Thursday, June 09, 2005

Fighting for Democracy

The chant of "This is what democracy looks like!" is somewhat of a cliché here in the US, but if ever it was true, it is so today in Bolivia. The masses, an overwhelming number of them poor and indigenous peoples, have taken to the streets demanding that the wealth of their country is not siphoned off to outside parties or local elites and instead used to address their needs. In response, it looks like the military is going to be unleashed on them soon. It goes without saying that this is quite an ominous development, considering the depth of the popular movement that has risen up in the last month or so.

George Bush has allegedly pinned his presidency to the theme of spreading and protecting democracy abroad, to the extent that doing so is now framed as a security matter for the US. If anything underlines the fraudulence of Bush's claims, it is the lack of attention and support the protesters in cities like La Paz and Cochabamba now receive.

"Democracy," in Bush speak, is really a narrow definition that is all about political rights, not economic or social ones. What needs to be pointed out is that true democracy -- meaning a system in which people have relatively equal opportunities to effect their own destiny and that of the collective entity that best represents them -- is impossible in vastly unequal societies. Bolivians are attempting to rectify this in their country today, and their efforts are being met mostly with silence (if not outright scorn) because they do not align politically with the Bush administration and also threaten the reign of private capital in their country.

Many people on the left, like Naomi Klein, have lamented how Bush has hijacked the language of democracy. If there is to be any attempt to wrest it back, we need to stand up to his narrow formulation and reassert the centrality of equality -- across the board -- in our narratives. We can begin doing so by supporting those people down in Bolivia with all of our best efforts.

So contact your Congressional representatives, write your local media, and spread the word. In short, do something to show that the sort of democracy you support is flowering today in a relatively tiny, land-locked country in South America and that any attempt to squash it should be met with the greatest reproach.