Saturday, April 30, 2005


Neoconservatives seek to reduce democracy to an election every four or five years. If a country holds an election even if there are only two parties running with identical platforms, that country is deemed democratic. But there is far more to democracy than the ability to chose your masters. It means rule by the people.

If the people's rule is strangled by bureaucracy, corporate lobbying and political elites, democracy has not disappeared, it is still there but takes a form radically different from the tightly controlled, money-oiled electoral process. Democracy means the formation of pressure groups such as ad hoc committees for this and that, trade unions, student and minority groups. Democracy also means protest and civil disobedience to force our masters (both elected and unelected) to obey the will of the people. A clutter of disparate groups, slogan-shouting, placard waving, traffic jamming trouble makers.

But this noise and disruption is part of and integral to the democratic process. Without it society would be as fixed and rigid as ancient Egypt. Virtually everything we take for granted as part of a democratic and humane society - including most neocons - such as the abolition of slavery, women's rights, the abolition of child labor - I could go on, has come about thru this messy process.

If masses of people are protesting it is for a good reason, and it is their right to do so. Even if you don’t agree with the reasons, you must respect this. Protest is rooted in ethics. People protest because they are opposed to war, exploitation, environmental destruction, or the ill treatment of minorities, not because it is some sort of passtime..

If you don’t want protest, don't do things that give rise to it! If powerful minorities would cease forcing their wishes upon the populace, if society as a whole were to move to a more consensual concept, there would be few protests.

When the media attacks protest movements and seeks to ban strikes, it is acting undemocratically. When magistrates treat the practitioners of civil disobedience as though they were common criminals, they are acting undemocratically. When the police attack and arrest peaceful demonstrators, or prevent them from holding their protest, they are acting undemocratically.

A constant tension exists within society between the authoritarians who would limit democracy to the simple act of voting and the libertarians who see democracy in terms of this broader and more complex situation. I suggest that the authoritarians make the democratic process a lot more painful and conflict laden than it need be by their refusal to see democracy as anything more than a narrow, formal change of elites. In order to reduce conflict and smooth the democratic process I suggest the following reforms:

1. Government must cease to use the police and the military AGAINST demonstrators and in labor-management disputes. There can be no "illegal" demonstrations, and the police must be encouraged to be tolerant of this messy process. Essentially, they must no longer be used as government goon squads. The only role for the police is to prevent serious crimes from occurring, and if such a crime should occur, only the people responsible for that crime should be arrested. In practical terms, if a striker clubs a scab with a baseball bat, the police arrest that striker, but it does not give them the right to wade in and beat up the entire picket line, as they would do now. We have seen how the police have tear-gassed and arrested masses of peaceful demonstrators in the anti-WTO protests under the guise of containing a handful of window-smashers. This must end. Beatings, gassings and arrests of non-violent protesters ought to result in assault and false arrest charges being laid upon the police.

2. Magistrates must cease to use technicalities to fine or jail people arrested for civil disobedience. CD ought to be given a kind of quasi-legality. There is a plain and obvious difference between someone arrested for trespassing in order to steal, and someone arrested for protesting the manufacture of cluster bombs. Judges must examine why an act of civil disobedience has occurred and throw the problem back at those who caused it in the first place. Eg. "We see that it was Ms Jones moral outrage at the manufacture of cluster bombs that caused her to chain herself to the gate. I suggest that Megagreed Inc. reconsider the manufacture of these devices." The organization being protested has to be seen as having some responsibility for a "crime" being committed, not just the protesters.

These reforms would end provocation, both of the police variety and pseudo-revolutionary. Demonstrations would be peaceful and larger as people would not be frightened away by fear of violence. Change would come about more easily as the state would no longer be able to use violence, or the threat of violence against the people.


Blogger Timmy the G said...

Well said, Larry. Democracy is indeed messy. It is the tendency of the far right to try to tightly control protest and clean up the messier aspects of democracy. But once you start that, the slippery slope to non-democracy has begun.

10:41 PM  

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