Jack Kovacs
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. He said,

    “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.” 
                                                                           (Noam Chomsky)

     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 in Spain. 

     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 in public. 

        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.

         It’s 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. 

        Chomsky once 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?” 
                                                                                (Noam Chomsky)

       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.” 
                                                                                (Noam Chomsky)

        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.” 

        Chomsky quite plausibly concludes,

        “Actually, 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.”
                                                                           (Noam Chomsky)

         So what 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. They think,

     "There’s an operative principle [  … ] The principle is, as long as people are quiet and passive, we’ll  do whatever we like."
                                                                            (Marwan Muasher)

       “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.”

                                                                                (Noam Chomsky)

       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.” 

                                                                                (Noam Chomsky)

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. 

Check  http://www.democracynow.org/2011/2/17/democracy_uprising_in_the_usa_noam

                                                                                  go back to URBAN DEMOCRACY issue  # 6




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