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?

Sorry if I am not tracking your post properly, but are you still referring to the Occupy movement when you refer to the grassroots operation that the Obama administration is trying to quell?

I am not aware of there being any federal interference with treatment of protesters. For instance, in the UC Davis example, the eviction/pepper spraying was by local (campus) police, who do not even report to the state administration, let alone the federal administration.
My larger point is about democracy in general... It doesn't matter whether the Federal or the local governments are messing with grassroots movements.

The FBI, for example, was using its counterterrorism unit to track the Occupy movements as well.

Smart corporations have figured out how to be more responsive (I am not saying they are doing it for anything but self-interest); e.g. Instagram changed its terms of service very very quickly when they faced a backlash. The Obama and Romney campaigns were also very, very quick to react to any slurs or any type of news events...

And yet, politicians and bureaucrats are using the same old heavy-handed techniques -- teargas, FBI, police might, spying, etc. etc. They haven't really figured out how to operate in this new type of democratic environment. They are pretty much in the same boat as Hosni Mubarak, as far as I can tell.
I think I see your point more clearly about the orthodox response to such protests, and agree. That said, I think your prognosis of democracy at large may be too harsh. In the absence of a strong external force, democratic tendencies are more cyclical than cumulative. Worse excesses of governmental force in similar situations have happened in the past (Kent State, LA Riots) and the young people of those time who felt the unfairness now populate today's city councils and state assemblies and advocate soft force and greater governmental accountability. Arguably, civil and democratic rights in America are much better protected today than when those events occurred, and I see the suppression of Occupy as a bump in the road than a wall or slide.
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