable past.

Freedom House is deeply needed now and in the future, because history won’t bend by itself if we idly stand by while others struggle for justice and democracy.