Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Democracy Defeated: The Death of Protest

On Friday I read the following Associated Press dispatch in the Moscow Times: “The head of the Belarussian state security service warned on Thursday that any protesters who took to the streets during elections this Sunday could be charged with terrorism.” The Belarussian security service, incidentally, still goes by its Soviet-era brand: KGB.
The same day in The New York Times, I read the following: “In five internal reports made public yesterday as part of a lawsuit, New York City police commanders candidly discuss how they had successfully used ‘proactive arrests,’ covert surveillance and psychological tactics at political demonstrations in 2002, and recommend that those approaches be employed at future gatherings.” As we know from the 2004 National Republican Convention in Manhattan, those tactics were used to great effect. The New York Police Department, with $76 million to spend and 10,000 shields to use on four days’ work, presumed that every protester was a potential terrorist. It borrowed from the playbook of the Miami police department, where anti-globalism protesters were overwhelmed by police force in 2003. It cuffed activism to side-streets and precinct houses (1,806 people were arrested). It doctored videotape of the arrests, deleting evidence of protesters cooperating with arresting officers. And all along the Republican Party staged its lie-abiding Bush-capades at Madison Square Garden, with Belarussian contempt for the noises of democracy it is preaching to the world.
Compared to the violence of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, placid Manhattan looks, in retrospect, like the real breakdown of civil, democratic society. It’s where protest could be deemed dead and buried, and with it the notion that political freedom is anything more than the right to vent in an echo chamber. Read the full column...