Saturday, January 05, 2013

Democracy Needs an Upgrade

Happy new year!

It is a tough time for democracy in India and the US. Each country is currently governed by a left-of-center party, each with a glorious history of helping empower citizens. Yet, while the amazing events of the Arab Spring have been unfolding, these two great democracies seem to be regressing and heading in the wrong direction.

My observations here are based on press reports only, so I don't know how much value/relevance my ideas have.

In the US, the Occupy movement was a grassroots initiative that held a lot of promise for a new type of consciousness -- an authentic 21st-century, egalitarian, progressive view of the world. A movement without leaders, Occupy managed to capture the country and the world's imagination. It was led and directed by a younger, and more idealistic, post-Cold War generation.

Tragically, though, the movement was completely destroyed and the protestors were forcibly evicted from their protest sites. As it was clear then, and is clearer now, the entire might of the government was put to work to destroy this movement.

In India, both the Anna Hazare movement, and the movement to protest the rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi, were led mostly by young, idealistic, and intelligent people with a very 21st century worldview. These movements were also sabotaged and brutally crushed.

These are failures of democracy. In a world where all protests and events are reported in real time, democratic governments cannot get away with water cannons, batons, and other "traditional" forms of intimidation. Slightly more insidious techniques (like evicting protestors, not allowing assembly, shutting down public transportation and access) will work only marginally better.

What baffles me is this: Barack Obama's administration, for example, is Internet savvy -- they raised millions online. The President himself has a solid grounding in grassroots action. And yet, the same administration is trying to quell a grassroots operation in plain sight of the Internet. What's wrong with these guys?

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