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Demanding Change

Worldwide Social Activism

by GRAHAM PEEBLES

Change is afoot. Confronted with state corruption and corporate greed, abuse of human rights, environmental chaos and extreme levels of economic and social injustice, the people, overwhelmingly the young are taking to the streets demanding change, and a new political/economic system, that is inclusive and just.

“Nothing happens by itself man must act and implement his will”, so said a wise man. And indeed with growing unity and confidence, people throughout the world are expressing their collective will and crying out for, freedom, justice and equality, and to be listened to, by governments and international institutions; The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, (IMF) central banks and other international institutions. Global bodies, with enormous power, which influence and fashion economic frameworks that impact the lives of billions of people. Divisive, ideologically rooted policies designed to serve the interests of corporations and multi national companies that increasingly influence government policy, are causing suffering and anxiety amongst millions of people in developed and developing countries; Unjust policies reinforcing inequality and injustice and a neo-liberal economic system in critical decay, that has failed the majority of humanity completely – the 99.9% that have taken to the streets in huge numbers throughout the world.

Of course there is always protest and demonstrations, but the current movement seems different, feels new. Since the Berlin wall was torn from its foundations in 1989, Germany unified and the Soviet Union dissolved, the momentum for freedom and justice and the collective power of the people has been growing.

The scale and breadth of recent protests is unprecedented: people, in many cases suppressed for many years, are awakening demanding participation and social justice. The young lead the charge, seeing clearly the need for a new way of living, one that observes human rights and allows, indeed encourages freedom of expression and new inclusive political systems free from the ideological constraints of the past.

It is a new time, a new millennium, indeed a new cosmic age or cycle, with its unique qualities and creative opportunities. It is a time of transition and lasting change takes time, the impulse of the new is strong the forms, embryonic still. Perennial values of old – freedom and justice, sharing, equality and brotherhood the goals of those pressing for change, values denied by the present systems. New imaginative forms (political/economic and social) are required, which look beyond the current competitive ideas that separate and divide, to a peaceful world at ease with itself, where the basic requirements and human rights of every man woman and child are met, so that all are fed and cared for properly.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), article 25, makes clear that everyone has the right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Rights that under the present unjust system are reserved for those who can afford them.

A system dominated by the ‘market’ that places profit and reward above the wellbeing of people and the health of the planet must be changed and fundamentally. It is such radical, commonsense demands that animate many of those marching in the streets and occupying the squares of some of the world’s great cities.

‘The people have awakened’

Brazil is the latest country to witness mass protests. Enraged by increases in public transport costs, millions took to the streets in June 2013, marching in over 100 cities across the country, in peaceful, often jubilant protest. Fare rises the final unjust straw, unleashing simmering resentment and anger at widespread social injustice, lack of participation in the decision making process and years of government corruption. Together with poor essential public services – health care and education, denied funds, whilst the government is spending millions on major sporting events.

Such issues are found not only in Brazil, but in many countries throughout the world – most perhaps. “The feeling that took so many people to the streets is not only Brazilian, it’s not only Turkish [referring to the nationwide movement that swept through Turkey in June], it is global. It’s bigger than a president, the government”, a protestor told The Guardian (18/06/2013). Exemplifying the mood of the times, she states, the protests are “about an order, a system, our global system. The fact is that we don’t feel represented. We don’t have a voice”. Well now, at last, people the world over are finding their voice. For too long ignored by politicians, elected to serve, but lacking humility all too often serve not, listen not. Ambitious and ideologically driven such men (and they are overwhelmingly men) are blind to the needs and the suffering of the people.

The present ‘global [political-economic] system’ is an out dated construct designed by the elite for the elite, that has fuelled staggering levels of inequality with enormous wealth and control resting in the hands of less than 1% of the population. Branko Milanovic (lead economist in the World Bank research group) in ‘The Haves and Have Not’s: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality’, states “the bottom 77% receive only 20% of the world’s income”, and “a little more than 5% of the world’s population receives 40% of total world income.” Why Poverty report, that in America, the 400 richest people “control more wealth than the bottom households combined, that’s 150 million people” A staggering shameful statistic, in supposedly the richest nation on earth, overflowing with resources, that espouses democratic principles of freedom, equality and justice to all and sundry, whilst pursuing the ideology of separation and division, control and aggression. A country that, whilst 50 million of its citizens rely on food stamps and languish in poverty somehow manages to spend $1 trillion on it’s armed forces, more than the military expenditure of the rest of the world combined.

Beyond income inequality is the unjust, unequal distribution of the world’s resources, including those most basic of needs, food and water. The ‘God given’ resources of the world should, common-sense decrees, be shared equitably amongst the people of the world based at the risk of sounding too radical or utopian, on need, not on the size of ones wallet. Under the present system however, the USA e.g. (with 5% of the worlds population), usurps and wastes 25% of the world’s natural resources, and produces a staggering 30% of pollutants. It is a madness that has created, and rightly so, tremendous resentment and anger amongst billions of people, a madness the people of Brazil and the world have woken up to, as the crowds San Paulo, Rio and Brasilia chanted “The People Have Awakened”.

United we stand

There are arguably two major movements that exemplify the current trend of global unrest and transformation: the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring.

Occupy began in New York in September 2011 and by early October it had fuelled protests and occupations in 95 cities across 82 countries, including 600 communities in America. This is extraordinary. Occupy is based on social unity, it is not ideologically driven and is leaderless – a criticism levelled at it by its detractors, enmeshed as they are in the past and unable, or unwilling to imagine there may be an alternative way of working and organising society, than the authouritative personality driven model. The people involved, Noam Chomsky makes clear “are not in it for themselves. They’re in it for one another, for the broader society and for future generations.” This shift in consciousness is key, Occupy promotes social responsibility and equality, it looks to the well being of the group in contrast to the success of the individual at the expense of the group. A quality also found in Brazil’s protests, “we replaced I with we … we made the world listen that here beats a green and yellow heart full of hope and idealism, but before that love”, Tatyana Alves, one of the many, told The Guardian.

One of great achievements of the Occupy movement was, Chomsky makes clear, “that it has simply changed the entire framework of discussion of many issues. There were things that were sort of known, but in the margins, hidden, which are now right up front — such as the imagery of the 99% and 1%; and the dramatic facts of sharply rising inequality over the past roughly 30 years, with wealth being concentrated in actually a small fraction of 1% of the population.”

The Arab Spring of 2011 brought the collapse of repressive regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, where rulers were forced from power. People power has also erupted in Bahrain and Syria, where force has been used to suppress the calls for change with terrible consequences. In Egypt the social revolution started in 2011 has been re-ignited recently with huge demonstrations throughout the country, with, according to Democracy Now (1/07/2013) “turnout as high as 17 million, its Egypt’s largest protests since the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak”. Angry and bitterly disappointed by his year in office the people, have the ousted the ‘democratically elected’ President Mohamed Morsi and forced what is being described as a ‘peoples military coup’.

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, one of the protestors, Carmen Bedawi, expressed the view of many, telling The Guardian, “The 2012 elections were unfair. The Muslim Brotherhood distributed oil and water to the poor people – they bought their loyalty. The cabinet was all Muslim Brotherhood and his [Morsi’s] clan”. The people have no faith in politicians and have lost patience with their duplicity. All too often they promise much when seeking office, and once enthroned deliver little or nothing.

Unity is both the key and the aim of the movement for change. “The people have revolted, they did not know how politics worked, they have learned in the last two years and now they do. And they are united”, said Carmen Bedawi. No government can stand indefinitely against the people of a nation, when they are united.

Global people power

The epidemic of social activism has seen demonstrations throughout the World. This is but a random taste of the scale of this unprecedented movement. From Angola in 2001 when workers went on strike in defiance of International Monetary Fund (IMF) prescribed economic reforms. In South Korea, where in October 2000, 20,000 people protested against globalisation and in 2001 up to 50,000 demonstrated against ‘restructuring’ plans proposed by the IMF. In Zambia in 2002 thousands took to the streets to protest food shortages, again caused by the IMF’s policies. There have been protests in Russia, notably in 2011 when an estimated 100,000 anti-Putin pro-democracy protestors marched through Moscow. Peru, Pakistan and India have all witnessed large-scale protests. Hungary saw 100,000 people march in Budapest, in January 2012, protesting against anti-democracy legislation in the new constitution. In Kenya the ‘Unga [maize flour] revolution’, has been powerfully active since 2011, one activist told IRIN “It’s high time people wake up”. Mexico has witnessed a stream of recent protests, so too South Africa, as well as Nigeria where in 2012 thousands united to protest against increases in fuel and food prices, showing that “Nigeria is coming together as a family”, as one protestor said. Perhaps at long last it is humanity that is ‘coming together as a family’, brothers and sisters of one humanity.

In 2001, Nepal saw protests against World Bank policies. Uruguay experienced huge protests against IMF imposed reforms in 2003, which almost bankrupt the country. In Spain in 2002, over half a million people protested the globalisation and corporatisation of Europe and notably in 2011 the ‘Real Democracy Now’ movement saw thousands march in 60 cities, against austerity and government incompetence. In Japan tens of thousands attended anti-nuclear rallies in Tokyo and other cities in 2011. Britain has seen consistent protests, as has the USA, where 200,000 plus took to the streets in 2002 to protest IMF and World Bank policies and militarism and of course where the ground breaking Occupy Movement was born in 2011. Weeklong protests took place in June 2001 against IMF/World Bank – imposed austerity in Papa New Guinea, and, between 2010 and 2012 Greece was aflame with demonstrations against European Central Bank (ECB) conditional loans – or bailout packages with their harsh austerity measures.

The list is long seemingly endless. Ethiopia, a highly suppressed country, witnessed mass protests in June 2012, when 10,000 mainly young people marched in Addis Ababa demanding the release of political prisoners and an end to state corruption. Honduras – again against IMF prescribed cuts, the Czech Republic in 2000, when 50,000 protested at IMF and World Banks meetings in Prague, Argentina where 80,000 protested against IMF labour laws. In Turkey huge protests have recently taken place in what has been termed the Vinegar Movement or ‘The Giant Awakes’. Issues animating protestors there range from an increasingly authoritarian government that does not listen to the people, to state corruption and the growing influence of Islam on government polices and attitudes. The spark – small but highly significant, that started it all was the planned development of Gezi park – a tiny patch of green in Istanbul, a city with the least amount of open/green space in Europe. In contrast to the reaction in Brazil, where protestors have ben praised by the President, Dilma Rousseff, there concerns listened too, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent in the riot police, who used pepper spray and tear gas to clear Gezi Park and the surrounding area in a show of intolerance and violence.

And on and on it goes. It is a worldwide movement, a true democratic awakening, with people rising up against a range of unjust government and extra-government policies. Purification is a primary factor of this new movement and a quality of the times. Buried and ignored for too long, injustice, corruption, greed and dishonesty in all areas of life – large or small, are being brought to the surface. The diseased, many-headed hydra of suppression, control and fear is being revealed and slayed in the clear ‘light of day’, as the people of the world demand change, crying out for freedom and justice and the right to live decent, dignified lives free from fear.

And on and on it goes. It is a worldwide movement, a true democratic awakening, with people rising up against a range of unjust government and extra-government policies. Purification is a primary factor of this new movement and a quality of the times. Buried and ignored for too long, injustice, corruption, greed and dishonesty in all areas of life – large or small, are being brought to the surface. The diseased, many-headed hydra of suppression, control and fear is being revealed and slayed in the clear ‘light of day’, as the people of the world demand change, crying out for freedom and justice and the right to live decent, dignified lives free from fear.

Graham Peebles is director of the Create Trust. He can be reached at: graham@thecreatetrust.org