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Democracy Protesters Need Organization to Defeat Abusive Elites

TurkeyA spreading movement to defend and expand democracy by citizens willing to face down repressive, militarized police in the streets is now being led by the people of Brazil and Turkey but represents the aspirations of people everywhere who are concerned about civil liberties and elite abuse of power. Unfortunately, the lack of both national and international organization in support of democracy activists has left citizens marginalized–not just in Turkey and Brazil but also the U.S.– while putting the initiative in the hands of an abusive political/corporate elite.

Democracy demonstrations in Brazil and Turkey have global significance and reflect precisely the dilemma facing citizens of the U.S. as well: the depth of corruption among the ruling elite, the desperate need for transparency as the first line of defense of democracy/civil liberties; the ease with which a reformer can, once elected to national leadership, can be co-opted by an abusive, anti-democratic elite, the need for fundamental reform of procedures that goes beyond party labels to change the underlying political system. Unfortunately, a lack of both national and international organization to support outraged but marginalized citizens leaves the elite with the upper hand in Turkey and Brazil, as well as in the U.S.

Brazilians, Turks, the heroes of the Arab Spring, and—back in the U.S.—the Occupy Movement are all fighting the same battle against entrenched special interests that warp laws to enrich themselves and consolidate themselves in power permanently. The details differ by country but the common thread is always to slur popular democratic action as “radical,” to punish those who protest with brutal, militarized police, to use secrecy to abuse power, and to accuse those who expose the abuse of secrets of being traitors.

Misuse of Public Funds. Brazilian rage at its leaders’ wasteful expenditures to host the World Cup, for example, are reminiscent of American resentment of the 2008 bailout of the rich:

“There is a deep sense of discontent with political institutions, which are seen as inefficient, corrupt, and unresponsive,” Campante said.

Residents are especially frustrated about all the money the government is spending to host soccer’s World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics 2016. Some estimates have the government spending more than $30 billion on these two events, Coleman noted — three times the amount it is spending on its signature anti-poverty program. [Money.cnn.com 6/25/13.]

In Turkey, Erdogan has been similarly unresponsive to popular feelings about his massive expenditure of public funds:

Erdogan is pushing ahead with a slew of multibillion-dollar projects he sees as embodying Turkey’s emergence as a major power. They include a shipping canal, a giant mosque and a third Istanbul airport billed to be one of the world’s biggest….

Architects, leftist parties, academics, city planners and others have long opposed the plans, saying they lacked consultation with civic groups and would remove one of central Istanbul’s few green spaces. [Reuters 5/31/13.]

Police Brutality. Egregious and unprovoked police brutality has been shocking in both Brazil and Turkey, each countries struggling to emerge from a long history of military dictatorship and now led by politicians (Erdogan and Rousseff) with now tarnished reputations as reformers.

The corrupt politicians, rich bankers, and war profiteer CEOs of the world are tightly unified and very clear about their goals. Those who care about democratic principles must figure out a way to become equally united…globally. A few thousand protestors on the streets without a civil society support network will simply play into the hands of corrupt politicians who are more than willing to provoke violence in order to show how tough they are. Protest must immediately translate into organized political activity: voter drives, protection of whistle blowers; legal action against corrupt politicians; and lobbying for reform legislation. Otherwise, the anti-democratic elite will continue to win, as it did in the U.S. during the highly profitable occupation of Iraq and with the equally profitable billionaire bailout after the 2008 financial crisis.


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