Thursday, 29 September 2011

occupy the streets - and then what?

the Normster posits the following four propositions as to what street protests such as occupywallstreet and others are about/for:

"(1) The traditional structures remain central to the democratic process and the street protests are seen as, when push comes to shove, supplementary. So democracy through the ballot box and representative assemblies, parties, pressure groups, a free press and all the rest of it are not put in question, but mass protest is regarded as one extra and legitimate way of influencing democratic outcomes.
(2) The protest movements aim for a transformative effect, but one well within the existing institutional framework: by seeking, for example, to 'capture' a major political organization already in place and determine its political programme; or by hoping to create and shape a new organization on the same terrain, to speak for the concerns of the protesters.
(3) Or those same movements hope for a more far-reaching transformative effect, aiming to change the very structures of democratic representation in such a way as to build into them a much more participatory component. (What exactly this would look like I leave to one side, as I am only sketching the alternatives in the most abstract way.)
(4) The street protests see themselves neither as supplementing the existing forms of democratic legitimacy, nor as seeking change within its existing framework or change which builds on that legitimacy but by altering its structures in a significant way. Rather, they claim to set up a competing, alternative legitimacy to that of the representative democracy already in place."
He goes on to suggest the following:
"Only the last of these four construals poses a problem of justification; the first three are perfectly compatible with the normative assumptions widely shared as underlying modern liberal democracies. The fourth, however, does pose such a problem. For if there is indeed an 'urge to bypass representative institutions' at work amongst any large number of the protesters, it needs to be explained by them what claim they can realistically make to carrying a majority of people with them if they are unable to mobilize this majority towards the winning of an election. If they can't do this - either win an election or explain why they shouldn't have to (take your pick) - then their claim to represent an alternative democractic legitimacy is spurious."
However I am not sure that those whom claim to speak for the protests are saying that they represent an "alternative democratic legitimacy".  It appears that democracy is irrelevant to them, or else that they hold it in some measure of contempt, seeing it as the domain of corrupt and venal politicians.  Well, perhaps.  That is what many public statements, seen on Twitter and other social media, which is where most of us get our information these days (don't we?) seem to indicate.  And yet, and yet.  Some people known to me have posted on Facebook and elsewhere links to those protest sites, apparently approvingly, often with comments attached which seem to say that this is a new and transformative movement, and as such to be approved. Those people are working in democratic institutions in Europe, in parliaments, and for democracy, as far as that goes.  So is all of this taking us somewhere else?  I don't equate the Arab Spring protests with Londonriots or occupywallstreet or anything so crass, but those who went out in the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, bravely, thought they could change something by doing so, and sometimes did.  Still may, in Syria.  Those who go out on the streets in a democracy - what are they seeking to change?  Just asking.

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