In Praise of the “Unruly Mob”

Popular uprisings are electrifying.  Within the past few weeks we have watched Turkey, we have watched Brazil, we have watched Egypt, and we have watched the people of our own nation band together and tell governments, “You’re doing it wrong.”

Governments do not like being told they’re doing it wrong.  Summarizing the people’s filibuster of restrictive anti-choice legislation in Texas, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst grumpily said the law was blocked by “an unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics.”  He was right, of course, to recognize the similarity between what’s happening in the Texas capitol and what started in Zuccotti Park in 2011.  He grasped the common thread that runs between all situations where the people stand up to power.

That common thread is participation.  Participatory government, participatory economics, participatory society.

The government isn’t crazy about participation by the populace.  “You gave us power to rule, so sit back and let us do it,” they seem to be saying.  Yes, we gave them power, so when we watch them abuse it and use it to aggregate more power than we ever would have handed over, we need to stand up and fight their power.  The only way we can fight the aggregation of power in an abusive government is by organizing, gathering the collective weight of the people to match the collective weight of our leaders.

Last night in North Carolina, the Republican Senators tacked sweeping anti-abortion provisions onto a bill which they then brought up for vote.  This is contrary to procedure: the other Senators and the public are required to have adequate time to read a bill.  The Senators need time to prepare for debate and the public needs to be able to express support or opposition.  I believe (and a lot of commentators on Twitter agree) that this shady behavior was a direct response to what’s happening in Texas.  As I listened last night to hour after hour of the peoples’ testimony in the Texas legislature last night, I understood why the North Carolina Senate tried to circumvent the power of the people.  But it won’t work: as of this writing, people are already rallying at the North Carolina capitol for the final vote on the bill.  No matter what happens, the people of North Carolina will make their voices heard.

It’s said that the government should fear the people, but I’m growing more and more concerned about how our government is responding to their fear.  From wide-reaching domestic surveillance to the underhanded tactics employed in the North Carolina Senate, the government is pushing back, hard.  We can’t let them get away with it.  We cannot let our government treat us as the enemy.

During the Arab Spring, one of my friends wrote on facebook, “Which country will be the next to use total chaos to get what they want?”  But why shouldn’t the people of a country have what they want? Nobody wants to “use total chaos” but when a country is being run for the good of the government, when a nation’s leaders are caught in an endless feedback loop of power and politics and wealth among the elites to the detriment of ordinary citizens, we must do something.  A country run for the sake of the government is fascism.  A country which claims to be democratic must be responsive to the voice of the people.

So rise up, people of America, articulately and passionately.  March, encamp, protest, rally.  Where our leaders see an unruly mob, I see our only hope for a future of freedom.


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