Two versions of “democracy” were on full display last weekend.
One involved parades, picnics, fireworks and mass media attention of the number 62.
The other involved populism, a plebiscite, fireworks and mass media attention of the number 60.
Saturday’s coast-to-coast festivities in the U.S. were as much, if not more, a celebration of summer than marking the colonial Declaration of Independence from British rule. Even those aware of this reality, however, limit such “rule” to a tyrannical King and/or Redcoats that were the British Empire’s military muscle behind keeping the colonies dependent on the mother country. Absent from awareness was the historical reality that colonial taste for political freedom also included liberation from the King’s “Crown” corporations — the Massachusetts Bay Company, Carolina Company, Maryland Company and others — that received charters from the King to execute the monarch’s economic and political doings this side of the Atlantic. These charters were limited and subordinate “licenses,” not permission slips to do-as-you-please to the corporate owners. Sadly, also absent from public understanding was that the “freedom” triggered by the Declaration would end up being an exceedingly narrow one — limited to 5-6% of the population who were while, male, property owners.
“Independence Day” for too many today is equated solely with personal freedom disconnected to political or economic tyranny from big government or multinational corporations. It’s freedom to do as one pleases, irrespective of others.
Obliterated from the top-down dominant culture is the underlying premise of the Declaration that when government becomes oppressive, it is not only the right, but also the duty to alter or abolish it since governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
July 4th is, thus, a relic of history rather than an annual opportunity to (re)assess our nation’s democratic state and inspiration to (re)commit to taking action to (re)create a culture and institutions that provide people not just information and voice, but power. Political power. Economic power. The right to decide.
We’re left with annual parades, picnics and fireworks largely devoid of meaning. Mass public attention is focused on the spectacle of how many hotdogs can be consumed in a 10-minute period, promoted by a huckster hotdog corporation. The celebrated winning number this year was 62.
This contrasts with the occurrences a day later in Greece. A national plebiscite (vote) took place on whether to accept the terms of a bailout package offered by the financial “troika” (led by the European Central Bank) to avoid national bankruptcy. Setting aside the democratic comparison between the Greek Constitution which allows a national referendum on important issues and the US Constitution which doesn’t (something that would be mighty handy, for example, on the question of whether the US should shed its national sovereignty by supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership and other antidemocratic mis-named “trade” deals), the national vote for a tremendous illustration of letting the people directly decide whether they wanted to accept the bankster-friendly financial terms and all the personal austerity that would go along with it.
The people voted “Oxi!” (No!) by 60% on July 5 — a different kind of fireworks felt throughout Europe and beyond.
Populist uprising in Greece is presently real. Massive organizing is what placed the anti-austerity Syriza party in power. Their mandate was to assert greater financial independence away from the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and other creditors who addicted previous Greek governments on debt. The Greek people have been in the streets for the last several years opposing various versions of austerity, which have been a part of previous financial oligarch-imposed bailout agreements. The Greeks followed the programs. They didn’t work. Growth didn’t increase, but debt did. The Greeks had had enough.
Despite massive fear injected through the corporate press of the consequences of rejecting the bailout terms, the Greeks imposed their own political independence by voting for less external economic dependence.
Time will tell whether the Greeks go all the way and dump the euro, replace it with their own currency and work to (re)gain their own economic sovereignty. It won’t be easy. But the Greeks have taken an important first step in asserting en mass a dose of real democracy.