Spaces of democracy: Riots, police brutality and direct democracy

nails-ferguson

In the past few days I’ve written extensively about the current events engulfing the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. In my last article I went into the details of the case, trying to shed a little bit of light on the demagogic arguments that have been boasted right, left and centre by the mainstream American and Canadian media. As I stated, the specific events that led to Michael Brown’s death shouldn’t be for his namesake, for the sake of his family and loved ones and for the community of Ferguson in general, lost of sight in the intense media scrum that is unfolding before our eyes.

This being said, the events that are occurring in Ferguson have happened before and will happen again. Unfortunately in these times, many economically impoverished communities are being held at gun point by a morally corrupt system that perpetrates their submission and oppression, right across the United States and Canada, right across the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean, right across the globe.

As I stated in my previous article the protesters —I refuse to call them rioters because as was rightfully stated by many of the inhabitants of Ferguson, the protests in Ferguson aren’t ‘’riots’’— are calling for the end of inequality in the way they are treated by law enforcement, but know that it will only come when they will have succeeded in garnishing true economic equality.

Is it a coincidence that the media has portrayed as a riot every major protest challenging the economic status quo since the economic downturn of 2008? Aren’t there parallels in terms of police response and media portrayal to be drawn between the Occupy Wall Street movement —OWS— , the student strike of 2012 here in Quebec and the ‘’riots’’ in Ferguson?

Indeed there are. They are so blatantly apparent, they sting our eyes like a zephyr of tear gas. The question of police brutality and the gung ho militarization of police forces throughout the western world can only be fully understood when included into this bordered strategy of skimming any social movements for economic justice, of any traction.

democracy projectIn his most recent book, The Democracy Project, David Graeber’s main thesis is that democracy is, unlike the preconceived western idea, not a western cultural phenomenon. Quite to the contrary, democracy in itself is the product not of ancient Greek philosophers, but the result of people of various backgrounds coming together and trying to find consensus. Graeber’s thesis is that democracy’s natural habitat is found outside of the state apparatus. I would like to develop on this idea to include the notion that in the past few decades new robust forms of democracy have grown out of the conflict with the globalized neo-liberal form of capitalism enforced by the state.

It goes without saying that capitalism in its current form is completely at odds with democracy. The current form of capitalism within which we live cannot sustain democracy, for democracy can only exist among equals, or within some semblance of equality. Democracy is thus the antithesis of neo-liberalism, which wants to concentrate wealth and thus power within the hands of a few. Within such a framework democracy is bound to perish.

What does the OWS movement, the Quebec general student strike of 2012 and the events in Ferguson have common? They are movements that are at the forefront of defending our democratic rights and pushing for a greater enhancement of democracy. Fox News ran a story during this past week entitled “Forgetting MLK’s message”, lest we forget that Martin Luther King Jr died in Memphis fighting for economic justice. Martin Luther King Jr knew very well that democracy and civil rights were void, merely a nice gesture if the economic structure which had allowed the oppression of African-Americans for so many years wasn’t challenged. Ultimately he gave his life trying to make that message reverberate throughout America.

Why is there a militarization of police forces within this start of the 21st century? The answer is simple: because of inequality, political elites that have every interest in keeping things the way they are and every interest in maintaining the status-quo will not relinquish their power, and thus have to kill in the egg any such movements that calls for greater economic equality before they gain any margin of maneuver.

Not only are these movements fighting for a more democratic society, they are redefining the space for democracy as a system that isn’t about the wish or aspirations of a political elite and that doesn’t follow the tempo of electoral cycles, but rather is a tool of variable dimensions that magnifies the voices of those that aren’t heard within our current system.

Grabaer in his most recent work—maybe somewhat intentionally—provoked all the right wing and liberal media pundits by equating the OWS movement with the democratic inspirations of America’s first patriots. I not only think that Grabaer’s assertion is correct, but I would also like to extend this to all of the movements that fight for economic, social or environmental justice. The minutemen of the 21st century are to be found in the streets of Ferguson tonight.

A luta continua.

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