Web Only / Views » October 21, 2011
The Choice Between Democracy and Autocracy
City mayors are going medieval on their protesting subjects.
The United States is now emulating the very autocracy we originally waged our founding revolution against.
Hear ye, hear ye! Let it be known that in this 10th month of the first year of His Majesty King John Hickenlooper’s reign, the sovereign governor of the Kingdom of Colorado handed down an edict closing the grounds of the Capitol palace to the public and ordering his praetorian guard to arrest the peaceful Occupy Denver protestors assembled at the castle gates.
This royal order, which made big headlines last week, was all about intimidating imagery. Just as King John had hoped, the iconic photograph to emerge from the sweep was a front-page Denver Post photo of a heavily armed police officer menacingly guarding the Capitol–a deliberate visual message telling the despot’s subjects to retreat or face consequences. He later told a reporter that he was aiming to preemptively crush “something that could easily catch on.”
Back on the East Coast, it was much the same, as His Majesty King Michael Bloomberg issued a decree stating that as a benevolent despot, he would “allow” his Manhattan subjects to occupy Wall Street (as if the mayor has the power to grant–or withhold–democratic rights). But then King Mike quickly sent his police force in for mass arrests, standing down only after a wave of outrage from the larger serfdom watching on television.
This might all sound like Medieval Europe, but it’s not. It’s America circa 2011, as these clashes are now taking place everywhere.
Alas, it’s a predictable situation. Horrifying economic inequality has prompted the bottom 99 percent of income earners to finally exercise their constitutional rights to protest. In response, the nobles in the top 1 percent are demanding their political puppets make clear that such dissent will not be tolerated–and they expect their demands to be followed. This country’s landed gentry, after all, spent a lot on campaign contributions to make sure their hand-picked autocrats were installed in governors’ and mayors’ offices, and now they’re having those autocrats engineer a whole new kind of bailout.
As opposed to merely cutting a check to the bankers, this bailout is all about resource allocation. It has the kings preventing law enforcement from being deployed on financial criminals who destroyed the American economy. Instead, those finite law enforcement resources are being funneled into arresting more than 1,000 protestors and abrogating the vassals’ First Amendment rights to “peaceably assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In Colorado and New York, where the occupy-themed uprisings have been particularly intense, the gentry have two dictators well-schooled in using police power for this very purpose.
During his previous reign as mayor of Denver, King John ran a police department plagued by brutality scandals, threw peaceful Democratic National Convention protestors into cages and oversaw indiscriminate arrests during that supposed celebration of democracy. King Mike, meanwhile, ordered similar mass arrests during the Republican Convention in 2004, unleashed an infamous “stop-and-frisk” policy against minorities, and created an unprecedented Muslim spying operation within the NYPD.
With such extra-judicial authoritarianism now being used against dissidents all over America, Denver and New York’s responses are indeed serving as a “model,” as King John himself predicted. And because of that, the United States is now emulating the very autocracy we originally waged our founding revolution against.
Ultimately, that’s why this historical moment is so important. Whatever you call the spontaneous uprisings against oligarchy–Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Denver or simply “We the People”–they prove that the only savior in these neo-feudal times is continued protest. Without it, the future of the economy and our freedoms are clearly at risk from King John, King Mike and every other self-styled monarch now waging war on the fundamental principles of American liberty.
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David Sirota, an In These Times senior editor and syndicated columnist, is a staff writer at PandoDaily and a bestselling author whose book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything was released in 2011. Sirota, whose previous books include The Uprising and Hostile Takeover, co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.