Naomi Klein coined the phrase Disaster Capitalism to describe the way that corporate interests swoop in to take advantage of the state of shock that people are in after a disaster that these interests may or may not have themselves caused. She wrote about it in her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism in terms of the military coup in Chile that brought Pinochet into power, the gentrification of New Orleans that occurred after Hurricane Katrina, and the bumbled attempt at a corporate takeover of Iraq. She has continued identify “emergency measures” taken that have furthered business interests in the wake of disasters such as the financial meltdown and the earthquake in Haiti. And most recently, she has been talking about the situation in Wisconsin and other states that have manufactured fiscal crises in order to diminish the rights of teachers and other government-paid workers.
According to the narrative of Wisconsin’s Governor Walker and the Republicans in the Wisconsin Congress who tried to push their bill through in such a rush, this is no time for democracy. And that is precisely why the state’s Democratic legislators are over in Illinois. They are standing up for the democratic process, which is being subverted by corporate interests such as the Koch Brothers whose new offices could not get any closer to the capital building and their man Walker than they are.
This points to the fact that the biggest crisis in the United States has not been the financial one, as big as that has been. The worse problem has been the crisis in confidence in the government that allowed the Tea Party candidates to win in the midterm elections. People were disgusted with politicians, they refused to participate in their democracy, and the noisy, well-funded patriots for less government swooped into office. But they do not represent the majority of citizens, and this is the message that needs to get through to them. All the people who didn’t vote but are horrified by how these radicals are pushing through their small-government agenda, at the cost of government programs that many feel are important and necessary, need to step up to the plate and make clear that they made a huge mistake by pretending that both parties are the same, or that they could live their lives in a bubble and just ignore the politics that decide everything from whether or not their children will have a first-rate education to how polluted their environment is allowed to be.
Although Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine theory applies to sudden disasters and the state of shock and fear that immobilized people and allows undemocratic power grabs to occur, I would like to address the situation in the Arab World, where democracy has been subverted by leaders who have perpetuated emergency laws for decades, all in the name of “stability.” One of the key demands of the Egyptian people has been for the emergency law that has been in place since 1967 to finally come to an end. The law extends security police powers, suspends constitutional rights, and legalizes censorship. It has allowed imprisonment of anyone for any reason and for any period of time, banned political opposition and protests, and prohibited donations to any cause that is not approved by the government. Mubarak promised he would repeal the law many times, but never followed through, and at this point, the military leadership has also promised to abandon it, but only after the protests end. The protests haven’t ended, because the people of Egypt are not going to let the military-led interim authority just continue on without Mubarak – they are demanding real democracy, and yesterday, protesters stormed the State Security Headquarters in Cairo and Alexandria, seizing files, hoping to find prisoners whose families have not heard anything from for years on end after another promise – to dismantle the dreaded internal security apparatus – was not kept.
Have the people of Egypt read Naomi Klein’s book? She basically explains that the way to fight these state-of-emergency power grabs, or in their case, hoarding of power, is to recognize what is happening and to defeat the narrative with alternative narratives. According to The New York Times, Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution, they read Gene Sharp’s 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action and From Dictator to Democracy. The amazing thing is that their principled use of People Power actually worked, and this is incredibly inspiring to me.
I don’t really know that much about how the dictatorships here in the Southern Cone were defeated, but the similarities between these countries and those in the Arab World are very striking to me. Again, “emergency measures,” put into place for the sake of “stability,” were the excuses for the subversion of democracy. The reality was, of course, that the evil instability was born of social inequality, and the rise of Communism, which was not destabilizing when the communists were gaining power through legitimate, peaceful, democratic processes, as was the case in Chile and Uruguay, if not elsewhere. What was destabilizing was the resistance of the elite to this wave of communism, so emergencies were manufactured, and martial law was instigated. But what really blows my mind is how the military dictatorships came to cede their power and return their nations to democracy. This is a mystery to me, as there were no further coups, no playbooks available for download on the internet, no economic degradation that sent the people over the edge of caring about their personal wellbeing, no regional wave of anger-infused inspiration... perhaps it was just the lack of any semblance of an excuse anymore.
As the fragile excuses of the Arab autocrats are finally torn to shreds and blown away by the winds of change, the whole notion of the need for emergency measures in place of careful democratic procedures should go with them. Will the newly empowered elected officials heed the messages blowing in from across the Atlantic Ocean? Will they identify with faded dictators, clinging shamelessly, ridiculously, to their power as the masses who never consented to their leadership except by brute force, gather themselves together to create these unprecedented walls of human resistance that can withstand all of the barbarities thrown at them through the power of their own dignity, or will these newly minted politicians realize that their elections were a farce directed by corporate power and augmented by the cynical belief that resistance was futile, such that their mandate is as flimsy and subject to be blown away by even the slightest breeze as those excuses for lack of democracy have become?
It is up to the those who are coming to understand the necessity of a new wave of People Power to show them that democracy is worth standing up for.