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Street-politics

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
24 September 2002

Across the world people are taking to the streets. In Italy enormous numbers mobilised against Prime Minister Berlusconi’s re-writing of Italy’s legal system to suit himself. In Palestine, smaller numbers express their despair at Israel’s treatment of Yasser Arafat. In Britain astonishing numbers marched on London from the countryside. Now demonstrations in many capitals are being prepared to protest against the threat of war against Iraq.

openDemocracy has already begun to debate not just the issues but also the methods of non-party politics.

They symbolise a welcome and necessary direct engagement at a time when voting is in decline and we are told that the young are disillusioned - even before, it seems, they have the opportunity to be illusioned.

I enjoy being on demonstrations. I also think it is essential to show politicians that they are not in charge of how the population feels.

But the politics of manifestations can be easily manipulated. They depend on the spectacle for much of their impact and therefore give the media a wonderful opportunity to support or oppose the issues at will. The blanket backing of the ‘Liberty and Livelihood’ march in London by the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail was astounding. Berlusconi made sure he was seeing George Bush when hundreds of thousands mobilised against him in Rome. Naturally, the Berlusconi-owned media reported on the boss-to-boss, top-level discussions he conducted with the President with all the prominence they deserved.

More important, movements can be captured. Those opposing the American mobilisation for war and its wider Middle East policy run the danger of themselves being positioned as making their enemy’s enemy their friend. It is much easier to demonstrate against something (the USA) than for something. And what we should be for, as Iraqi exiles point out in this issue, is democracy not Saddam Hussein.

Anthony Barnett

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