March 26, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 93  

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Democracy: the right to strain your voice

Thrust n' Perry
Dan Perry

News Editor

Activism is the new “in” thing sweeping through Hollywood, allowing celebrities to soapbox and churn out thousands of brainwashed youth to support their cause.

Students everywhere are lining up to argue about everything from abortion laws to controversial movies, holding rallies in the street and trumpeting their cause, trying desperately to get the government to pay attention.

When will the demonstrators realize the government doesn’t have to care?

The symbiotic relationship between politics and the media puts every demonstration through the necessary spin cycle: people show up, make a lot of noise, photo op, sound bite, now on to the next item. Political activity + conflict = marketable news, but like so many of the government stories that news outlets run, the story is forgotten in a day or two.

Such limited engagement with the issues doesn’t allow protesters — who do make the news — a chance to meaningfully contribute to debate. In fact, more often than not, protesters are depicted as troublemakers, a thorn in the side of government, the nation and even peace itself.

Protesting amounts to doing half the job — sure, it’s the legal half, but in terms of actual influence on policy, the government “applies the formula,” like Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club. If the amount of votes won by listening doesn’t outweigh the amount of votes lost, the government will tune protesters out time and time again.

The goal of power is power. Political parties do not exist to bring better quality of life to citizens, but rather to win elections and maintain control of the machinations of power. The idea that a government will privilege public concern in their policy at the cost of votes is a joke.

Worse, activists are not helping their own cause. So many legitimate demonstrations, which actually have a chance of drawing attention and getting a response, are compromised by counter-demonstrations. Inevitably, the media shows up and the conflict necessary to sell any story is no longer between a disenchanted public and the politicos, but rather, between two groups of troublemakers.

I’m not arguing for a grass roots rebellion, but the freedom of assembly enshrined in the constitution is not a catch-all defense against tyranny. Aside from one day every four or five years, there is no way to hold the politburo responsible.

“What about the media?” you ask? The news media record the activities and occasionally push an agenda, but that’s not enough. News has become so much like entertainment these days that anything worth learning is washed away by the frills.

And entertainment is setting the agenda — Angelina Jolie, Bono and Martin Sheen top the list of celebrities who have jumped on various bandwagons, making protest a commodity and devaluing it the same way the news media does. Protest, when embraced by such “low-brows” as film actors and rock stars, doesn’t gain influence in the “high-brow” world of politics, but loses credibility.

The privileging of infotainment over responsible coverage of political activity has turned the right to assemble into little more than the right to strain your voice — but you just might get on TV...



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