Saturday, December 24, 2011

Protest Power

Tunisia - December, 2010
Egypt - January, 2011
Yemen - January, 2011
Libya - February, 2011
Morocco - February, 2011
Bahrain - February, 2011
Syria - March, 2011
India - April, 2011
Greece - May, 2011
Spain - May, 2011
England - August, 2011
United States - September, 2011
Chile - September, 2011
Bolivia - October, 2011
Russia - December, 2011

2011 will go down in history as the year that people in large numbers demanded change and said enough is enough. With economies collapsing around the globe faith in governments both oppressive and otherwise was at an all time low. Corruption at all levels of business and government had become unbearable and openly pervasive. The widening wealth gap had reached its limit in many parts prompting people to take to the streets in defiance. Political and socioeconomic pressure in the middle east had run its course and the climate was ripe for agitation which spread instantaneously acquiring a label (most probably coined on facebook or CNN) - "The Arab Spring". There was nothing romantic about this spring. It should have been called "The Red Spring" as blood on the pavement was a common sight and the bleeding has not yet stopped.

As authoritarian violence and protests continue in Egypt and Syria and the Occupy Wall Street movement limps along and the anti-corruption movement in India reaches its whimpering end with political compromise and infighting, one does need to take stock of what did or did not change. A sadistic dictator in Libya met a brutal end, Egypt's dictator was replaced by a gang of others in army fatigue, America relished a temporary high from a relentless shopping spree on Black Friday and Christmas, the European Union band aided itself into next year and the climate talks yet again failed to achieve anything substantial for the planet to improve its cancerous state.

At the end of a year one is supposed to be hopeful and look towards the future with encouragement and positivity. And yes there is plenty of it in the offering, but it is measured. As American troops withdraw from Iraq there is a sigh of relief from those who have sacrificed much too much, but there is also a gnawing uncertainty of a wave of violence engulfing a battered nation yet again. On one hand America has given to the world Facebook and Twitter which have become the most powerful tools for spreading democracy. By providing an unstoppable medium to help organize and be heard, these virtual social networks have truly made the world a better place in some unspeakable terms. On the other hand America is on the verge of making multibillion dollar arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Two nations where democracy has a complicated meaning and is often stifled by oppression and violence. The unholy relationship between war and business never seems to amaze even the most weary.

But nations like China and North Korea have successfully countered the liberating force of the Internet through censorship and brutality. By imprisoning bloggers and harassing their intelligentsia like Ai Weiwei, they have successfully maintained their oppressive grip on their people. Media censorship of the Arab uprisings in China did meet its limited goal. Yet there have been countless unreported protests across the nation almost every day against the autocratic rule. Burma on the other hand showed some progress by releasing Aung Sung Su Kyi and allowing her to rejoin the political process. How genuine and long lasting the change towards democracy in Burma will be, only time will tell.

While we lost a towering figure of democracy in Vaclav Havel we also gained many trail blazers around the world. Nobel peace prize winners Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman fought for women's rights in the darkest of times using non-violence as their chosen weapon. Many other nameless heroes around the world have died protecting and believing that "truth shall prevail" and "truth shall set them free". The latest casualty was Baqir Shah. A doctor in Quetta, Pakistan was gunned down because he refused to lie about the autopsies he carried out that implicated the security forces in open murder. He openly refused to tow the line of the establishment and paid with his life. Record number of journalists and human rights workers have been assassinated across the globe this year. The war crimes committed in Sri Lanka and Indian Kashmir are some of the most abhorrent and have largely gone unnoticed. A blatant example of two democratic nations with deplorable human rights records, where in the name of dealing with terrorism the state apparatus has become the terrorist.

The forecast for 2012 does not look or seem much different than 2011. From where we stand it seems like political and economic strife will continue to dominate the global sphere causing massive upheaval. Real wide ranging and long lasting solutions will remain elusive, as the impotency of the political class grows chaotic and severe. Yes there will be sporting events like the Olympics in London and other entertainment projects that will attempt to keep the human spirit high, but they will only be a temporary distraction. America will reelect or reject President Obama, and banks that have not changed their ways will continue to bankroll their gains on the backs of the dispossessed. The only thing that is certain to change is a real sense in 2012, is the earth's magnetic pole.

So as "Another Year" comes to an end and a new one begins, people power will again show its face on the streets of Moscow, London, New York, New Delhi and anywhere else where there is a sense of disenfranchisement and neglect. There is no way out of this bind without questioning the people who make decisions for us in our absence. So it is with the hope that there will be a demand for meaningful change in the year to come, I bid farewell to 2011. It is what it is.