An incidence of direct but hardly democratic action came to the fore in Drogheda recently where there were reports of:
rowdy scenes in the council chamber of the Borough District of Drogheda this evening as Councillors trying to conduct their monthly meeting were continually interrupted by a group of six or seven protestors in the public gallery.
There is a tendency by those within polite society who are intellectually and emotionally embedded in a rule of law perspective, regardless of the ethics of the law, to look on aghast when their comfort zone has been penetrated, viewing it as unbecoming behaviour from enemies of democracy.
Despite their protestations, elected representative do a pretty thorough job of disrupting people’s lives outside of the debating chambers so that the rich and the bankers may continue to have a quiet, prosperous and very profitable life. As Charlotte Church retorted to one of her Tory critics, outraged that she protested on the streets of Cardiff:
Perhaps he thinks I should get back to the ironing and stop babbling on about air-headed notions such as protecting the NHS (a system that he himself has been most mobile in attacking), fighting for a fairer society (a concept that entirely eludes his party), and championing the plight of those in society who are less privileged than me. Perhaps he wants to quiet me because I threaten his status as a wealthy, privately educated, white male.
Although there might be little need to wax empathy for elected reps in their
discomfort, the people who elected them merit something different. Representative democracy while considerably more mediated than direct democracy is democratic nonetheless, not because of the wafflers in chambers but because of the people who cast their vote to place them there. There is sufficient material within Marxist literature outside of the authoritarian vanguard school to remind us of the dangers of dispensing with representative democracy in favour of its more direct version alone.
Direct democracy, by which I mean direct democracy in the soviet sense only, has always and everywhere been accompanied by the suppression of the plurality of parties, and then the suppression of political and formal liberties.
In the Drogheda case the people in the council chamber have a greater democratic endorsement to conduct their affairs than others have for disrupting them during the course of council business.
A more sinister dimension to the Drogheda event than the noisy in-your-face upfront protest is the menacing activity that came in the wake of the night's events. No matter what position is adopted toward the disruption, or the justification that might be made on its behalf, it seems vital that wherever politics are being played out, the media should be able to report on it. The attempt to suppress the reporting of local Drogheda Life editor, Andy Spearman, is sinister and is a direct action against democracy rather than a direct assertion of it.
The editor felt so disconcerted by the commination he was subjected to that he postponed an article, claiming it was the first time he had "capitulated" in forty years. The pulled report seemed standard local newspaper fare, no more controversial than local court reporting: certainly nothing for any body to get upset over. There is no right to be protected from opinion that offends and every right for opinion to offend. According to Andy Spearman:
I withdrew the article not because it was untrue, defamatory or libellous, but because I began receiving abusive phone calls from so-called activists only one of whom would give me their name ... During the course of the day I received 17 calls ranging in ferocity from simple requests to remove the piece to vile, foul-mouthed threats on me and my home.
Although initially disconcerted the editor soon regained his composure and took a stand against those who were trying to silence him:
Sorry pal, I don’t give into threats from people who are afraid to show their faces or use their correct names. Facebook makes it very easy for the faceless to become judge and jury on almost anything and anybody – even if they haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.
In this defence of free inquiry Spearman was doing more for a democratic culture than those seeking to intimidate him, asserting democratic rights in the face of attempts to subvert them.
Index On Censorship recently mapped out the type of intimidatory situations that journalists are confronted with as they go about their work. Fear is not an exotic lethal cocktail served up in far off places. It happens here at home, on our streets to our journalists, against the editor of Drogheda Life. If people don't like what Andy Spearman writes there are ways of telling him that are not shelling him.