Imagine yourself in the role of an angry anti-government protestor. How can you possibly remain upset with your political leaders if they decide to support your protest?
This is the dilemma that confronts the protestors who are currently marching through the streets of Brazil. President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers Party has ordered its supporters to join the massive demonstrations.
The protestors appear to be rebelling against a wide variety of government policies, from public transportation fare increases to the brief criminalization of kitchen vinegar. Underlying this dissatisfaction, of course, is a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the priorities of the democratically elected government.
Similar protests have been staged in Turkey over the development of a public park, and throughout the European Union over the impact of fiscal austerity policies. Even the United States has experienced widespread protests, from the conservative uprisings of the Tea Party to the progressive sit-ins of Occupy Wall Street.
Most government leaders, of course, have adopted policies that are far less accommodating than Rousseff’s. Prime Ministers Erdogan of Turkey and Papandreou of Greece have confronted demonstrators with paramilitary forces, while New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his peers in other American cities have cleared public plazas with local police officers.
Unlike the public protests of the late twentieth century, though, these marchers do not wish to overturn their systems of government. In this respect, they are entirely different than their predecessors who marched in eastern Europe in 1989, in the Philippines in the 1980s, and in India throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Those protests brought democratic governments to hundreds of millions of citizens.
These contemporary protestors, in contrast, are already enjoying the benefits of representative democracy, and are attempting to influence public opinion with their activities. As a result, although they aim to weaken their current political administrations, they are likely strengthening the pillars of democratic government itself.