"Democracy thrives on the interplay of formal representative institutions and the energies of civil society and the voices and noise of the streets."
For those of us who operate in the spaces of civil society, citizen led social action and social movements, Seyla Benhabib in an interview in Dissent magazine The Gezi Park Protests and the Future of Turkish Politics poses some important questions arising from the wave of global recent protests that swept through Turkey, Brazil, the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe.
Benhabib explores the implications of the recent protests across Turkey, particularly the protests that took place in Gezi Park in Istanbul.
One of the critical questions posed by Benhabib is whether this global wave of protest can transform itself into some form of organized presence in representative democratic institutions.
These new protests are also the cries of anguish of a new generation who is facing a bleak economic future—at least in Europe and the United States. There is a deep generational anxiety that is galvanizing these protests, with twenty-somethings realizing their prospects may be worse than those of their parents for the first time since the Second World War.
The student movement of 1968 was also global and had spectacular qualities. But principally this movement was guided by varieties of left-wing ideology. There were certain categories through which the world was interpreted, such as imperialism. Today, neoliberal globalization has scrambled our old categories: who are the imperialists? The United States, or China, or Saudi Arabia, all of which are exercising hegemony and regional influence in different ways?
Today’s movements are more diffuse ideologically and programmatically; they cherish politics in the first person more than conceptual abstractions; they are pragmatic and, at their best, they want a deliberative voice and the power to shape the whirling and buzzing vortex of globalization around them. For me, the question for the coming decades will be whether this contentious political energy, which I find so beautiful and hopeful, can translate into some vision of a better future society. There is, at the present, a huge “democratic disconnect” between the street and the parliaments, the public square and the courthouse.
By contrast, the student movement of 1968 took the “long march through the institutions” and produced the political leaders of the next generation, such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Joschka Fischer, and Otto Schilly in Germany; Bernard Kouchner in France; and in the United States, Jesse Jackson, Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and even Barack Obama, who in no small measure owes his political orientation to his mother, a child of the sixties. Will this also be the case with your generation? I don’t know.