Published on March 11th, 2013 |
by Jonah Werth
Image © Jonah Werth
Holding the elite accountable
Last Wednesday I encountered an incident when boarding the packed tube carriage at Camden Town underground station. It was 8:30am rush hour, and as I maneuvered my limbs, like a game of tetris, to slot in with my fellow commuters, I heard a shout.
“If someone touches my bum one more time, I will slap them”.
Following the swiveling heads and muted gasps towards the aggressive passenger, a small suited man spoke up and apologised for his swaying backpack, which possibly knocked the angry passengers on the bum. However, this ‘rush-hour apology’, which we hear daily for accidentally trodden on toes, was not enough for the irate passenger, who then ordered the suited man and his backpack to get off the train.
Perhaps it was the relative size difference of the two men, or the fact that another train could only have been a minute behind, but the man and his back pack decided to get off immediately. Now, what stunned me was not the obedience of the innocent commuter, nor the coldness of the aggressors coercion, but the deafening silence that cloistered the packed carriage. We were all immobilized in our kindles, our ipods and our personal bubbles of protection to the extent that no one could hold this train bully accountable and, furthermore, tell him to get off the train.
Now, we have all at some point experienced the phenomenon of “the bystander effect”, aka apathy, but don’t we also see this on the grander political stage? Let’s take Berlusconi, Italy’s viagra fueled ex Prime Minster who was sentenced this week to a year in jail for illegal publication in a newspaper. He may not fit our villain archetype, as well as, say, Assad or Putin, but behind the comedy of the Italian circus there is a political tragedy.
The outcomes of the election last month was gridlock, with neither centre right or centre left coalitions gaining an outright majority. Berlusconi, who was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 2011 down to the crumbling Italian economy, still managed to lead his right-wing People of Freedom (PdL) movement to nearly 30% of the vote in second place, a whisker behind Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democratic Party. As a result, Berlusconi plays a vital role in the formation of an Italian government, despite a horrendous political image and his recent prison sentence. Yet, what was more shocking than Berlusconi’s vote share was that, despite Italians experiencing their country’s worst recession since the 1930s, only 55% turned up to vote, the lowest percentage since World War II.
Both examples I have experienced this week underline the salience of finding your voice and demonstrate the crippling immobilism of staying schtum as well as swallowing the status-quo. Politics, according to Karl Popper, was not about producing the best outcomes, but “getting rid of the rulers without revolution”. Thus, in order to hold incompetent political elites and intimidating passengers to account, we need to remove our headphones of fear and apathy from our ear and stand up for what we want. Only then can we confront the Bully-sconies, tell them to get off the train and let us get on with our collective journey.