26 October 2011

The Evictions

The crackdown on "99%" occupiers is under way in Oakland, in Atlanta, and in Albuquerque. It may be imminent in Baltimore. "Where do they think they are?" a co-worker asked as the noon news showed the mayhem in Oakland from last night -- "Greece?" I wasn't sure whether she meant the protesters, the police, or both. Everywhere, it seems, public safety and public health concerns are cited to drive people from (presumably) public places. Everywhere, too, you could claim that the charade of party politics has been exposed. In Atlanta, as in Oakland, the city government is Democratic, and the mayor is unapologetic about his decision to drive occupiers from a park. Democrats are "the left" as far as Republicans are concerned, and as long as Republicans exist the Democrats can claim to be all the left the country needs. How left do they look now?

In the Washington Post earlier this month, columnist Anne Applebaum deplored the occupiers' "refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions."

In New York, marchers chanted, “This is what democracy looks like,” but actually, this isn’t what democracy looks like. This is what freedom of speech looks like. Democracy looks a lot more boring. Democracy requires institutions, elections, political parties, rules, laws, a judiciary and many unglamorous, time-consuming activities, none of which are nearly as much fun as camping out in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral or chanting slogans on the Rue Saint-Martin in Paris. 

Of course, Applebaum means "representative government" when she writes about "democracy," but that's a common error. She compounds the error, however, by warning that the occupations around the world portend a crisis for democracy.

The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: It reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. Democracy is based on the rule of law. Democracy works only within distinct borders and among people who feel themselves to be part of the same nation. A “global community” cannot be a national democracy. And a national democracy cannot command the allegiance of a billion-dollar global hedge fund, with its headquarters in a tax haven and its employees scattered around the world.
Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, to whom the London and New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions in the Western world. They are designed to reflect, at least crudely, the desire for political change within a given nation. But they cannot cope with the desire for global political change, nor can they control things that happen outside their borders. Although I still believe in globalization’s economic and spiritual benefits — along with open borders, freedom of movement and free trade — globalization has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.
“Global” activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout,“We need to have a process!” Well, they already have a process: It’s called the British political system.

So even though the West's "democratic" institutions don't work anymore, there's no need to demand new institutions or processes. No wonder so many self-proclaimed democrats in the West, small d and large D alike, find the occupiers superfluous at best and a nuisance more often.

d. eris, a frequent correspondent here and a formidable blogger in his own right, has a clearer notion of democracy in his latest post at Poli-Tea, though some of it is admittedly borrowed from another source.

The people do not need "permission" from the government to exercise their constitutional rights and liberties.  It is the responsibility of the government to accommodate the people in their exercise of Constitutional rights and liberties.  It remains self-evident, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, that "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."


Anonymous said...

If we (and other "democracies" around the world) have a "process", then that process has been hijacked by the wealthy and by corporations to run govnerment for their own end, not for the good of the people. It is time for every left-leaning person to vote against democrats and find someone, anyone, willing to primary their sorry butts.

Anonymous said...

Although I agree with the sentiment expressed by d.eris, I must point out that the Declaration of Independence has no legal authority. I do know, from history, that the wealthy and powerful elite almost NEVER step down and relinquish anything just because of demands made by the "people", no matter how justified those demands may be.

Anonymous said...

Democracy requires institutions, elections, political parties, rules, laws, a judiciary and many unglamorous, time-consuming activities,

No. Democracy only requires the active participation of the demos, which is exactly what the protestors are doing - actively participating in the only way they can to get their voice/opinion "heard" by their elected representatives.

American politics may require all the trappings mentioned above, but then again, given the state of the nation, American politics isn't very successful.