The fault lines of class, race, geography and party played out dramatically in the 2016 election, demonstrating how polarized and dysfunctional our politics has become. Our political system seems unable to address the long litany of crises facing us from climate change to extreme inequality to perpetual wars to gun violence. Politics is being fought as a zero sum game in which we are forced to choose between competing goods like growing the economy vs. fighting climate change, or immigrant rights versus the rule of law. These seemingly unresolvable policy fights reflect a deeper failure of our political system to realize the promise of democracy, where people from different points of view and persuasions are forced to recognize and negotiate their differences through public dialogue and debate. While segmented media bubbles and segregated social circles feed this kind of polarization and paralysis, organizing and coalition building especially across diverse social and class lines can reinvigorate our democratic process and develop more sophisticated policy agendas that integrate social and economic goods. This is the promise of cross-class and multi-sector coalition building that has been successful at the local level and that needs to be brought into our national politics.
Tag Archives: democracy
This guest essay is written by Dr. Doron Shultziner, an interdisciplinary scholar who studies non-violent struggles for democratic progress, and Kirby Hung, a participant in the umbrella movement in Hong Kong.
Since late September, a historic movement is taking place in Hong Kong which became part of China in 1997. Following a long-awaited period and delays, the Chinese government announced its political reform to allow universal suffrage to Hong Kong citizens but only for 2-3 candidates who will be selected by a pro-Beijing council of 1,200 members. Angry students started a class boycott, which culminated in the storming of the main government building in downtown Hong Kong. Police use of teargas and pepper spray against students who used umbrellas to protect themselves backfired into a huge demonstration of about 100,000 citizens. Several weeks have passed since that event climax and the umbrella movement maintains its momentum.
In this context, a battle of great significance has been taking place in Monk Kok, the second largest protest site of the umbrella movement for democracy in Hong Kong. In a surprise move between 5-9am on Friday (October 17) morning, police forces cleared protesters, tents, and barricades from the busy intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street, in what seemed a major setback to the movement. Yet, since Friday evening protesters regained parts of the street in what appears to be a major watershed of the struggle. Continue reading
In the final years of the eighteenth century, political insurgents on both sides of the Atlantic attempted something radically new: to institute government by the consent of the governed. Yet these efforts played out rather differently in France and the United States. As exemplars, these two cases have long informed the theoretical imaginations of political sociologists and social movement scholars. Two recent works at the intersection of history and social theory, however, suggest that we may all need to recheck some of our basic assumptions.
With American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (Hill & Wang, 2010), T.H. Breen has produced that rare work of scholarship that one actually might want to read in a hammock or a beach chair. Exploiting the organized obsession with the American Revolution, embodied in so many wonderful local history associations and library collections, Breen reconstructs the close-to-the-ground processes by which some communities remained loyal to the British Empire while in others the social network pressures to join the insurgency became close to irresistible. Continue reading
Today was the third day of Egypt’s second presidential elections in the past three years. Elections were extended for a third day, and an impromptu last-minute national holiday were announced, due to low voter turnout. This is not surprising given the tense, repressive, current political climate in Egypt.
Votes are currently being counted, and pro-Sisi celebratory elections have already begun in Egypt.
General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, who removed Egypt’s democratically elected president ten months ago, is not surprisingly the only serious contender in the election. If/when Sisi wins, he will hold a tremendous amount of political power. The parliament is currently disbanded, which allows Sisi to issue laws by presidential degree. Sisi also has support of the military, and a considerable degree of public support.
If Sisi gets elected, there is little hope for democracy in Egypt in the near future. As military chief, his crackdown on dissent far exceeded that of Mubarak. Sisi has indicated in television interviews he has no tolerance for the labor strikes and other street demonstrations against the military. He is also sure to send the Muslim Brotherhood underground. He ousted former President Muhammed Morsi in July and has pledged to end the Brotherhood’s existence in Egypt. Yet the Brotherhood has survived many cycles of repression before (see Davis and Robinson’s (2012) book). They are sure to do so again given their massive network of civic organizations which permeate Egyptian society. Repression of the Brotherhood not only excludes them from the conversation and makes democracy in Egypt impossible, but it also creates the conditions for future violence and unrest.
Deputy Research Director of the newly formed Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, Allison McManus, is tracking the elections on the Institute’s webpage at: http://timep.org/presidential-elections-monitoring. The website compiles media coverage, voter experiences, and gives overviews of the election and its candidates.
Coverage of the Pussy Riot trial has been widespread. For those unfamiliar, the punk band/performance artists lip sank an original “punk prayer” entitled “Mother Mary, chase Putin out” from the alters of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Police arrested three of the five performing members in the days that followed and they have been imprisoned ever since. Their trial was nothing short of a judicial farce leaving many observers to describe the formality (and consequential sentencing) as “medieval.” The three members on trial were found guilty of “hooliganism to incite religious hatred” and will remain in prison for an additional nineteen months. While the sentence surprises no one familiar with the Russian judicial system, what comes next?
By Christian Davenport and Will Moore
Repression like we have recently witnessed in response to the Occupy movement is not rare in democracy. This fact tends to surprise people, so let us explain. Government repression—the use of arbitrary arrest, physical force, and other forms of coercion—is the most common government response to publicly made challenges to existing policies: throughout the advanced industrial democracies popular protest tends to elicit repression. To be sure, repressive behavior is neither automatic nor guaranteed: it is trivial to identify protests that are passively monitored by, and even some that are ignored by, police. What, then, determines whether police will repress or monitor /ignore protesters? The simple answer is: perceived threat. Threat can be usefully broken into three parts: stakes (the further from the status quo, the more threatening), the means by which the claims are advanced (e.g., lobbying and non-violent public action as opposed to violence), and the social status of the protesters (i.e., the extent to which they are marginal members of society). Stakes play an important role, as do the means, but we focus here on the third category: marginalization. Take, for example, the stakes of the Tea Party Movement /Occupy Wall Street (OWS), and the public demonstrations those groups have produced, thereby setting stakes and means aside. In such a circumstance, the government’s, and most explicitly the police’s, perception of the social status of the protesters will strongly influence the level of coercive policing the protesters will experience. Continue reading