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(Re)awakening the voice of the people Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by tim bryar, Fiji Jul 27, 2008
Health , Human Rights , Peace & Conflict   Opinions


(Re-)awakening the voice of the people

Democracy is promoted around the world as a “must have” commodity for any legitimate government, and most importantly, for any country wishing to reap the benefits of the “democracy club” led by self-elected nations such as the U.S. and the UK. It is hard to argue against democracy, a system that offers to its citizen’s freedom, the full recognition of human rights, and fairness and equality, so no argument will be submitted here. Rather we will align ourselves with Winston Churchill’s words that “…democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

The most important element of any democracy is the participation of civil society. Despite what many world powers desperately try to convince us, the participation of civil society does not only equate to voting at election time. Rather, and more importantly, it means constant engagement in political processes and decisions that impact on civil society itself through non-government organizations, activist networks, and the media for example. It does not take an expert in democracy to know the disturbing truth that civil society participation, that is the voice of the people, has become less and less influential. That is not to say that the voice is not constant, not yelling and singing at the top of its lungs, for indeed the voice of the people is. Rather, the voice is being ignored, belittled, undermined and filtered through the airways of capitalist societies who would rather listen to the dollar than to its citizens. This can be partly explained by the undermining of democratic principles by so called democratic governments. It can, however, also be partly explained by a lack of creative and effective action on behalf of activists.

The idea of a government seemingly ignoring its people raises some important questions. For example, how many people would have been needed to protest the invasion of Iraq to stop it from happening? Is there a pre-defined proportion of population, like at election time, that if reached would have stopped the war from happening? Sadly, evidence suggests that the answer is no. For example, as Noam Chomsky pointed out in an interview with Eva Golinger the large majority of Americans want universal health care, but their voice has constantly been ignored. In contrast, now that the manufacturing industry is speaking out about the impacts of high-cost health care on their bottom line, the government is ready to listen. To quote Chomsky “Politically possible does not mean the population supports it. What politically possible means is that some sectors of concentrated capital support it.”

Whilst disgustingly disturbing, such evidence provides valuable lessons for the anti-capitalist, pro-democracy activist about where our energies should go – rather than looking to directly change the mind of the government efforts should be increased at creating change through the “sectors of concentrated capital”. Such lessons are not new and are happening today. However when one looks at the scope of activism today, actions directly aimed at government are the popular mode of “voice”. This is not to say that such activities, including street rallies and letter writing to local politicians are not important, but that perhaps they are overdone in relation to actions targeting the government’s “influential citizens”. The reasons for this are perhaps simple. It is less time consuming and less demanding to join a mass rally or write a letter to a local politician than it is to research, investigate and identify the life-line to the very issue that we what to change. Thus we have before us a challenge if we wish to re-awaken our rightful voice. We must answer the fundamental questions that if our governments are not listening to us then who are they listening to, and then how do we set about influencing the people that they are listening to? There are no new ideas here, no magic formulas. Just recognition of the need to pull up our sleeves, put in the hard yards and commit for the long haul. As Martin Luther-King is quoted as saying, “What we see is just the shadow of what we don’t see”. It is time to move beyond the shadows and re-awaken our voice.



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