I have written before about Avaaz.org. Mostly positive, but also critical of its tendency to political hyperbole. That said, I shall continue to sign Avaaz petitions, and am confident that this form of mass-market, direct democracy has a constructive role to play in civil society.
It doesn’t help, though, to see Avaaz get carried away with itself, and not just on a cloud of environmental hot air. Today, Avaaz has emailed subscribers with yet another self-congratulatory screed extolling its vision of people’s democracy…
“Something big is happening. From Tahrir Square to Wall St., from staggeringly brave Avaaz citizen journalists in Syria to millions of citizens winning campaign after campaign online, democracy is stirring. Not the media-circus, corrupt, vote-every-4-years democracy of the past. Something much, much deeper. Deep within ourselves, we are realizing our own power to build the world we all dream of.
“The march of democracy is sweeping the world, and everywhere it’s rising, Avaaz is there.”
Heady stuff, this political march of the penguins, and not even wrong. The “vote-every-4-years democracy” dismissed by Avaaz and its alternative media circus is that of the here and now. It is flawed, as are we all, but representative democracy underpins the freedom and social dynamism of liberal societies. Representative democracy works with and not in opposition to civil society, and both are required for the efficient and just management of a complex and populous society.
Back in the real world, I see that Chinese democrat Chen Wei has just been sentenced to nine years in prison for “subversion of state power”. Chen is reported to have told the court in Suining that “democracy will prevail” in China. That sounds to me like a statement of faith rather than evidence-based politics, but it is a faith I share, if only because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate. In the meantime, champions of democracy such as Avaaz would do well to focus their efforts on real-world problems and solutions. Mr Chen could do with a helping hand.