What Democracy Looks Like

MondayâÄôs protest march on the Republican National Convention was a characteristic amalgamation of almost every modern âÄúliberalâÄù cause: a group of garishly-dressed anti-war women sporting phallic missiles, 9/11 truthers, animal welfare activists, even one lonely person demanding that the government honor Dakota treaties. A variety of chants arose from the various parties, but perhaps most memorable and widespread was the slogan âÄúthis is what democracy looks like.âÄù Although unintentional, this rallying cry was less a political statement than a pertinent mantra on the state of our democracy. On one hand, the groups on the march represented both the rich plurality of opinion in American society and the freedom of those groups to march and protest. Yet there was virtually no consensus among them. Protesters easily slid from one group and one message to another âÄî an interchangeability that seemed to reflect a unanimous lack of focus rather than a unity of shared diversity. Then self-proclaimed anarchists âÄì subject to police raids last weekend âÄî ran amok, smashing windows, attacking police, and prompting the dispatch of the National Guard. Media outlets reported at press time that about 100 had been arrested, seven of whom would face felony charges. All of this comes on the tail of months of litigation. Protest groups fought to acquire permits from the city of St. Paul, suing for their right to protest. In the end, these groups proudly set out from the capital, only to be funneled into a cage-like enclosure erected at an inoffensive distance from the Xcel Energy Center, all the while beset by a small army of police. Those who chose to trek through the caged walkway caught a glimpse of an empty pavilion, with only police and the occasional news camera to witnesses to the event. In the end, it was a partisan spectacle upstaged by violence and ignored by an indifferent vote-economizing opposition while nonpartisans stood in the wings, wishing for goodwill. This is what democracy looks like.