Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Is What Democracy Looks Like?

I found I’ve been thinking about the function of protests or rallies for a long time since I came to America. On the one hand, it’s kind of normal and very often to see different kinds of rallies going on in America every day, and I’m jealous that Americans have the right of rally to make their voices heard, which is almost impossible in China. On the other hand, I truly doubt whether such kind of protests could contribute to any actual social change, or just causing social turmoil.

The documentary “This Is What Democracy Looks Like” reminds me another documentary “Tiananmen” about the world shocking student protest happened in China in 1989. Western people know it mainly through a picture of the “tank man.” In both events, we could see students or young people are the majority of the protest, who are active, idealistic and somewhat irrational. We could also see the confrontation between protesters and the police, which might last a long time but it’s always the police who own the power and control at the end.

There are many controversies I couldn’t deal with. First, why anarchists supported the protest against WTO? Globalization is the ideal WTO aims at, which also helps anarchism to decentralize states, as I said in last blog. Then were anarchists targeting at the institution of WTO, or the trend of globalization? I understand those NGOs concerning labor issues, the environment or the consumer protection, but I still cannot get it from the point of anarchists.

Then, even if they protested, did they win? At the end of the film, I heard “we win.” In Wikipedia, there’s an entry of “WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 protest activity” and I found that “to many in North American anarchist and radical circles, the Seattle WTO riots, protests, and demonstrations were a success and are thought of as the most recent victories in the U.S. Prior to the ‘Battle of Seattle,’ there was almost no mention of ‘anti-globalization’ in the US media, while the protests are seen as having forced the media to report on why anybody would oppose the WTO.” But did they really win if we look at it today? At least I couldn’t find any possible stop of globalization.

On the side of the police, were they violent and acted as the “bad” people? Police are supposed to protect people, not using violence against people. But was the protest really peaceful? In the film, it looked like so. Was that biased? In Wikipedia, I saw “The situation was complicated around noon, when black-clad anarchists began smashing windows and vandalizing storefronts, beginning with Fox's Gem Shop. …This set off a chain-reaction of sorts, with additional protesters pushing dumpsters into the middle of intersections and lighting them on fire, deflating the tires of police vehicles, non-black bloc demonstrators joining in the property destruction, and a general disruption of all commercial activity in downtown Seattle.” Then should we let the violence keep going out of control? What’s appropriate for the police to do?

The title of the film is very interesting: this is what democracy looks like. Really? They mean the protest, the confrontation? Ironically, that’s exactly the reason why Chinese government doesn’t want “democracy,” because they think we need social stability, not chaos. Why the student protest in 1989 was brutally stopped? Because we cannot tolerate turmoil any more; we need control. Since then, it’s almost hard to find any political reform in China.

I especially remember in the film when they talked about Chinese labors, they described them as cheap labors, in poor working conditions, not allowed to talk during working or would be fined… but one thing they didn’t mention is Chinese labors are not allowed to make unions to fight for their rights or protests like them. That’s why labors’ situation doesn’t change too much up till now.

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