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Thread: Activism: Street Protests Are the Easy Part

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Activism: Street Protests Are the Easy Part

    Street Protests Are the Easy Part

    In Brazil, Egypt, and Turkey, it will be much harder to turn those marches and rallies into genuine change.

    By Anne Applebaum|Posted Thursday, July 11, 2013, at 8:00 PM

    A man demonstrates against Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff. How much can street protests do?

    Photo by Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

    LONDON—In Brazil, the protesters wore halter tops and shorts. In Egypt, they wore headscarves and long sleeves. In Turkey, they wore more of the former, some of the latter, and quite a bit of face paint as well. In each of these three places they looked different, used different slogans, spoke different languages. And yet the parallels among these three protest movements on three different continents in three countries run by democratically elected leaders are striking, not least for what they reveal about the nature of the modern street protest.

    In Istanbul, Rio, and Cairo, the crowds had legitimate complaints about their respective democracies. Protesters shouted, among other things, about corruption in Brazil; creeping authoritarianism in Turkey; economic incompetence in Egypt. Economic slowdown was the background to protest in all three countries, but even so, the scale of the demonstrations was a surprise. Everywhere, the numbers were bigger and younger than anyone expected.

    As we’ve all been told many times, these things are easier than ever to organize. The combination of Twitter, Facebook, as well as the more old-fashioned medium of television can help get people out on the street. If you’ve seen it already in a photograph or on a video clip, then you know how to create provocative posters, wear costumes and masks, organize bits of street theater, and create chants and songs. Heavy-handed policing in several cases helped bring people out as well: Tear gas surely creates as many street revolutionaries as it discourages.

    But if it’s easier than ever to get people on the street, it’s still very hard to get people to follow up with necessary organizational work. As we’ve all learned in recent years, a flash mob created with the help of the Internet is not necessarily well equipped to make big institutional changes. Social media is not the same thing as social activism. The courage and dedication it takes to transform a society is not the same thing as the impulse it takes to join a crowd. “Just showing up” at the demonstration or the march can help create a day’s headline but nothing more. Real change requires the founding of institutions, of political parties, of news organizations, of local and neighborhood associations, of economic clubs and discussion groups that think about the interests of the nation, not of a single group or faction.

    In the end, the ultimate success of a street protest in a democracy depends on the degree to which its members are willing to turn their protest into real activism, to enter into their respective nations’ political systems, to work within the law, and to transform passion and anger into institutional and finally political change. In Egypt, whose new democracy was by far the most fragile of the three, the protests have in this sense already failed. Egypt’s anti-Morsi activists had not yet organized themselves into a coherent political party, they hadn’t created a political program with mass appeal, andthey didn’t have an alternative elite prepared to carry it out. Without these things, their influence over the course of events was necessarily going to be limited. Knowing that they might well lose a new election, they called for the help of the army, and thus threw Egypt’s entire democratic project into jeopardy.

    In Brazil, by far the strongest of the three democracies, the protests seem to have already succeeded, at least in this narrow sense: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was forced to appear on television and to declare, “I hear you,” and she has called for a plebiscite on political reform. More lasting change in Brazil will require the crowds of young people to create an alternative political party to the one Rousseff leads, to put aside their dislike of the corrupt political establishment and learn how to join it, to renew it, to clean it up, to change its habits.

    If anything, young Turks in Istanbul face an even more difficult challenge: how to craft a political message that will appeal not just to the secular and the well-educated but to the mass of voters who brought Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party to power in the first place, and who might well do so again.

    But the first step to creating such an alternative is to understand that it’s necessary to do so. It’s fine to have disgust for politicians in a democracy, as long as you’re willing to become one, yourself—and it’s excellent to dislike establishment political parties, as long as you are willing and able to build your own in their place.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    One more step that Simon did not mention: After you have completed your plan B, stay back and help with change in your own country. You owe it to your fellow countrymen.

    To all those heroes chanting UBAH! UBAH!

    UBAH into what?

    What is your "What Next?"

    The names have changed, but the story is the same

    by SIMON BLACK on JULY 5, 2013

    July 5, 2013
    [Editor's note: What follows is a letter that Simon Black wrote from Egypt two years ago after the last 'revolution'. The names have changed, but the story is the same.]
    Originally published September 7, 2011 from Cairo, Egypt
    Revolution. It’s a funny word when you think about it. In political terms, ‘revolution’ conjures images of heroes battling tyrants, of all-out forcible insurrection in the name of freedom and change.

    From a celestial perspective, however, 'revolution' denotes one complete orbit of a planetary body around its center, as in the earth's revolution around the sun. In other words, after a revolution, you end up right back where you started.

    Same word, two completely different meanings-- on one hand you have change, and on the other you have more of the same. This is exactly what has happened after Egypt's revolution this year.

    Sure, Hosni Mubarak is now standing trial after 3-decades of looting and pillaging his country's wealth. For most Egyptians, this is viewed as a major victory; there is a feeling of intense optimism here on the streets of Cairo, and even though nothing is fundamentally different, expectations are high.

    Mubarak was a symbol of tyranny, and a great deal of blood was shed to topple his regime. Unfortunately, Egyptians have essentially replaced one form of dictatorship with another.

    There is now one person in charge of Egypt-- military Supreme Commander Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak's Minister of Defense, and as the man in charge of roughly one million soldiers, sailors, and airmen in a country with no political system, Tantawi has absolute authority.

    He's not shy about using it either. Just ask any of the thousands of Egyptians who have been tried and sentenced by despotic military tribunals over the last several months.

    Many of these 'criminals' were bloggers like Maikel Nabil Sanad-- found guilty of insulting the Egyptian military establishment. Sanad is currently serving a three-year sentence after a rubber-stamp tribunal convicted him five months ago. Several other bloggers and public figures have been jailed or detained as well.

    Despite all the song and dance about freedom in Egypt, their revolution has brought them right back to where they started-- an autocratic dictatorship.

    When you think about it, this is how things usually work out in politics. How many people have campaigned on the 'change' platform, only to end up following the same path as the last guy? As the saying goes, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same.'
    Egypt is due to hold parliamentary elections in a few months' time. It's questionable whether Tantawi will give up his supreme, unchecked power... but whatever happens, one thing is clear: a new power elite will emerge in Egypt that helps itself to wealth and privilege at the expense of everyone else.

    This is the great weakness in any political system: 'government' is based on the idea that some individual or organization is awarded power than no human being should possess-- the power to kill, to declare war, to steal, to defraud, to counterfeit.

    All of these powers are considered immoral by man, but perfectly acceptable for government... and no matter how much they dress it up as being good for the people, any political system makes full use of its authority in order to maintain the status quo and keep the ruling elite in power.

    Egypt underscores an important lesson from history: with rare exception, even when you topple the ruling elite, someone else will simply step up to fill the void... just as the French traded Louis XVI for Maximilien Robespierre's Reign of Terror in the 1790s.

    This is why advocating for political change, while virtuous and noble in deed, is ultimately a wasted effort. Power-hungry megalomaniacs and their sycophantic yes-men will always rise to the top, conning the masses along the way that 'change is coming'. It's all a big snow job.

    Bottom line- politicians are in it for their own benefit, not for yours. We only have a finite amount of resources available-- time, money, and energy. It's far better to allocate those resources to improving your own situation rather than some politician's chances of reelection.

    It's time to invest in yourself-- build a pool of savings, develop alternate sources of income, diversify internationally... and most of all, have a plan. You don't want to be caught flat-footed when these sociopaths drive the bus off the cliff.

    Until next week,

    Simon Black
    Senior Editor,


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