This morning we begin the count down to the inauguration of President-elect Obama. There are many security-related topics that are going to arise in the coming weeks, not least, the physical threat to the President-elect and pressure on the Secret Service. Thus far the plots that have been made public were strictly C Team efforts – I don’t envy the members of the Secret Service in intercepting the A Team.
However, this is not my immediate concern. On the morning when the leading elements of Obama’s financial team are already on their way up to the Treasury Department to occupy the recently cleared space for them to be involved in the decision making, I think it is important for us to look at the crowd dynamics of the past weeks, and extrapolate what that could mean over the next eight years.
This election, an election defined using words like change and hope, has motivated whole segments of society that felt disenfranchised and dislocated from the political process. These are the people who queued for over five hours in pre-determined states like California to vote early. These elements of society have been inspired to join the political process, have been inspired to join rallies and voting queues, to advocate strongly for their candidate and to take part. Any belief that these people will simply fade back into disenfranchised disinterest is very misguided.
What will happen if these people believe that President Obama isn’t delivering on his promises? We all know that change takes time, but some voters have a perception that Inauguration Day is magic wand day, and I don’t believe that some elements of these newly enabled segments of society are going to be willing to wait two, let alone four, years to communicate their discontent through the ballot box. The strong possibility arises of protests taking place against the background of a more human rights driven presidency, potentially enabling federal law enforcement to take a more active interest in the policing of protests and the such.
It is my belief that the Chief of Police in St. Paul did not do great at his job during the RNC, rather, that he “got away with it”. He did have successes, but overall the policing of the RNC was pitifully inadequate in some ways and exceptionally aggressive in others. I do not believe that in two years a similar situation would be judged acceptable, nor would the whitewash review conducted by someone whose knowledge of policing crowd activities rivalled my ability to design, build, launch into space and successfully download images from the Hubble Telescope or map human DNA.
Police departments now should be considering at least two potential sources of protests: the short term threat of financially motivated discontent such as industrial unrest, and the more medium term threat of a feeling of failure, of being duped, driving anti-establishment protests. If these protests do occur, there is the possibility that they will turn uglier than protests in the past, effectively becoming Frankenstein’s Monsters, segments of the population who were enabled, emboldened and activated by the Obama campaign, and who will feel betrayed. This is not an overly likely scenario, but one that if it transpires, will be particularly contentious and embarrassing for all involved.
Whatever happens, there are now whole new segments of society invigorated or reinvigorated about politics – they will be a force to watch.