The Repeating Pattern of Protest

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we're all greeksI was invited to a FaceBook event, a day of solidarity with the people of Greece, who are being steamrollered into pay cuts and other austerity measures by a government they didn’t elect. The response from the people has been dramatic and destructive. The  blog post complains that they are suffering in silence. I can’t say I agree since I have seen plenty of news coverage, but it’s the trend these days to complain that no one is paying attention, while ignoring those who are. I am not sure what it is people mean when they say thy are being ignored. What will satisfy them, an hour-long slot on CNN? My reaction is usually: try being a protester somewhere like Iraq, Mauritania or Saudi Arabia for a day, then see if you still want to complain about being ignored.

I scanned the post for information about the goal of this day of unity, to understand what we are supposed to achieve. I know the austerity measures are unpopular, so what is being demanded in their place? I found nothing, and that was a disappointment. If the goal of a protest movement is only to protest, it is too easy to become part of the problem, or even to become a bigger problem.

Where Is My Vote?

Where Is My Vote?

When people in Iran took to the streets to demand their stolen votes, they wanted a fair and transparent recount. It wasn’t long before they got sidetracked into being a protest movement with less tangible goals. With the benefit of hindsight, there are now seemingly-obvious traces of external manipulation, evident from the very start. For example, see the image on the right, of Iranians holding their English-language posters demanding “Where Is My Vote?”. Score one extra point to the Greeks for having the common sense to use Greek as their primary language before offering us translations. English wording on posters might have made a vague kind of sense in the first week, before the international press were expelled, but even that reason risked losing some validity since we heard about the US “democratic outreach” programmes. Given the current assertions from some quarters that the Israeli MOSSAD is supposedly tag-teaming with with the exiled Iranian terrorist MKO / PMOI cult, in fact it makes a kind of sense; though one which makes my flesh crawl. The slogans of June 2009 morphed into “Where Is My Friend?” as the arrests and disappearances spiralled alarmingly in the face of continued protests. They were supposed to scrap the recount idea and demand regime overthrow, or for Khamenei to step down. But it just didn’t work out that way, and most media coverage of the Iranian Green Opposition Movement these days tagged by “Dead or Alive?“.  Worse, Iranian people remain under semi-permanent lockdown, thousands are still in prison, arrests and repression continue, and they’ve lived under the threat since May 2011 of their already heavily filtered internet being replaced by an interNOT.

This is the pattern I see in countries across the Middle East and beyond:

  • Stage 1: People are angry, frustrated, they want change, they go out on the streets to demand it. They get attacked.
  • Stage 2: As the attacks intensify, the demands begin to shift into the impossible blame game where people focus on one person or group (Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gadaffi, SCAF, al Assad, etc)
  • Stage 3:  The dictator or the state responds by saying that the people are a security threat. Resistance is eroded with deaths, arrests, intimidation, smear campaigns, infiltrators, diversionary tactics, etc.
  • Stage 4: Whatever horrors then ensue, after the dust begins to settle, and even if the side-tracked demand has been met, opportunists have seized an advantage and are profiting from the upheaval and carnage.

I’ve only been watching for the past two and a half years, since the Iran election in June 2009, but I assume this is a common pattern among civil protest movements that anyone else could detect without difficulty.

Adbusters OWS Flag

Adbusters OWS Flag

In America, when the “Occupy Wall Street” protests began, I detected an unwillingness to identify with the similar protests that had already happened in Europe, including Greece and most notably in Spain with ¡Democracia real YA! Perhaps because the Europeans demanded “real democracy”, or perhaps because OWS started out as a social media exercise devised by the Adbusters team in Canada, I have never been entirely sure. It requires certain personality traits to drive a successful protest movement, and these types may feel protective of what they regard as their idea, and unwilling to share credit or look as though that they are “jumping on a bandwagon”. If that is the case, I find it oddly undemocratic but completely human. It is also in complete contrast to the Arab uprisings, each often heard proudly claiming to be inspired by the other – with a bit of nudging from media: they do love a good hook.

Lacking a defined austerity package to protest, the Americans skipped the first phase and jumped off at Stage 2: protesting against a group – the 1% – with justifiable anger, but to begin with, no alternative solutions.  It is worth mentioning that the Occupy Movement, in contrast to all other movements I am aware of, was in receipt of significant funds and material donations from an early stage, yet having money does not seem to have advanced the cause. The authorities were happy to oblige with Stage 3, state-sponsored violence against protesters and the entire panoply of tactics (such as infiltration) to erode resistance. I suspect an opportunistic bounce off the springboard of chaos to push through unwelcome legislation while simultaneously fielding the most pathetic, uninspiring, bunch of 2013 presidential candidates imaginable, is only part of the Stage 4 response.

3 thoughts on “The Repeating Pattern of Protest

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