Democracy happens in places and with crowds

Tahrir Square demonstrations
Tahrir Square Demonstrations 2011

In Community, Democracy, and Performance, I spent a chapter looking at how festivals opened up the street in a manner that could reenact the moments when the crowd asserted its role in civil society. “Celebrations in Cities: public spheres/public spaces” reexamined the fear of the crowd, and the value of crowd moments in the history of democracy. “Let’s now return to the festival, and to the movement of people across national boundaries, and how festival production can loosen the grip that the nationally domesticated space holds over the city. A civil democracy is realized through actions taken by its citizenry. This use of the street for demonstrations of civic belonging and collective celebration or protest is not merely window-dressing for the mass media.”

Today we salute the people of Egypt and their weeks of democratic crowd moments—moments that have awakened a new space for democracy in that ancient place. Tahrir Square will now be a space for the civil crowd, and a place where reenactments of civic participation will remember these weeks, and also the people who died.

In Community, Democracy, and Performance, I expressed a concern about the lack of such founding moments/places in the city of Kyoto. What did that lack mean for the daily performance of democracy? The same might be said about Baghdad. When your democracy is delivered by Donald Rumsfeld and a foreign army, how do you reenact this as a feature of daily life? How do you own it? Egypt will not need to face such questions. They bought their democracy in the streets, and they can return to the same streets at any time to remember and reassert their national public sphere.

Photo Credit: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

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