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The Streets of 2012

NEW YORK – What does the New Year hold for the global wave of protest that erupted in 2011? Did the surge of anger that began in Tunisia crest in lower Manhattan, or is 2012 likely to see an escalation of the politics of dissent?

The answers are alarming but quite predictable: we are likely to see much greater centralization of top-down suppression – and a rash of laws around the developed and developing world that restrict human rights. But we are also likely to see significant grassroots reaction.

What we are witnessing in the drama of increasingly globalized protest and repression is the subplot that many cheerleaders for neoliberal globalization never addressed: the power of globalized capital to wreak havoc with the authority of democratically elected governments. From the perspective of global corporate interests, closed societies like China are more business-friendly than troublesome democracies, where trade unions, high standards of human-rights protection, and a vigorous press increase costs.

All over the world, the pushback against protest looks similar, suggesting that state and corporate actors are learning “best practices” for repressing dissent while maintaining democratic facades. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron routinely impugns human-rights laws; the Metropolitan Police have sought authority to use baton rounds – foot-long projectiles that have caused roughly a dozen deaths, including that of children, in Northern Ireland – on peaceful protesters; and a police report on the threat of terrorism, distributed to “trusted partners” among London businesses,included updates about Occupy protests and referred to “suspected activists.”