Progressive America Rising via Washington Post
August 12, 2011 - There’s something exciting, sometimes terrifying, about people taking to the streets to get what they want. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, they gathered to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. In Athens, demonstrators set up a gallows in front of Parliament, threatening the socialist government, which was imposing austerity measures in the face of 15 percent unemployment. Most recently, in London and across England, young people have assembled at night, looting stores and burning cars to demand — well, that’s not clear yet.
Although saints and psychopaths will take great risks in the service of their beliefs, most people are a little more calculating. People protest when they believe that something is wrong, that it could be otherwise, and that their efforts are both necessary and potentially effective.
There’s a long and proud history of Americans standing up for what they want, dating back, at least, to the original tea party in Boston in 1773. That tea party grew into a revolution and ultimately produced a government that would not be so easy to topple. The American political system is structured to channel anger and discontent into political institutions. James Madison, the genius behind the Constitution, envisioned a system of government that would embrace dissent and offer malcontents the hope, however distant, that they can get what they want by working through it. Protesters who start in the streets envision themselves, or at least their causes, entering the halls of power.