The Year of Protests: Is Democracy Evolving?

The traditional model of representative democracy seems to have grown increasingly creaky in countries that have long been lauded for their democratic models. But this conventional representative form of governance may simply be evolving. We’re in the midst of a political revolution as social media is catalyzing the progression to a more networked form of governance. This transformation is organizing and empowering the masses across the world in an unprecedented manner.

It’s fairly easy to reach the conclusion that traditional democratic models have grown increasingly ineffective simply by analyzing global news over the past year. For example, Congress is dead-locked as political ideologies reach a partisanship that is seemingly irreconcilable. When even the so-called "Super Committee” can’t seem to agree, the legislative inability to formulate concrete policy on anything, from climate change to the raising of the debt ceiling, doesn’t seem to be too outrageous in comparison. The EU, on the other hand, has almost stopped trying to sell the idea of democracy to its voters, as five of its governments have been felled over the current debt crisis. Brussels has openly installed technocrats in Italy and Greece, who seem to think that any form of linear decision-making is better than the political democratic dithering seen over the past few years.

In Asia, India is seized by political stalemate even as mass protests against corruption rock the country. The winter session of the Indian parliament has literally grinded to a standstill as both the opposition and members of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s own party caused an uproar over Singh’s weak attempt to open up the Indian retail sector to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The strong opposition to the usual farce of Russian elections has taken the Kremlin by surprise. Pro-democracy protests in Moscow have led to the first real political crisis Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has had to face. If the next election is open to real competition, it would be the first time the Russian president has ever had to take part in a televised debate.

However, it isn’t that democracy has failed; it is simply that it has de-evolved; our systems of governance have grown bloated, corrupt, and decidedly undemocratic. Crony capitalism and the revolving door between the banks and government have never been highlighted so boldly as by the 2008 crisis and the OWS protests.

The OWS movement has been heavily criticized for failing to politicize in a more traditional form, but it has the right idea. We don’t need to work within the system; whether the politicians like it or not, the internet is a democratizing force. Social networking has revolutionized the way democracy responds to government action. People are easier to connect; protests and actions are easier to organize. For instance, in Russia, the government has traditionally relied on state-controlled TV to set the political agenda, but independent news sources have penetrated Russia through the internet and encouraged political awareness. A video of a youth slapping one of India’s most famously corrupt Ministers went viral in a day, with thousands of Indians lauding his actions on Facebook and Twitter. The Egyptian government made the mistake of attempting to cut off the internet when the rising against Mubarak first erupted - where is Mubarak now? For an example closer to home, look no further than this site - it would have impossible for our generation to voice our political opinions and be taken seriously just 10 years ago.

We’re in the midst of a dramatic revolution as the world grows flatter. The 1% is powerful because we choose them to be. It is time we recognized the clout of the 99% and harness it through social networking. For example,  an increasing number of people are organizing to take urgent climate change action into their own hands, as politicians continue to drag their feet. As funding from banks dries up, renewable energy companies have begun to raise money through groupfunding using social networks. The Move Your Money project is another great illustration of this potential as it encourages the public to shift their funds from Wall Street’s major banks to local ones, taking the power away from the bankers. The two crises have highlighted that our economic and political systems are broken; we must adapt to survive. We can and are creating new models of governance.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons