Wed, Jul 03, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Taking it to the streets:
a failure of democracy?

While democracies are more prevalent than ever, they are also more volatile. More people are taking to the streets more often over more issues, and with more ways of telling their stories

By Thomas Friedman  /  NY Times News Service

Writing in the American Interest, William Waack, an anchorman on Brazil’s Globo, probably spoke for many when he observed: “Brazilians don’t feel like their elected representatives at any level actually represent them, especially at a time when most leaders fear the stigma of making actual decisions (otherwise known as leading) ... It’s not about the nine cents.”

China is not a democracy, but this story is a sign of the times: In a factory outside Beijing, a US businessman, Chip Starnes, president of Florida-based Specialty Medical Supplies, was held captive for nearly a week by about 100 workers “who were demanding severance packages identical to those offered to 30 recently laid-off employees,” Reuters reported.

The workers feared they would be next as the company moved some production from China to India to reduce costs. (He was released in a deal on Thursday last week.)

Finally, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, Twitter, Facebook and blogging, aggrieved individuals now have much more power to engage in, and require their leaders to engage in, two-way conversations — and they have much greater ability to link up with others who share their views to hold flash protests.

As Leon Aron, the Russian historian at the American Enterprise Institute, put it: “The turnaround time” between sense of grievance and action in today’s world is lightning fast and getting faster.

The net result is this: Autocracy is less sustainable than ever. Democracies are more prevalent than ever — but they will also be more volatile than ever.

Look for more people in the streets more often over more issues, with more independent means to tell their stories at ever-louder decibels.

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