The Democratic National Convention takes place in Charlotte NC this week, and today we saw democracy in action when anti-war protesters dared embark on an unscheduled march along an unauthorized route. As the Associated Press reports, "Officers made a barricade of mountain bikes to stop the march’s progress, surrounded the group and attempted to corral them into an area near the park designated for protester speeches."
I understand that designated protests and protest zones are part of some people's idea of orderly democracy, but sometimes the urge for order is subversive of other democratic imperatives. Some people seem to think that a message has been sent adequately if a politician sees on the news that protesters held a demonstration in a designated space. Information has been conveyed, but what is really communicated? Has democracy lived up to the ideal of mutual accountability if the powerful are shielded from people getting in their face? How many politicians have seen mass anger, rather than the ravings of an individual crank at a town meeting? Mass anger shouldn't automatically persuade a politician to change his or her course, but it should make anyone think, if only for a moment, about why all those people are angry. But we seem to think that anger is unseemly, or the sheerest screen for raw hate. Are we better off, though, if politicians are perpetually screened from anger -- or hate -- or if they learn how to deal with it and address it, experience teaching them when a crowd needs to be consoled or when it needs to be rebuked? Spontaneous protest can be risky for everyone involved, but let's not assume that suppressing spontaneous protest has no risks of its own in the long run.