What is wrong with Americans that we don’t protest or demonstrate, even in times of national political crisis. Sure, will memorialize, cry in public and lend a helping hand. But when it comes to hitting a political crisis head on, we are like deer in a headlight. Why do only 1-2% of Americans actually value going out to demonstrate, to make it costly for our government to be overthrown, or to make a ruckus when things go as badly as they did last week? What’s wrong with us? Do we even care about democracy?
I ask this as we are presented with a series of protests tomorrow (Sept 7) – in the hopes that more will join in this time. In part, I ask in response to those who think that we can only handle one protest (the one in DC on the 24th), and that it’s a bit much to ask citizens to be part of a news cycle, to make demands while a crisis is unfolding. More info: Demand Bush Resign – Nationwide Katrina protests Wed Sept 7th
more on why we don’t protest below fold…
America is a democratic republic. That means that we elect the people who form the branches of government. We elect the lawmakers, the executive officer and the judicial officers who in turn form our federal government. We hand over to these few hundred men and women all the power that is our government. A government funded by the work and wealth of nearly 300 million citizens, in one of the richest economies of human history, has tremendous power. We give over our wealth and the power it represents, along with our consent to the laws and powers of government, to these men and women. In perspective, this is an awesome level of trust. It is an awesome level of responsibility.
We are not only a democratic republic. We are also a liberal constitutional democracy. While the majority rules, it must also respect the rights of the minority. Our constitution limits the power of the government, of the majority, to protect these rights. It also limits government power to protect all the rights and interests of all the citizens – majority included. Not even the government can violate the laws set forth in the constitution, and any government that violates such law is not legitimate and must be overthrown.
What I have just written is commonly known and understood. We learn this stuff in high school. But it only tells part of the story of democracy. That’s because democracy has little to do with government, and much to do with being a citizen. The government derives it powers from us. Even though we entrust those powers to elected lawmakers and officers, the power remains our own. So the responsibility rests more with you and me, and less with George W. Bush and the majority party in Congress.
As citizens we are failing. We are failing to live up to our obligations to democracy. And our so doing risks the life of democracy itself – for future generations. And it is time for us to place the blame not on others, but to take the blame ourselves. Only then will we start to change our ways. Start to take responsibility for our country, for our role as citizens.
One example of our failure as citizens is our failure to stand up to a corrupt and illegitimate government. In the weeks following the 2000 election, we handed our government over. We sold it out. We failed, big time. And now we are paying the price in the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and American citizens in the Thunder Dome.
When your republic is being torn to pieces the patriot takes a stand to defend the democracy. But who amongst us took a stand when the ballots in Florida were sent to shredders instead of being counted? Did any city shut down in general strike? When were there months of massive protests with hundreds of thousands of Americans surrounding the Capitol Building? Where were the tens of millions of Americans marching in the streets, singing freedom’s songs, building up a massive movement of united citizens demanding that our elections be free and fair – that the ballots be counted?
We (all but the slimmest minority) were in our homes (myself included) upset but unwilling to act. Shocked by what we witnessed, but disconnected and unorganized. We were failed citizens, handing over our collective wealth and power to someone who did not earn the title of our President. We did not act. We did not make it a costly mistake to attempt an overthrow of our democracy. We made it easy. We failed.
And where we when that same President lied to us about his reasons for invading a foreign country? Did the freeways shut down, the train tracks get blocked, the ports cease to function because we refused to support such an illegal and immoral act by our unelected ruler? Where were the millions and millions of Americans who knew that Bush was lying? Sure, some of us protested – but once again the protestors were small in number and passive in presence. Easily ignored by the corporations that had bought our corrupt politicians. We did not act. We did not make it a costly mistake to attempt to overthrow another country without due cause. We made it easy. We failed.
And now, where are we? The government ceases to function as it lawfully must. It has failed to perform its first and foremost function: to protect the people. The one organization in America with the resources to save a city from a hurricane failed to do what not only it could do, but that only it could do. Our President has brushed aside the lives of the poor in this country. He was on vacation as Americans were being forced to die from thirst and starvation, from neglect and cronyism. And where are we? Where are you?
If now is not a time to act, to take to the streets, then when will there be the right time. We are in the midst of a civic crisis. Not since the Great Depression and World War II has our democracy been so challenged. And what are we doing?
Getting mad because the rich who own the news channels like to serve their interests and not your interest is meaningless. Who cares that you are mad? More than anger is called for. You must make it impossible for the corrupt enemies of democracy to do what they are doing. And this starts with public demonstrations of protest.
Protest is a start. But without a start, there is no next step. But somehow, in the American democracy, protest is seem as something too radical for the average citizen to do. How can this be? What prevents us from rising up, to defend our government from those who wish to distort and corrupt it?
I have not answer. I cannot understand why anyone who considers themselves a democrat would choose to watch tv at home, or to go shopping for videos at the mall, or to drive their kids to a ballet lesson over defending one of the greatest achievements of the human race: democratic rule of law. I do not understand the lack of value that so many Americans place on the treasure we were handed from the generations before us. Why it is so hard to get Americans to go out and march, to carry signs that make demands and hold politicians to account, to bring people together to see others who share their concerns. Why getting Americans to protest is almost impossible, why it takes months of planning and millions of dollars and nationwide participation to pull together a hundred thousand Americans for a single protest – this I do not understand.
But while I don’t get what’s wrong with us as citizens, I do know who to blame. Me and you. I blame us for not figuring how to better mobilize, how to better communicate, how to better inform and how to actually make protests effective at protecting our democracy.
We need to figure this out. We need to get people out to quickly organized and massive protests so that no government act can go unnoticed. We need protests so that we can communicate with each other directly, and through media filters and distortions. We need protests to form connections, to raise money, to develop leaders and to get people thinking. And we need protests for us to speak directly to each other, to our fellow citizens. We need protests so that we can shut down cities when ballot boxes get stuffed, when illegal wars are started and when 40,000 of our fellow citizens are being locked down in hell by an uncaring and neglectful government.
Let’s see if we can figure this out. And not by talking, but by doing. Get yourself and your neighbors out on Wednesday September 7th to demand that Bush resign, to protest his failed Katrina response. It’s time to turn a corner, or we will soon be over the cliff.