While this doesn’t have much to do with the usual themes of this blog, it is an interesting case study of media culture and political protest (and one that my Ukrainian studies background qualifies me to comment on).
It’s the case of Pussy Riot supporter Inna Shevchenko, an activist with the Ukrainian feminist protest group Femen. Let’s figure it out:
A (western-style) feminist activist-performance group best known for (literally) exposing themselves to gain media exposure (with the help of happily obliging male photographers) chainsaws down a cross commemorating Stalin’s Ukrainian victims as an act of solidarity with anti-authoritarian punk-feminists Pussy Riot. (Those are the three musicians recently sentenced to two years in jail for their “sacrilegious” anti-government performance in a Russian church. More on them later.)
Governments (in this case, it was the Conservative federal government of Stephen Harper) like to host these big international gatherings; they think it builds their national and international prestige. Police like to provide the security for them; they get lots of $ for new toys and great opportunities to try them out. Protestors like, or feel they need, to demonstrate that the gathered political elites are corruptly entwined with economic elites and are not responsive to the needs of the people they are supposed to represent. (It helps them organize themselves collectively and define their political identities individually; let’s call it citizenship.) A tiny fraction of those protestors (whom we’ll call the Black Bloc) like, and probably love, to make that point dramatically, so as to “smash capitalism,” on the hypothesis that the more smashing that occurs, the more everybody will wake up to the necessity for more smashing.
Police like to have enemies – it makes their job easier – so they infiltrate the protestors, including the tiny fraction, and egg them on (in this case to burn a police car and smash some shop windows). This gives them justification for their efforts (and the $ they got). The media has a feeding frenzy; they love to have feeding frenzies. The police and feds say “we told you so,” which they love to do (who doesn’t?).
Evidence accumulates that the police not only overstepped reasonable boundaries but that they instigated some, and maybe a lot, of the violence. (The jury’s still out on the agent-provocateur hypothesis, but it’s important to have people connecting these kinds of dots.) People protest (which they don’t generally love to do; it’s more work than complaining). Public pressure builds. The police chief resigns in disgrace. The feds get booted out in the next election. Another government replaces them. (Hmm… then what?)
With protests gearing up today to push the Obama administration away from its current timidity with its economic policies (see A New Way Forward and Democracy Now’s broadcast on it), it seems apropos to ask whether and to what extent the Obama administration should be trusted by progressives.
Open Left, one of the better progressive political websites, and one of the groups that greens should be building better alliances with, has an interesting discussion going on about this – see Chris Bowers’ Open Left:: The Case for Distrust.
Similar questions as these could be raised about the administration’s environmental positions, where a notably strong set of opening strategies – particularly on climate change – seems to be growing a little limp. In particular, it will make a big difference whether carbon credits are given away to polluting corporations (effectively giving them what belongs to all of us, the air) or sold to them (and bringing in some revenue in the process). But at least with environmental issues we don’t have the same faces from the Wall Street-loving Clinton era as with economic issues (the Summerses, Geithners, et al.).