The death of modern democracy?

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The year of political absurdity. In that year alone, we saw two major upsets on the political world stage: Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. While both events were large political unexpecteds, only one of the two created a violent tension between two opposing parties. The likes of which can still be felt to this day.

Trump was elected on 8 November 2016, leading to much widespread anger among the American public, most notably among the supporters of Hillary Clinton who felt that she had been cheated by the American voting system, namely the electoral college, as their candidate had won the popular vote, meaning she had received more votes overall for the American public. This anger eventually and, sadly, rather rapidly led to violence on the streets. A mere four days after Trump’s ascent to office, there were riots in cities across America, one such example being in Portland, Oregon. In this riot (as declared by the Portland police service) over 4,000 people rallied at the centre of the American city and were captured smashing storefronts, throwing objects at police and setting rubbish bins ablaze. This riot was reactionary to the Trump administration because the state of Oregon had overwhelmingly voted for the Democrat party in the 2016 elections. In the aftermath, 26 arrests were made, however, there were no serious medical injuries.

Riot police were called to Portland to deal with the ensuing violence

This would not be the end of violence in America regarding their politics. Another better-known example of a protest against democracy was that found at UC Berkeley; protests are still going on at Berkeley to this day. The violence at Berkeley started because a right-wing provocateur named Milo Yiannopoulos was invited by members of the student body to make a speech at Berkeley. Many people were greatly opposed to this as, in their opinion, Milo spread hate speech and as thus should not be platformed. At the start of the protests, this was protested peacefully with over 100 UC Berkeley staff members signing a petition to stop this speech. However, when this petition failed and the day came for the speech (1 February 2017) protesters gathered outside the front steps of the Sproul Hall to peacefully protest this speaker. This was until approximately 150 members of organisations such as B.A.M.N. (By Any Means Necessary) and Antifa Anti-fascists) formed a tactic called the Black Bloc.

The “Black Bloc” is a tactic used by protesters in groups such as Antifa. It has been used worldwide, such as in Hamburg in 2017.

When the Black Bloc formed in Berkeley, the violence started. The new wave of violent protesters set fires in the university, smashed windows in buildings, and threw projectiles at the police; this was alongside the protesters assaulting many members of the public who were there to counter-protest, or even those who refused to become violent but still wished to protest the speech. The Black Bloc grew in size as it marched downtown after it was ordered to disperse due to the event being cancelled out of safety concerns. As the Bloc moved through the streets, the violence followed with buildings being vandalised or looted and other innocent bystanders being assaulted, such as an unnamed Syrian Muslim immigrant who was pepper-sprayed and then hit with a rod by a protester who shouted at the man “You look like a Nazi.” Once again this was a case of a peaceful protest turning violent. Police were told to hold back, so no arrests were made.

This surge of political violence has not been solely confined to the USA. As mentioned above, Hamburg fell foul to the actions of Antifa and the Black Bloc during July 2017 when the “Welcome to Hell” march took place to protest the actions taken by world leaders of the upcoming G20 summit being help in the city. In total, over 12,000 people turned out to join the protest march from the city harbour to the venue for the summit and, while many turned out with the intent to protest peacefully as is their right, they were soon dragged into the ensuing melee between the Hamburg police and protesters, a mere 300 metres into the march. 74 police officers had to be treated for injuries, although mostly minor, and water cannons had to be used to disperse the crowd of Black Bloc protestors. The violence allegedly started when police asked members of the Black Bloc to remove their masks. Later on in the evening, another peaceful protest was started with 8,000 members which was once again sabotaged by the Black Bloc, hearing of the march taking place. Cars were set on fire and firecrackers were thrown at police.

Buildings were looted and cars set alight during the G20 Hamburg riots

Recently we saw political violence in Catalonia over there controversial referendum vote, with upwards of 8000 Guardia Civil raiding government offices on 20 September 2017, taking many political prisoners from the department for economics, foreign affairs, social affairs and many others, simply because they were believed to have information about the referendum. Violence was also used by the Guardia Civil during the vote itself, with many members of the electorate being assaulted by the Spanish National police as they tried to enter the polling stations. In total 12 political prisoners were taken and hundreds of arrests made during the run-up to this election.

My opinion

We have entered a new, terrifying age of politics where political violence is seen as a golden opportunity rather than as a last resort. In many ways, this reminds me of the actions taken by the suffragettes in the early 20th century, where violence and direct activism was seen as the only possible method to achieve the designated political goal. However, what many of these modern-day, violent protest groups fail to remember, or choose to forget, is that the suffragettes also were able to stop their violent campaign, and were able to speak with the government when asked, even helping them during the first world war.

However, even more terrifying are the actions that we have seen taken by governments. The actions taken in Madrid, or by any other government that condones political violence of any sort, are simply inexcusable. It is never acceptable to harm any other human simply because of their beliefs, whether you are the government or a protest group. To those attempting to protest peacefully in these trying times, I salute you for remaining calm in such a trying and violent era that we find ourselves in, and I am sorry that your message for genuine change is destroyed by the actions of the violent, illegitimate and cowardly minority.

It is sad that democracy seems to be suffering from the actions of a few minorities.