Thursday, 10 January 2008

Dominic Rich, Did the Republican National Convention protests achieve Jacques Rancière’s interpretation of equality through ‘political struggle’?

In ‘The Politics of Aesthetics’ Jacques Rancière shares his notion of equality, which is better described as egality. It suggests an extreme levelling of social hierarchies through political struggle. For Rancière a political struggle manifests between these established social hierarchies as the excluded ‘part which has no part’; the unrepresented who attempt to establish their opinion as legitimate in the name of egality. Can Rancière’s notion of political struggle be compared to the events that unfolded during The Republic National Convention (RNC) in Madison Gardens New York, 2004?

The purpose of the RNC is to nominate a Presidential candidate; in 2004 George W Bush was standing for re-nomination. The announcement of the RNC’s venue caused a legal protest to be organised. The protester’s main gripes were the conceived inequalities in the present electoral system, Republican suppression of voters, not to mention the Bush administrations aggressive foreign policy.

Protesting can be a good and legal attempt to get objections heard and understood by an established power. But were their objections heard? Did the protest show the world that America’s indirect voting system misrepresented the electorate? Probably not, floors in the American electoral system have been globally understood for a long time. Did the Bush administration take heed to the significant opposition to the Iraq War? Definitely not! So what effect did the protest have, did it help create egality?

To answer this question the events of the protest must be explained further. On the night of the protest New York’s over zealous police force arrested 1806 people at the protest. One of whom, Mr Dunlop was not active in the protest; he was trying to pick up an order of Sushi from a takeaway. Mr Dunlop was charged with being physically aggressive and resisting arrest. The prosecution gave video evidence of Mr Dunlop that coincided with the charge. However Mr Dunlop’s defence submitted the same ‘unedited’ video evidence showing Mr Dunlop accepting arrest in a passive manner. This video footage proved that the police had given false evidence and that the prosecution had tampered with the original video footage. The case was dismissed along with 90% of the charges brought against the protesters. This scandal was scrutinised by the media, the term ‘Testilying’ became the buzz word to denote the corrupt behaviour of the NYC police force. The questions were asked, if it were not for the presence of independent ‘videographers’, would so many of the charges have been dismissed? Would the corruption have been exposed?

Since the inclusion of cameras to mobile phones almost everybody is an independent ‘videographer’, such events can be recorded almost by chance. Established Western governments’ use of surveillance can be seen as a psychologically and spatially intrusive form of control; it does not simply monitor spaces and events, it instills the fear of being watched into its people; causing self policing. In this case video technology monitored the activity of New York’s’ law enforcement, exposing corruption within it. This growth of a technologically equipped public may force the New York Police force to self police.

The RNC protest did not destroy the social order or create egality. It did not cause a revision of the electoral system or affect Bush’s foreign policy. However, Rancière’s notion of equality does not state that the destruction of a social order is necessary for an act to be considered a political struggle; the attempt to create change is enough. The video technology did enforce an individual’s right to act within the law, and the enforcer’s obligation to abide by the law. Although the RNC protesters’ real effect was coincidental and fortuitous the consequences were dependant on the initial malcontent and action of the protesters. This effect can be seen as a disruption if not a minor reconfiguration of hierarchies. Rancière’s interpretation of equality has not been met, but a change has been made.

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