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Is Democracy Awakening or Dying?

Ted Morgan: What Really Happened to the 1960s? March 1, 2011, New York

Ted Morgan, professor of political science at Lehigh, has devoted much of his career to exploring how democracy, politics and the media have shaped life in the United States.  Morgan sees parallels between that turbulent decade and movements in the Middle East, in the American Midwest and now on Wall Street. In a recent column in the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., as well as in a forthcoming op-ed, Morgan argues that democracy is under attack and that Americans should see the Arab Spring and other pro-democracy movements as a wake-up call.

“What passes for normal politics in the United States — the kind the mass media shows us — is supposedly democracy at work,” said Morgan. “Yet for a long time it hasn't been working, and it's a far cry from actual democracy in which government responds to the people. Almost nothing our normal politics produce matches what people want from government.”

Morgan contends that the mass, corporate media has failed to understand the Wall Street protesters and their multi-layered messages. Instead, they rely on titillating images of police in riot gear to secure ratings.

It is merely one example of the media failing to reflect public opinion, says Morgan. Opinion polls routinely indicate the public’s interest in a national, single-payer health care system, increased taxation of the wealthiest Americans, the return of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and increased regulation of the environment.

Instead, says Morgan, Washington awards corporations with the same rights as people, union bargaining rights are curtailed and voter laws nationwide are becoming more stringent.

 “Those of us in the majority — working class and middle class, unions and community activists — must join together to take back our democracy,” said Morgan.

Morgan has advice for those participating in the Wall Street protests. “Understand that mass media outlets are great at conveying images, not messages,” said Morgan. “Good protests also focus on images, as they are the piece of protests that get distributed in a modern age.”

Morgan also contends that media will attempt to ignore the reasons for the protest in favor of the sexier news of a potentially chaotic, even violent protest. “The best bet for protesters to reach a so-called tipping point, is to engage other groups,” said Morgan. “Reaching out to unions, to like-minded groups and national chapters, are the best ways to secure continued funding and support.”

In the end, Morgan remains hopeful. “Despite being largely dismissed by mainstream media and harassed, if not brutalized, by New York police, Occupy Wall Street is sending a wake-up call to the rest of the nation: Americans, your democracy is being stolen from you, and it's time to take it back.”

Ted Morgan is a professor of political science at Lehigh University. His book, "What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Failed American Democracy," will be released in paperback in November.

Story by Jordan Reese

Posted on Wednesday, November 02, 2011

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