“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Amendment 1 to the United States Constitution
Mass street expressions of disapproval of their governments are occurring in several countries: Turkey, Brazil, Chile, Bulgaria and Egypt, and not so long ago in the United States. The triggering causes may be different but the objective is the same – to protest government inaction in the face of rising frustration in the lives of a majority of citizens.
The foment is beginning in the pages of Facebook and Twitter and is spilling over into the streets. Protest is how democracy was won and protest is how it is being kept. Protest is in the nature of the form of government. Barack Obama was protested in South Africa for what was perceived as the the Nobel Peace Laureate’s disregard for human rights on the internet and in the war on terror, an insult to the legacy of Madiba, the Elder. The drone of democratic discontent is spreading like a contagion even as drones are being flown above to keep order.
A state of mind has taken over the leaderships of the world’s democracies in the business of maintaining order after 9/11: “the citizen’s day in the sun is voting day. Once elected, the job of governing is delegated to the elected representatives. Accountability is at the ballot box only.” Such a perspective of governing is acceptable so long as the expectations of elections are being delivered by the representatives. When promises are not kept, performance on the job ought to stand up in the public square to the scrutiny of the citizen who voted. Hence, the protests which, based on their effectiveness, lead to dissolved parliaments and loss of mandates, legitimacy and leadership.
In the conduct of democracy, peaceable assembly often triumphs over the violence of authoritarianism that masquerades as authority.