“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and [certain] inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness: that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men...” - Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence.
Two hundred and thirty six years on from the Declaration of Independence, political engagement is still a necessity for the masses. Widespread civil rights movements are rising all over the world, in many guises – the Arab Spring, Anonymous, Los Indignados, Greece, the movement against precarity in Portugal – and Jefferson’s writings can once again remind us that inspired words can bind a nation together, catalysing an extraordinary revolution.
If democracy—that is, the democracy we have been given—is staggering under the blows of the economic crisis and is powerless to assert the will and interests of the multitude, then is now perhaps the moment to consider that form of democracy obsolete?
This is the crucial question posed by the Occupy movement, according to Michael Hardt and Toni Negri. In a piece for Foreign Affairs, the authors of Empire situate the Occupy Wall Street protest in a "cycle of struggles" that began in Tahrir Square in January, extended to Europe with the Spanish Democracia Real YA! Movement and eventually reached the United States. The hallmark of this wave of popular mobilization has been the practice of "encampments" — ordinary people repossessing public spaces that had fallen under the control of financial corporations and corrupted politicians. At the heart of the protest are both "indignation against corporate greed" and a deep critique of institutional politics:
One obvious and clear message of the protests, of course, is that the bankers and finance industries in no way represent us: What is good for Wall Street is certainly not good for the country (or the world). A more significant failure of representation, though, must be attributed to the politicians and political parties charged with representing the people's interests but in fact more clearly represent the banks and the creditors. Such a recognition leads to a seemingly naive, basic question: Is democracy not supposed to be the rule of the people over the polis—that is, the entirety of social and economic life? Instead, it seems that politics has become subservient to economic and financial interests.