One of the most basic forms of democratic engagement besides voting comes from mass peaceful protests. It is difficult to ignore millions of people demanding the end of your political career, especially when it occurs en masse as it happened again in Brazil this week. Nothing will ruin your morning more than a horizon filled with people saying they dislike you, often in many different forms and with colorful language.
Focusing on Brazil and its active democracy should be important to anyone who respects real democratic values. Historic protests have brought millions of people to the streets in response to what many have called Brazil’s largest corruption scandal to date. Irrespective of your political position in your own country, it is difficult to ignore millions marching with one general goal in mind. I suggest applying these variables to all situations of democratic deficit.
One of the first rules as a newly elected President is to never assume that because you garnered a lot of votes in an election, even a majority vote, that it is a license to apply policies without acknowledging the existence and legitimate interests of a strong opposition. Ignoring large segments of a society and their interests is increasingly divisive, and political attacks post-election do more to alienate and strengthen your opponents than it does to activate your own base.
Another act that should be avoided is using your position of power to treat political allies differently than average citizens. When political leaders use ministerial appointments to prevent the judicial system from applying local criminal law against well connected individuals, even if it is legal, such actions dissolves all public credibility for that political leader. Even legal dodgy practices can be seen by the public as corruption.
Often the more legitimate a ruling government claims to be, the more harm it will cause by polarizing the masses. Often doubling down on such acts becomes the norm as political leaders scurry to save their careers and avoid prison, but in all good democracies defeat is inevitable when demanded by its citizens.
A common error that tends to exacerbate already existing problems is to spend its way out of a crisis. Distracting specific groups by creating policies that essentially throw money at them in exchange for political support is not uncommon; it does however become a problem when this is done solely for partisan gains at the costs of political opponents. Institutionalizing a policy of have and have nots creates an inverse relationship between justice and democracy that is intolerable to fair-minded citizens.
While achieving perfect fairness is never a simple task, to place a weighted finger on the scale of political allies without a reasonable policy goal is to cast fairness to the winds. Citizens will be made to live in an unbearable situation while the elites of the day humiliate them.
This is what has occurred in Brazil under current President Dilma Rousseff and the Worker’s Party, and it has generated record numbers of protestors in the streets. While Brazil is not the classic example of modern democratic republics or parliamentary democracies, it is one of the best cases of a modern democracy attempting to purge itself from institutionally corrupt practices. Anyone who believes in democratic ideals will understand why the Brazilian protests matter, and likely will take similar peaceful actions in their own communities.