Structuring the Dissent
“Black lives matter”, “Chayiye humko Aazadi”, “How dare you” and many more slogans screamed by thousands of protestors in unity to question the decisions of the authority figures. The news of the death of George Floyd has shaken up the whole nation of the United States of America giving rise to mass protests taking place all over the country. It was not long ago that India was going through the same phase in which citizens started opposing the Citizen Amendment Act. Every year in every democracy dissent takes place in different forms on different issues by different voices.
According to J William Fulbright, dissent is an act of faith towards democracy. All political leaders will agree to that on paper. But in reality, the process of opposing the government is received in three lenses. First are those, who view dissent as a sign of not trusting your government, an act of terrorism. They are ridiculed by protestors and see them as people responsible for creating havoc in society for no apparent cause. Second are those, who understand their right but are so overwhelmed by the anger and the need of being heard that they are unable to see the difference between a protest and a riot. The third is the majority, who are confused about their stand. They support the cause; they understand the need for protest and yet are afraid because of how things might get wrong for standing up. Hence, they end up being confined in their thoughts and not do anything.
Democracy has always claimed to work on checks and balances. Dissent is seen as one of the most crucial elements for it to work. Still, we have not found the right balance of dissent in our society. It has been stigmatized, oppressed which in events results in anger, defiance harming the country even more. It is high time to challenge how dissent is organized (or disorganized) in our society. We need to redefine defiance from grass root level going up to the highest level. To structure the dissent there are three issues to be resolved: How it is perceived in the society; How it is conducted and finally How it is responded by authorities.
As it is already discussed that there are many lenses through which the protest is perceived. The variety exists because we have never been taught to accept one. Just studying the one-liner in school, “We have the right to peaceful protest” is not enough to accumulate the complexity of the situation. In addition to that, schools and colleges ban any kind of protest by their student. Due to this, the students perceive protest as a crime even later in life. This lays a seed in their mind that to be heard they should commit crimes.
To change the perception from an early age in school, we need to include a substantial amount of context on protesting in a democracy. This might include having a mock protest, learning the psychology of protestors and the right way to conduct it. This will aid us on several grounds, future citizens will understand the importance of dissent and future leaders will not see protest as a sign of threat rather a part of the system.
Introduction of National Protest Day in which the citizens can celebrate their right of dissent. Media houses educate the masses of the historical protest which changed the democracy for the best. This will help to take the negativity associated with opposing your governing regime.
After understanding the true sense of dissent, the next step is how to conduct one. Often, we have seen that negative elements hijack a peaceful protest converting it in a riot. This issue can be tackled by creating a third-party organization where every protest has to register. It should mention their cause, their participating members, the place the protest will take place. Every individual will get a name-tag for protesting so that the negative elements can easily be identified filtering from the people who actually stand with the cause. This also will give the confused people who want to stand up but don’t know how a platform to meet like-minded people and not get manipulated by extremists.
One of the points raised by protestors is that they are not being heard by the authorities unless they do not resort to illegal activities. Media channels only cover those activities which do not confirm by law. The government has no obligation to respond to the protestors which seem highly disorganized in a democracy. The desperation of being heard is transformed into anger resulting in violence. What we need to do is to take this desperation out of the equation. Finally, coming to the point of how dissent should be responded by authorities.
A committee should be appointed by the government whose only job will be to be the point of contact between the protestors and the authority figures. The protestors can present their case to these people who would in turn present it to the government. The necessity of the committee to respond to the dissent will take desperation out of protestors. A skilled negotiation committee will preciously hear the complaints of the protestors and responses by the government so that all of them can reach to a conclusion.
Our nation has fought centuries to get individual liberty, to get democracy, to stop oppression by those who rule it. All of this depends on the ability to question those who rule it. The measures given above will be a forward step toward structuring our dissent so that its power can be significantly used. It is important to understand that change does not come in a single night but repetitive efforts. The effort we need today is just to realize that the structure of dissent is highly unorganized and oppressed. When this settles down, major changes will not be far away.