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Protests Within a Deliberative Democracy

Protests Within a Deliberative Democracy

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Published by Adam Nisbet
Protests within a Deliberative Democracy
Protests within a Deliberative Democracy

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Published by: Adam Nisbet on Dec 15, 2009
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Adam NisbetCommunication and Public SphereProtest s within a Deliberative D emocracyA deliberative democracy is defined as “a process where citizens voluntarily and freely participate in discussions on public issues (Kim, 361).” By examining the events surroundingthe ongoing debate over health care reform we may further understand the process of adeliberative democracy. A health care protest rally served as the ideal opportunity to record theopinions expressed by citizens involved in political conversation. Observing the rally held onthe Capitol grounds in early November 2009 I was able to assess the formation of public opinionand the characteristics that lead to political participation. The “Tea Bag” protesters joinedtogether to express their opposition to Obama's recent health care proposals. Many protesterswere carrying the symbolic "Don't Tread on Me" flag while others held handcrafted signs withvarious statements. I chose to create my own sign expressing a divergent opinion: “I NEEDHEALTHCARE PLEASE!?” While my intention was to remain a silent observer the resoundingresponse to the sign necessitated further involvement.The goal of this experiment is to understand how groups such as these, with such ferventopinions, are initially formed. By observing the groups behavior, and their social constructs, atheory may be extrapolated to explain how communication leads to political expression within adeliberative democracy. From this study it can be estimated that a protest must be composed of individuals sharing the same strongly held opinions, reinforced by internal conversation, andthen called upon by a communicator or a public figure to participate in political action.Furthermore, protests are more likely to bring together people whose world view is interpretedthrough a narrow, issue-focused, selection of news media.
While designing the experiment I wanted to focus on recording responses to visualstimuli, the sign, and how that affected communication within the protest group. There weremany quotes, actions, and responses recorded at the event that will serve as the data. Byinterpreting the data we can demonstrate how the protest group embodies what Katz labels as thefour components of deliberative democracy: news media use, political conversation, opinionformation, and political participation” (Kim, 361)." Furthermore, by reviewing the social behavior of the protest group we can illustrate theories such as pluralistic ignorance, the effect of limited media exposure, the spiral of silence, cross-cutting relationships and even the third person effect.Casual and intimate political conversation between an individual and their peers may beone of the strongest factors that lead one to political action. "It is through such conversation thatcitizens can bridge their personal experiences with the political worlds out there, Politicalconversation often happens in the private sphere, but (a) its inputs (e.g., information, topics, andissues) come from outside the private sphere, particularly from the political system and the political world, and (b) its outputs (e.g., public opinions, issue positions, voting preferences, participatory activities) are fed back into the political system and the political world (Kim pg.2)." The protesters felt that by expressing their opinion in this public space they could “claim aright that their opinions should influence or determine the actions, or structure, of their government (Speier, 376).” The protestors were unified behind a certain cause and they truly believed that by protesting they were protecting their own interests. The demonstrators sharedan overwhelming pride in having their own employer based health insurance programs and feltthat the new government proposal might interfere with their personal health care decisions. Thisidea is best represented by one gentleman’s response to my sign: "You want health insurance, pay for it your own damn self! I sure as hell ain’t payin’ for you!”
"Schudson (1997) argues that political talk in democracy must have certain purposes:solving conflicts, deciding public policies, or protecting one's own interests before the public."Many other theorists including Habermas, Kim, and Barber, believe that privately held opinionsare expressed in conversation and that they "inspire powerful conviction (Kim, 362)." Bygrouping together, the protesters were galvanizing their resistant voice and strengthening personally held convictions (Kim, 363). In the example of a protest, political conversationclearly relates to participatory activity.The press is another essential element in starting political conversation that eventuallyleads to political participation. Since Tardes’ earliest writings scholars have built upon the ideathat opinions are formed privately and then through conversation may spur political action. Katzuses this summary: "(a) The newspaper fuels conversation, (b) conversation shapes opinion, and(c) opinion triggers action (Katz, 363).” When people enter a dialogue concerning their opinionsthey perceive whether others agree or disagree, when an individual finds someone who they feelagrees with their point of view they feel a stronger bond and also have a higher inclination to participate in political activity. An individuals’ opinion may be privately held but it is not untilafter assessing the opinions of others in their surroundings that an individual may decide to takeaction or express their opinion to the public. Noelle-Neumann believes that when an individual feels they belong to a majority group itencourages them to participate in political talk, share their views, and even participate in acts of  public expression of opinions (Kim 365). People within a protest grouping, bound together bytheir shared opinions, do not intend to come in contact with others who diverge from their opinion. Participants are more willing to engage in arguing, shouting, or ridiculing peopleexpressing opposing opinions when they perceive they are within the majority opinion, whichwas the case at the site of the protest. “Get a job kid!”, was the primary response I received

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