Saturday, May 10, 2008

Fresno Alley

40 Years ago I rolled off my half of the mattress I shared with my girlfriend, in a bedroom I was renting in a third-floor walkup apartment on Fresno Alley in San Francisco, and went out to get some coffee for the two of us. At the head of the alley, just a few feet north of where Broadway, Columbus, and Upper Grant come together, someone had spray painted "The World Is Coming" on the wall of the used record store. This, of course, was in 1968.

It's usually identified as the year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were both shot and killed. Typically, as he writes about it today, Noam Chomsky doesn't spend time on what everybody remembers, but instead recalls trends and occurrences which give both those who remember that year and those not yet born a greater understanding of the time.

One of the most interesting reactions to come out of 1968 was in the first publication of the Trilateral Commission, which believed there was a "crisis of democracy" from too much participation of the masses, Chomsky writes in the New Statesman's "1968" issue. In the late 1960s, the masses were supposed to be passive, not entering into the public arena and having their voices heard. When they did, it was called an "excess of democracy" and people feared it put too much pressure on the system. The only group that never expressed its opinions too much was the corporate group, because that was the group whose involvement in politics was acceptable.

The commission called for more moderation in democracy and a return to passivity. It said the "institutions of indoctrination" - schools, churches - were not doing their job, and these had to be harsher.

The time has come again. We need another "excess of democracy."

And please, nobody say "The Constitution is a plan of government for a republic, not a democracy." Sorry, but you're wrong! That's what it WAS, in 1787, before amdendments 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 24, and 26 were added. Those, along with the elimination of state and local property qualification laws during the Jackson era, made the U.S. a democracy. We don't have the same Constitution and political culture as we did at the start of the country. We don't even have the same constitution and political culture as we did 40 years ago.

But we still have people like Dick Cheney, who think you can take this democracy stuff too far. That's why we need another "excess of democracy."

Actually, we need another 1968, only without the assassinations this time.


Joe said...

I am glad that I made it to see this post today.

Anonymous said...

To add to that, Robert Dahl in "On Democracy" clears up the whole misconception that "republic" and "democracy" are different. The difference is purely linguistic. One originated in Rome, the other in Greece. The confusion largely comes from James Madison's ignorance about the root of the words. In many ways, he changed the meaning of of "republic," as many people think he was actually stating a fact and don't know he himself was making a mistake when he spoke of democracies vs. republics.