Let Democracy Work

By Gavin Beeker

Clint Eastwood’s latest movie “J. Edgar” had one very admirable quality to it – and no, I’m not referring to the gratuitous and creepy aging makeup applied to the main characters. Rather, I was fascinated by its focus on how the old men in government holding the reins of power at the start of the Cold War had lived through the early 1900s, a time when the eruption of class warfare due to the work of a small but committed group of communist and anarchist revolutionaries seemed a very real and potentially destabilizing threat. The great tragedy of J. Edgar Hoover’s life is that he and the FBI that he unwittingly created became the very tyranny that he originally sought to prevent.

To protect democracy, he started the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to

provoke and disrupt organizations that were the very embodiment of democracy: a myriad of civil rights protesters such as the Black Panthers and Students for a Democratic Society. Democracy is so much more than any ‘ism,’ even more than capitalism. To paraphrase

John Dewey, democracy is the very practice of community life. And the thing about it is, it isn’t

pretty. It’s when everybody is pissed off at one another that you know you are experiencing a thriving democracy – if you’ve ever been to a New England town meeting, you know exactly what I mean.

It is with great trepidation and sadness that I witness a desire for radicalism by those who support the Occupy movement. This desire is, at times, paired with the admonishment to forget electoral politics altogether as ineffective. While I understand the cynicism, it is only through electoral politics that any lasting changes will arise. It is a huge mistake to become so impatient as to urge illegal or violent actions in order to propel the Occupy movement forward. The huge gains of the Civil Rights movement were not gained by force, by a direct attack against the perceived enemies of equality for African Americans. It came through persistence. The opponents of civil rights were shamed by the perseverance and moral goodness of men and women like Martin Luther King, Jr.

A professor of mine who teaches Russian history said something once that really stuck with me. In reference to the mutual distrust of the United States and the Soviet Union, he pointed out that a willingness to understand and communicate with each other could have prevented extremely dangerous and expensive aspects of the Cold War. The key to foreign policy, he pointed out, is to “hug your enemies tight and don’t let go.” Though initially this proves very uncomfortable, it prevents potential catastrophic misunderstandings in the long run. I have discovered that this gem really applies to all areas of life. It’s a mistake to disengage from a situation by creating a false sense of ‘us vs. them,’ because it is those very people we vilify whose help we in turn need to obtain what we desire.

A conversation, no matter how painful, moves toward common conceptions.

Radicalism has the very real and unfortunate tendency to cause a conservative reaction by those in positions of wealth and authority, which only serves to further radicalize, until there is no middle ground left for dialogue. Therefore, protesters continue to occupy parks all over the country, hold signs and march through streets, even in spite of police aggression. The more people persist, the more the public sees images like those of the retired policemen being arrested and the more voters will be shamed into voting for politicians who have the backbone to fight against the cronyism and largesse that pervades our government.

Gavin Beeker is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]