|Why We Need A Democracy Movement
in the United States
In a recent interview,
the well-known North American intellectual Noam Chomsky pointed out the
need for change. Real change, something that an awake and determined population
can accomplish. And thus something that we should not reduce to the empty
phrase that we heard during the election campaign that saw Mr. Barack Obama
and his advisers frequently use these words.
Chomsky was quite outspoken.
“What has to be done is what’s happening
in Madison, or what’s happening in Tahrir Square in Cairo. If there’s mass
popular opposition, any political leader is going to have to respond to
it, whoever they are.”
Citing the examples of Madison
and Cairo, he could have added Stuttgart (Germany), Athens (Greece), as
well as – most recently – Madrid, Barcelona and a couple of other cities
What he was telling his audience
is quite clear. We can make a difference. It’s not true that we “can’t
do anything because they anyway do what they want.”
Chomsky is right. In our
democracies, as limited as the scope may be that they give us (the people),
massive protest still has an effect. If it is massive enough.
Which is what those
in power are trying to avoid by all means. They fear that massive turn-out
of ordinary citizens clamouring for change. They’ll try to suffocate the
flame of protest, the appearance of dissent and indignation that is voiced
At home, you
may nag as much as you want. But the announcement of a March on Washington
made them tremble, remember? That was decades ago. A big movement that,
to some extent, achieve change – and then was “braked.” We will see whether
“they” – THOSE STILL IN POWER, THOSE WHO WANT POWER TO REMAIN IN A FEW
HANDS – will know how to brake (or divert) the Democracy Movement in Egypt.
Or the Spanish one. Or others that are emerging – AS RIGHT NOW, IN THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. In Madison and elsewhere I think.
At the time
when the March on Washington happened and when more such marches could
be expected, the mere thought of the role that an integer man, an
intelligent and great speaker might finally end up playing was enough to
get that man killed. How? By whom? Who triggered it? We don’t know. We
know only that the supposed murderer that was presented to us was the kind
of shady figure who could probably be pushed around. If they had files
on him. They could tell him, “You do this – or else.” They could promise
him he would get away with it. As in the case of Ruby, the owner of a shady
bar who shot Lee Harvey Oswald. And who was then killed. Perfect. All the
people who could have talked were “gone.” And the man whom they presented
as the lunatic loner who shot Martin Luther King? Didn’t he say again and
again in prison that it wasn’t him? Was he just a liar, trying to evade
responsibility? Okay, we don’t know. We just know those in Washington feared
the march and feared more marches, growing awareness, publicly voiced goals,
and they feared the effectiveness of a charismatic civil rights leader.
If they didn’t trigger it, they must have cheered in their office when
the man was murdered.
good to remember it. Mass mobilization endangers the privileged positions
of those who at a given moment wield power. The risk is there, if you join
in. And reason for hope, just the same.
How did we
ever overlook it? You don’t get freedom delivered to you by UPS. You don’t
get it served on a tray. You got to get up and act. Convincing your neighbors.
Your work mates. Your next-of-kin. That is worth taking the risk
of being spied on. Of having your phone wiretapped. Of being slandered.
You turn out in the street and they can beat you up. Kill you. Cripple
you for good. It’s no child’s play. If those who don’t like the people
to acquire a real say in the affairs of the republic see their game threatened
by a people that is awake, or in the process of waking up, at least, you
don’t know how far they will go. Will media coverage stop them from going
too far? Hard to tell.
If you look
at what happened on Tahir Square, you’ll understand that it takes courage.
It can’t happen here? Over there it was a dictatorship, and this is a free
country? I wouldn’t be too sure.
And yet, there
may be limits to the repression that those in power will dare to bring
into play. In a way, in our case, in the case of the people, it is self-defeating
to be too anxious. To always expect the worst to happen. But it is also
self-defeating to harbor optimistic illusions. When illusions founder once
people are in contact with reality, the disillusioned tend to “backslide”
to positions more tame, more passive than those they stuck too, before
they became briefly involved in political activities. In actions determined
to assert their democratic rights as citizens. Rights that have, in practice,
been dismantled to a large degree. Or that were enshrined in a constitution
or its preamble, but that never became a reality in the society that we
all are part of.
I don’t know
whether Chomsky has any illusions about the dangers implicit in taking
part in a mass movement that regular occupies streets and squares, that
voices grievances, that debates in public and that formulates demands.
Or about the risks and dangers, faced even more perhaps by those individuals
who actively participate in the early stages when such a movement is forming.
When it is not yet as numerous as it may well become.
correctly likened the rationale of the foreign policy of those in power
in Washington to that of the mafia. This was in a Democracy Now interview
that focused on the mistaken conception, rampant especially within the
Left, that the Vietnamese had won the war. No – they had been made to pay
such a heavy price that it discouraged similar liberation movement throughout
the world. They won but the cost was prohibitive. Washington taught everyone
the lesson the mafia would teach the pizza restaurant owner who refuses
to pay. In which case they just send their thugs. – It is clear that
those who are unscrupulous abroad are not any better at home when they
have a lot to lose.
And yet, risk or
no risk, our society will drift further towards the abyss of social disintegration.
The planet will drift further towards the state of chaos where wars over
water, mineral and energy resources will break out. World hunger will get
more devastating, and so will the effects of desertification, of climate
change, of continued pollution of the seas, lakes, rivers. Of the soil
and the air. If we don’t act. If we don’t change the course of the ship
of state and of our society. Obama and his advisers never told us this.
And yet, this is what change should be about.
The myopic elites will
not stop the negative trends that can so easily be identified. And that
must be slowed. Reversed. But they? They are far too occupied with themselves,
with defending their undemocratic prerogatives.
So our courage is
needed today. Our courage and our determination to change what can be changed
if we act. If we activate our intelligence, if we mobilize our strength,
if we overcome our fear and our lethargy and our lack of confidence.
Like Chomsky, look at
the example of the people who occupied Tahir Square. Link up with and support
those who fight back in Wisconsin. Act, too.
And look at the generals
in Cairo, at one at the top and the others, and their Western partners.
Dominant partners, like those in Washington, who cooperated with junior
partners. With stooges, some would say.
According to Chomsky, and
I share his analysis, our leaders in Washington were all too content to
support the Egyptian dictator, a corrupt General called Mubarak, for many
years. Seems that “[w]hat the commentators and the diplomats were
[tell]ing” them and what they, too, chose to believe, was this:
“[As long as] the Arab
dictators support us, even though the population is overwhelming opposed,
everything’s fine, everything’s under control, it’s quiet, they’re passive,
and the dictators support us, so what could be a problem?”
Yes, true. Rulers
like a passive people. As long as the woman is passive you can rape her,
some rapists believe. And a woman is like a people. It loses its innocence
when it consents to being raped.
In the interview,
Chomsky went on to say that
“[i]n fact, Arab
opinion was so antagonistic to the United States [...] that
[according to a fairly recent poll] a majority of the Arab population,
57 percent, actually thought the region would be better off if Iran had
nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, the conclusion here, and in England and
the continent, was it’s all wonderful. The dictators support us.”
And then Chomsky
sums up the core of “their” thinking. The so-called “elite’s” thinking.
It goes like this:
“We [the ‘elite’] can disregard the population, because they’re quiet.
As long as they’re quiet, who cares? People don’t matter.”
there’s an analog of that internal to the United States. And it’s of course
the same policy elsewhere in the world. All of that reveals a contempt
for democracy and for public opinion which is really profound. And one
has to listen with jaws dropping when Obama, in the clip you ran, talks
about how, of course, governments depend on the people. Our policy [Obama’s,
Bush’s; Sarkozy’s in France, etc.etc.] is the exact opposite.”
do we have to grasp? What informs the policies of the elites – EVERYWHERE,
in the world? How do they reason? O yes – we see it when we don’t KID ourselves.
"There’s an operative principle
[ … ] The principle is, as long as people are quiet and passive,
we’ll do whatever we like."
“That’s a general
principle of statesmanship that applies here [, in the U.S., and of course,
in Canada, in Europe, in Australia and New Zealand], too. As long as people
are quiet and passive, [we, as their elected representatives, are free
to act as if there wasn’t an electorate we are responsible to – ] we’ll
do whatever we like. Now, of course, if they [the people] stop being quiet
and passive, [as a governing caste,] we’ll have to adjust somehow. Maybe
they’ll even throw us out, but we’ll try to hang on as much as we can.”
So what do we the
people see? We see the facts, we see people taking to the streets. We see
the governing caste adjusting to it. Yes.
“And that’s what
we see going on in the Middle East. That’s what we saw going on in Latin
America. It’s what we see right here.”
Quotes are from an interview with Noam Chomsky, “‘Democracy Uprising’
in the U.S.A.?: Noam Chomsky on Wisconsin’s Resistance to Assault on Public
Sector, the Obama-Sanctioned Crackdown on Activists, and the Distorted
Legacy of Ronald Reagan ”, published by DEMOCRACY NOW.
go back to URBAN DEMOCRACY issue #