Governments are now the least trusted institutional globally, according to public opinion polls. Their constituents think their elected lawmakers are doing a poor job meeting their needs and addressing life-threatening crises like extreme climate disruption. The result is low voter turnout, protests, confrontations, civil disobedience, and even violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement agents.
A number of governments are responding with efforts to limit and even suppress these manifestations of popular discontent. They are using a variety of means “to shut down the ability of citizens to collectively organise and mobilise,” according to a recent article in the Guardian International. These governments include those that have previously been regarded as well-established democracies.
Irrespective of these efforts, there appears to be a silver lining in these clouds. Danny Sriskandarajah, head of Civicus, a global civil society alliance, points to what appears to be the beginning of a “participation revolution” where “people are using the internet to empower themselves. “At a time when established political institutions are losing trust the world over, they’re organising in very different ways with the digital tools at their disposal. That poses a fundamental threat the world over to established power.”
Needless to say, the repressive aftermath of the “Arab Spring”, during which large segments of the populations in countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region mobilized against repressive regimes, sets off cautionary alarm bells. But these repressions may prove to be short-lived in the longer-term scheme of things. After all, the planet is populated by more than 7 billion people longing to be free and have democratic governments that they control. While we keep seeing new ways and means by which a small number of people are trying to control and stifle dissent by massive numbers of people, it’s clear to optimists like myself which side is going to win in the end.