Skip to content Skip to footer

Era of a New Democracy: Part I These Revolutionary Times

Two weeks after the court-martial proceeding of Bradley Manning began, an unauthorized audio recording of Manning’s courtroom statement spread through social media despite extraordinary secrecy surrounding his trial. In it, Manning laid out why he chose to release the massive trove of documents. After admitting that he was the source of the largest leak of classified information in history, he spoke about the motivation behind his actions: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.” Attorney Michael Ratner said of Manning; “To lock him up for even a day is to lock up the conscience of our nation.”

Two weeks after the court-martial proceeding of Bradley Manning began, an unauthorized audio recording of Manning’s courtroom statement spread through social media despite extraordinary secrecy surrounding his trial. In it, Manning laid out why he chose to release the massive trove of documents. After admitting that he was the source of the largest leak of classified information in history, he spoke about the motivation behind his actions: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.” Attorney Michael Ratner said of Manning; “To lock him up for even a day is to lock up the conscience of our nation.”

For the first time after three years of silence, the world heard the voice of conscience. This young soldier, along with the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, revealed the morally bankrupt nature of Western governments: the broken rules of engagement, offshore torture and blood-lust war crimes. His action let slivers of light pierce the smokescreen of lies that sustain the corporate façade of democracy. The actions of Manning and WikiLeaks and the US government’s reaction to them shook up the iron-cage interlocking system of power and its false legitimacy. The world has seen the light and the silence has been broken.

Nearly 50 years ago Martin Luther King spoke about revolutionary times:

“All over the globe, men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the womb of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before.The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” – Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. A Time to Break Silence.

In Tunisia on December 17 2010, a fruit vender named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after facing the harsh reality of the unemployment and desperation. The self-immolation sparked the revolution in Tunisia and wider Arab Spring. As outrage and frustration were building, young Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor, known as El Général channeled the people’s indignation and became a voice of revolution. His bold invective went viral on Social Media, spreading like wildfire:

“Mr. President, today I am speaking in name of myself and of all the people who are suffering in 2011. There are still people dying of hunger who want to work to survive, but their voice was not heard …. Mr. President your people are dead …many people eat from garbage and you see what is happening in the country misery everywhere and people who have not found a place to sleep; I am speaking in the name of the people who are suffering and trod under feet.”

In Egypt, on January 18, a week before the start of the Egyptian uprising, 26-year-old Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz posted a video log. She urged her compatriots to join her and gather in solidarity at Tahrir Square:

“Four Egyptians set themselves on fire to protest humiliation, hunger, poverty and degradation they had to live with for 30 years. Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire thinking maybe we can have a revolution like Tunisia, maybe we can have freedom, justice, honor and human dignity …. People, have some shame. I posted that I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I’ll hold up a banner. Perhaps people will show some honor.”

Tens of thousands of Egyptians responded to her call, which ultimately led to Mubarak being driven out.

On 21 December 2012, the Zapatista were back. The rebel Mayans of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) began marching in silence. Thousands of people wearing ponchos and ski masks walked into cities of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Comitan, and Altamirano. With this dramatic reappearance, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos delivered the message from the deep jungle: “Did you hear? It is the sound of their world collapsing. It is that of ours rising anew…”.

Resistance against endless unjust US wars came from American soldiers themselves. Iraq war veteran Tomas Young, a paralyzed veteran who decided to end his life in April read his last letter to the ‘men’ who destroyed his and hundreds of thousands of others’ lives:

“I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney … You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans – my fellow veterans – whose future you stole.”

Indigenous nations around the world have also begun rising up. In the midst of the Idle No More movement spreading across North America, orator and activist Lakota Harden spoke out:

“We have been taught from the time when we were little that we have had no power. We’ve been taught from the time when we were little that we aren’t worth anything and the reality is they’ve tried every kind of genocidal tactic on us and we are still here … It’s time for us to reach into our true selves, reach into those ancestors that run in the blood of our veins, in the cells of our bodies because we are all related to each other and to them”.

Roars of grievance against deeply corrupt systems of power are erupting around the world. With the relatively free network of communication on the Internet, people have begun to hear each other’s voices. Around the world, people are saying “Ya basta!” – enough already.

For so long, we have been looking outside ourselves for permission to exercise freedom and could only vainly hope the leaders would stand up for ordinary people for once. Swinging between hope and fear, people compromised and made excuses while voting for candidates who seemed to always betray them in the end. Now something has changed. From Tahrir Square and the Spanish revolt to Occupy Wall Street (OWS), people have begun to rise up. Anti-austerity general strikes are ongoing in many European countries. Students and unions have come together to challenge the corporate feudal system that is being put in place.

Birth of a Global Citizen Network

This was not the first time that people around the world have come together to challenge the global corporate order. In 1999, the historic fight against the WTO in downtown Seattle was a pivotal moment when the resistance movement in the US caught up with global struggles. 70,000 demonstrators converged in the streets to shut down the annual meeting of World Trade Organization. Before Occupy, the people’s mic previewed at the Battle of Seattle. As an attorney for the jailed demonstrators spoke in front of the King County jail to those who were arrested, the crowd gathered and repeated after her to amplify their voice. “I think that ten years from now, the thing that’s going to be written about Seattle, is not what tear gas bomb went off on what street corner, but that the WTO in 1999 was a birth of a global citizen’s movement for a democratic global economy.”

At the Battle of Seattle, coalitions of activist groups like environmentalists and labor unions swarmed the streets. Those non-violent activists successfully disrupted an undemocratic oligarchical decision-making process camouflaged as trade negotiation. Environmental activist and eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, who participated in the event, pointed to the gravity of the situation; “In my view, corporate rule is dictatorship and the denial of shaping your economy is an end of democracy.” This WTO protest was a moment of realization that in order to have democracy, there must be both economic democracy and economic justice.

Now over a decade later, uprisings against the corporate state have found their way once again to North America. The common cause created on the streets of Seattle is carrying a new banner – that of the 99%. It is bringing people together to confront egregious global fraud on the part of Wall Street and Central Banks. At the onset of the Occupy movement, Arun Gupta, editor of The Indypendent wrote an open invitation to join the Wall Street Occupation:

“How many times in your life do you get a chance to watch history unfold, to actively participate in building a better society, to come together with thousands of people where genuine democracy is the reality and not a fantasy? For too long our minds have been chained by fear, by division, by impotence. The one thing the elite fear most is a great awakening. That day is here. Together we can seize it”.

The encampment was more than a protest. There was a deep realization that reform would no longer work and that the system itself must be replaced. From all walks of life people came together and engaged in consensus and egalitarian forms of organizing. In the spirit of mutual aid, people’s libraries, kitchens and media were set up. A network of miniature self-sustaining communities emerged. Author Steven Johnson (2012) in Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age acknowledged the resemblance of these networks to the interlinking nature of the Internet. Johnson called such networked people “peer progressives” and defined them as individuals who believe in decentralized, bottom-up peer networks and progressive ideas that originate through these systems. Peer progressives do not fall into the typical left-right political spectrum. They understand that important challenges will not be solved by markets, the state or private sector, or by any single ideology or profit-oriented hierarchy. Their answer is a social form that reflects the inherent nature of Internet, which is biased toward peer-networks, decentralized and horizontally distributed communication and action.

From file-sharing to peer-to-peer connection, a new culture is thriving online. One example of this is the movement to combat laws that block people’s inherent desire to connect and share. Theorist and founder of the P2P (Peer-to- Peer) Foundation, Michel Bauwens described the concepts of the creative commons and the ‘copyleft’ movement, as opposed to copyright law that prohibits sharing in order to guarantee profits for the entertainment industries. Here, people are working to create their own infrastructure that protects values of sharing and provides a space to practice those values.

Occupy Wall Street was the manifestation onto the streets of an invisible transnational digital network. As revolutions broke out, Chinese activists and academics sent a message to support the movement. Egyptian activist Mohammed Ezzeldin came to NY to join in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Acknowledging the connection between Occupy and the protests against Mubarak and other despots, he said:

“I am coming from there — from the Arab Spring. From the Arab Spring to the fall of Wall Street …. From Liberation Square to Washington Square, to the fall of Wall Street and market domination and capitalist domination”.

In the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), digital solidarity emerged across borders. Here, a network of global citizens began to awaken to their power and common cause with one another that thrives beyond the arbitrary confines of culture, religion and nation-state.

The rise of this network from below directly challenged corrupt political control and already has begun to weave a new social fabric. People are connecting horizontally, looking to one another, talking and learning to make decisions together. Occupy showed a new form of bringing change beyond electoral politics. This experience contrasted with past political reality and helped expose the sham that has been masquerading as democracy.

Machinations of Politics and the Death of Imagination

In the last century, the United States has often claimed to be the model for democratic government. The rhetoric of bringing “democracy” to other people was frequently used by the US as justification for their wars. Yet both abroad and at home, the democracy they portrayed and promoted actually has little to do with what the word really means – of and for the people. The profit-driven neoliberal agenda of Washington and large corporations dominates society and depends on gripping power with a centralized system. Like the heart that is made out to be a simple pump, this centralized force compresses diverse forms of existence and imprisons vast human potential by predefining what can be experienced, and so limits the parameters and meaning of that experience.

Almost all aspects of life are now monetized and commercialized. With a hierarchical form of managing capital, citizens have been reduced on one hand to passive consumers and on the other to a labor commodity, leading to lives devoid of meaning and affording common persons little real power to affect decisions that concern their lives and vocations. With the pretense of representative democracy, political machination is implemented with citizen participation reduced to a carefully rigged process at the voting booth, manipulated by propaganda and contrived personality.

In the US, the predicate for this facade of democracy was rooted in the very founding of the country. In an article titled Lifting the Veil of Mirage Democracy in the United States, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers traced back the birth of US democracy in history. Citing Sheldon Wolin, author of “Democracy Inc.,”,Zeese and Flowers described how the Founding Fathers created a system that favored elite rule and gave exclusive rights to male property owners. They made it clear that it was never intended to be democratic.

“Wolin wrote, ‘The Constitution of the Founders compressed the political role of citizens into an act of ‘choosing’ and designed it to minimize the direct expression of a popular will. … The role of the people was limited to choosing from among a prearranged political elite the ‘representatives’ who would rule them. This managed democracy or polyarchy is far removed from the people-power of real democracy.”

This hollowed out version of democracy has spread around the world. Anthropologist David Graeber characterized the last thirty years as the age of neoliberalism. He described how with this dominant economic and political ideology, the idea of human freedom came to mean free markets and democracy to mean participation in mass production and consumption. Graeber went on to say the accomplishment of world leaders lies in making people see this as the only possible system. He noted that the “combined result is a relentless campaign against the human imagination.”

Democracy has become a civilization project to manage and contain ‘less developed countries’ for further control of resources and markets. Imperial state authority has morphed into transnational hegemony through corporate-led globalization. What Occupy and global uprisings have begun to unearth is the fraud of this dominant order camouflaged as representative democracy. People are awakening to the true nature of this centralized power; a machine that turns real human experience into abstraction divorced from everyday life and homogenizes diverse cultures through depriving them of economic and cultural autonomy. It once seemed that there were few avenues to challenge the manufactured legitimacy of this center. Everything that contradicted these neoliberal values had been pushed to the periphery. Yet now, global society is experiencing a major shift. These are revolutionary times. From the margins, new tides of change are rolling in.

A critical message, before you scroll away

You may not know that Truthout’s journalism is funded overwhelmingly by individual supporters. Readers just like you ensure that unique stories like the one above make it to print – all from an uncompromised, independent perspective.

At this very moment, we’re conducting a fundraiser with a goal to raise $13,000. So, if you’ve found value in what you read today, please consider a tax-deductible donation in any size to ensure this work continues. We thank you kindly for your support.