Reflection on recent demonstrations

I am neither a sociologist nor a historian, but when I reflect on the various types of demonstrations and rebellions in history they seem to have a limited range of causes.

As I watched on the Internet the various demonstrations in the United States — on the face of it — as protests against police brutality — specifically, in the killing of George Floyd — a few things came to mind.

The first is why did people go out to demonstrate? And the answer cannot be simple. It is a mixed bag. On the one side, the killing of George Floyd was a spark or catalyst that ignited the the frustration of people not only with police brutality, but also with the government, and the whole politico-economic system.

There are a host of very poor young people who took to demonstrations in righteous indignation, but also for the excitement, for the violence, and for the looting. The fact that these demonstrations were widespread in the United States, and in some places even in the world, is a symptom of economically and politically repressed populations.

This Covid-19 pandemic has created an unemployment situation equal to the Great Depression of 1929. In addition, the attempt to control the pandemic with a lockdown has frustrated people’s social feelings — that is why coming out and risking infection seemed to many a secondary concern.

And what is the response of the government?

In some better form of government, the response should be to alleviate the causes, but in the present form of government the response is to the symptoms: to quell the demonstrations.

And the response, as it is, is inconsistent because, to begin with, there are mayors, governors, and the president. And it is obvious that President Trump has a dictatorial streak when he warned the mayors and governors that if they don’t restore order, he will send in federal troops.

However, there is a wider underlying tension within the government. On the one hand, which was evident in Obama’s presidency, in having the greatest number of arrests of whistleblowers; this is the effort to safeguard a knowledge of government activity from the public, which, as such, is an expression of a resentment of democracy. This same mentality wants to suppress as much as possible demonstrations and popular unrest.

So there is a tendency to militarize the police with better protection and better weapons. But, on the other hand, there is the propaganda rhetoric of the United States as the land of freedom: the right of assembly and expression of grievances. The result is an ambiguous stance towards protests and demonstrations.

Now, historically protests and riots have had little impact on the major policies of the United States government: as with the Covid-19 disease, they have resulted in mostly emergency anodynes for the symptoms.

Thousands around the world protest George Floyd’s death in global display of solidarity, June 1, 2020.

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