The year of the protest

Written By: - Date published: 8:44 am, December 20th, 2011 - 38 comments
Categories: activism, class war, International - Tags: , ,

It has been a big year for protest internationally. The “Arab Spring” protests in the Middle East. Occupy Wall Street and the world wide Occupation movement. Tahrir Square. Time magazine somewhat controversially chose as it’s annual person of the year a representative symbol – “The Protestor”.

And yet. Looking round at the world, what’s new? The whole point of the Tahrir protest was that nothing seemed to have changed after the “revolution”. The Occupation movement seems stalled – where will it be in 6 months time? If that was the year of “The Protestor”, what did it accomplish? Is effective protest no longer possible in today’s world?

38 comments on “The year of the protest”

  1. Gosman 1

    I’d suggest the Arab protests achieved quite a lot. Regardless of continued repressive activities of the Egyptian security forces the fact remains that the country is undergoing a process to a more representative democracy. This would not have been possible without the protestors.

    As for the Occupied movement, I agree that this seems stalled. It was always going to be the case as the movement has no coherent goals beyond protesting against the status quo. That is no platform for effectivly mobilising for change. If they want to do this they need to articulate their vision for an alternative and then get active in the political system like the Tea Party movement did.

    • I agree – protesting is only an attention raising beginning. To actually get somewhere you have to have a practical and realistic plan and work on it.

      Things don’t just suddenly change because a few people think they are cool. The quick fix generation were momentarily duped by their feeting success at getting attention. Then nek minute, nek fad.

      Hard work is required.

      • Gosman 1.1.1

        This reminds me of a small talk I attended in London shortly after the massive anti-Iraqi war protests in 2003. It was held by a well meaning but deluded young man and the title of his talk was “Revolution is still possible” or words to those effect. Essentially he was trying to argue that the massive protests against the war was the starting point of the long hoped for Communist Revolution. Very similar to what lefties here and on other places on the web have argued about the Occupied movement.

      • prism 1.1.2

        Pete G

        I agree – protesting is only an attention raising beginning. To actually get somewhere you have to have a practical and realistic plan and work on it…..Hard work is required

        I think that protesters putting their lives and their families lives at risk is quite hard work!
        When you say hard work are you thinking they should have had lots of evening meetings and set up an economic and social plan, and publicised it to the people and held meetings. How in repressive countries, when every form of media would be controlled and dire consequences would follow, like beatings, rapings, torture and imprisonment and perhaps death would be a welcome release in some cases. What are you on about you ‘common-sense’ git.

        Even in supposed democratic goody-goody western countries people get bludgeoned about the head when they disagree with the government and protest publicly. 1981 and the Springbok tour here, Blair Peach in Britain, who died, a while back and police stayed quiet on that one. It is hard work.

        • Colonial Viper 1.1.2.1

          Indeed. Tahrir Square, Zytegma Square and Occupy Oakland looked like very very hard work for the protestors.

          Pete George is probably thinking Occupy Dunedin as his example of the ‘cool and quick fix’ generation which in of itself demonstrates an incredibly narrow vision of what Occupy Dunedin represents.

      • Carol 1.1.3

        Partly the mode of protest is the message about a new democratic way foward. The aims are demonstrated in the actions.

      • AAMC 1.1.4

        How far had Martin Luther King got in 3 mths, those who rely on CNN and BBC and RNZ can be excused for thinking things have stalled, but this isn’t a protest, from point A to point B, it is a movement of dissent, and a very clever and articulate one. I wouldn’t hold your breath while you wait for it to disappear Pete G or Gosman. There are many people working very hard, all over the world to keep it on track.

    • felix 1.2

      It was always going to be the case as the movement has no coherent goals beyond protesting against the status quo.

      Yes, and I also suspect that Europe is falling apart because the Europeans have never developed any spoken or written languages – none that I can understand anyway.

      • Gosman 1.2.1

        Naomi Wolf attempted to claim she had got to the bottom of what the Occupied movement in the US wanted and it was laughably naiive in her conclusion. The point being is that the movement never articulated what it stood for rather than what it stood against. It is easy to state that we don’t like the 1%. It is harder to claim what you would do to make the 99% life better.

        • Lanthanide 1.2.1.1

          The people in OWS don’t have all the answers. They aren’t the power brokers who set up the whole economic system we now live in.

          All they are, are people saying “this really isn’t morally right or fair”. They’re correct.

        • Bored 1.2.1.2

          Gos, you ape the MSM, who are as you are aware owned by Wall St and corporates. OWS made a minor miracle happen, they broke through the media barrier.

          Articulation…..OWS is a broad church that takes in many views. They deliberately did not articulate anything other than opposition to bankster greed. They invited even simple minds like yours to fill in the dots. You are even allowed to reach your own conclusions. Even you Gos, that’s democratic don’t you think? As opposed to your “received wisdom”.

        • felix 1.2.1.3

          No-one’s claiming to have all the solutions, Gos.

          First things first, we (that means all of us Gos, even you) need to acknowledge the problem.

    • AAMC 1.3

      “As for the Occupied movement, I agree that this seems stalled.”

      No Gosman, media coverage has stalled, but the occupy movement hasn’t… in the last few days!

      http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/laurie-penny-people-power-isnt-just-a-fad-for-a-magazine-cover-6279127.html

      “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist
      http://m.yahoo.com/w/news_america/blogs/ticket/republicans-being-taught-talk-occupy-wall-street-133707949.html?orig_host_hdr=news.yahoo.com&.intl=us&.lang=en-us

      But we already know you’re willfully blind!

    • Bored 1.4

      Actually Gos, I would describe Occupy as an equally effective protest movement as any seen in recent history. The mere fact that you are writing about it acknowledges its importance. The mere fact that you are accusing OWS of the need to articulate a vision means it has struck a chord, you have reacted to by saying they need to articulate something.

      Without putting words into your mouth it would appear that you must support the opposite view i.e you think that it is OK for 1% to have 99% of the wealth, for the markets to act outside of the law regularly, for the people to bail them out when they need it because they are too big to fail.

      Reality is that the Democrats have changed tack on policy, Obama’s latest speech called for regulation in Wall St. There is according to the columnists in the New York Times a popular awareness of the kleptocracy on Wall St that was previously not widespread. Given the US presidential electoral race is heating up you will if you observe find OWS has made overt support of Wall St politically unelectable. That is impact.

      • Gosman 1.4.2

        Yet I seem to remember many on here dismissing the impact of the Tea Party movement in the US as being some sort of front and not achieveing much. The Tea party movement actually achieved a lot in terms of it’s impact on the mainstream political process. All the OWS seems to have achieved in raising awareness. Well bully for them. I will have more respect for them if they actually manage to influence the next election cycle in the US in a meaningful way.

        • AAMC 1.4.2.1

          oh.. here we go again Gos, hard at work saving real peoples houses… not stalled I’d suggest.

          “In a tangible victory by the Occupy movement, Occupy Atlanta has successfully helped save an Iraq War veteran from foreclosure. ”

          http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=40784

          Your banking mates must be very nervous of this trend, people standing up and preventing them from foreclosure, given they’ve turfed almost 10 million out, they wouldn’t like this trend to catch on..

          And yes, the Tea Party ( Koch Bros funded Americans for prosperity ) did have a tangible effect on the insanity within American politics, but how does it sit with your – or their – Libertarianism when peole are now being arrested for dancing around Jefferson’s memorial?

        • Bored 1.4.2.2

          The Tea Party movement can claim to have had reasonable initial success: it had the GOP running in all the directions it wanted which was quite an achievement agreed (except that the GOP were in “opposition”, the Pres was a Democrat). In terms of impact on the mainstream once the Tea Party showed its hands as a narrow sectoral interest group they completely lost position to the extent that the GOP has recognised that Tea party affiliations are the kiss of death for an electoral candidate. They have had their day and ultimately they have come to nothing.

          OWS by comparison has made no attempts to affiliate, and consequently is a much harder group to tie down into a single sectoral position. Theirs is a message, not a structure or party. Bugger all Americans identify with the Tea Party, huge numbers identify with OWS. That represents electoral clout without ever having to align with the politicians, left or right. Which is why the right in particular (who are guardians of their corollary) feel so threatened by OWS.

  2. Carol 2

    OWS and the “Arab spring” are more than protests, they are part of a global, movement that is building a narrative in the mainstream. They have added some significant concepts to the popular narrative. Even Winston Peters was speaking critically of the 1 %. It is a movement based in grass-roots initiatives that are very geographically, and physically located. This locatedness is linked to wider networks via electronic media and comunications.

    There maybe a lull in the way this narrative and movement develops, but it will have further crests and troughs as it gains momentum. It is part of an on-going narrative and movement that goes back at least to the anti-globalisation protests at the beginning of the century.

    Time Magazine takes a very US, individualistic, right wing position in summing up a year as epitomised by a person, rather than focusing on concepts, activities, events, movements or narratives.

    • rosy 2.1

      Agree. On a practical note also remember it’s winter in the North, elections and ‘regime change’ has happened recently in Spain, Ireland, Italy and Greece. And the attempt to do a deal on the Euro is on-going. There’s every reason to expect a lull while this pans out.

      Similarly in the Middle East – Tunisia and Libya have new governments. Yemen has a deal playing out. Egypt’s rulers have been found wanting so the protesters are back. Syria of course a weeping, bloody mess.

  3. Jackal 3

    I wouldn’t discount the achievements of the protesters just yet. The fallout for the powers that be are just beginning.

    Who can honestly discount the Egyptian protesters who discovered files kept on the population by the powerful regime, after breaking into a state security building? When the South African government approved a policy, aimed at ensuring police manage public protests better, who can say that is not an achievement? Who can honestly say that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad taking part in an anti-security fence protest has done nothing? Who can honestly say that the Occupy Movement has not strengthened unions.

    Sure! Some politicians aren’t going to change their ways… but the increased awareness alone that many of these protests have encouraged is worthwhile.

  4. vto 4

    Yep, fires of discontent breaking out right across the globe. I don’t think too much over-analysis needs to be done. They are all sparking from the same thing – outrageous behaviour by the existing powers, whether it be the banksters, the greeks, the egyptians, the brits, the tunisians, the americans. Same same. It aint dying down either. Just needs a bit of a windstorm for all these embers to ignite, unite and get out of control.

    • RobM 4.1

      “They are all sparking from the same thing – outrageous behaviour by the existing powers.”

      Indeed, outrageous behavior that the Pete Gs of this world persist in painting as reasonable, and so they insist on a nice reasonable response from those that oppose our scumbag elites.

      FFS I’m am sick and tired of Pete G and his common sense cult of reasonableness.

      Not wanting to get all ad hominem on you Pete but can you give it a rest, or at the very least give it some thought.

  5. joe90 5

    The Occupy movement in public spaces may have stalled but Occupy’s new tactic has a powerful past.

    Over the past few weeks, cities have continued to remove Occupy Wall Street protesters from their encampments. Occupy has responded to these ejections by changing its focus from public spaces toward private property: foreclosed homes.

    […]

    A straight line runs from the 1930s sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan, to the 1960 lunch-counter sit-ins to the occupation of Alcatraz by Native American activists in 1969 to Occupy Wall Street. Occupations employ physical possession to communicate intense dissent, exhibited by a willingness to break the law and to suffer the — occasionally violent — consequences.

    Effective occupations, however, have managed to do more than convey intensity. They have crafted visible signs of the reality protesters hope to create, thereby spurring legal change. The sit-down strikes arguably laid the groundwork for the enforcement of federal labor laws; the lunch counter sit-ins led to the enactment of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the Alcatraz occupation paved the way for a milestone reversal in Federal Indian policy, leading President Nixon to support tribal self-determination.

    • rosy 5.1

      As have the Spanish indignados

      The general assemblies of the encampments they held in the summer are now devolved to local neighbourhoods; the occupied buildings are being used to hold assemblies through the winter months and house those evicted through mortgage defaults. “The answer to the crisis is not apathy or cynicism,” says Kike Tudela, a historian and activist. “We have four years of struggle and resistance ahead, and the question is: what will we have after four years? Do we want the socialists back with more neoliberal policies, or something new?”

  6. AAMC 6

    The next faze

    “By occupying a foreclosed home, or abandoned school, or closed factory, OWS could help focus those sweeping critiques into one easy-to-understand microcosm. Families need shelter. Children need schools. Workers need to work. These things are universally understood and valued.”

    http://inthesetimes.com/uprising/entry/12449/occupy._resist._produce

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      Given that there are 10-15 million empty homes in America, many of them foreclosed and unsaleable in this economy, it makes sense that they be used. Of course, this is capitalism where there can be a warehouse full of food quietly expiring and a crowd of poor starving families outside and never the twain shall meet.

      • AAMC 6.1.1

        “where there can be a warehouse full of food quietly expiring and a crowd of poor starving families outside”

        Which brings me to Raj Patel

  7. lprent 7

    Penny Bright cut’n’pasted some stuff here. It has been trashed because cut’n’paste graffiti isn’t permitted here. It was some letter in the ongoing war between OWS Auckland and the city.

    Looks like there was a copy of over at kiwiblog… It got trashed as well. Hardly a surprise.

    Time to do my own protest by permanently adding Penny to auto-spam under any IP and any name later today. Obviously she doesn’t want to be able to post comments here, otherwise she’d have modified her behaviour on our site.

    • weka 7.1

      She could just get a blog and then post a link here.

      Looks like Occupy Auckland connected their camp to the electricity supply in Aotea Square.

      • fender 7.1.1

        Had to laugh when the Judge told Penny that the court wasn’t available to her as a place to voice her public announcements, or words to that effect.
        Personally I enjoy her wacky way of working and commend her for her unflinching style. Shes a colourful character and has the best of intentions though I can see how she may rub some up the wrong way.

      • lprent 7.1.2

        I think that there is a blog somewhere. But I couldn’t see it on google.

  8. As well as OWS moving into defending foreclosures, the biggest leap has been to link to the unions. In response to the evictions OOakland on Nov 2 got 30,000 people to shut down the port of Oakland for a few hours. All the Occupys in California shut down all the ports on Nov 12, Oakland/SF for at last 3 shifts. This was a conscious action to hit the 1%, in particular Goldman Sachs which has big shares in ports, where it hurts. Now OO has formed a joint strike committee with the ILWU the most militant union in the US. Expect this development to escalate quickly as the movement develops politically. If your interested you will have all these links or find them easily. If your a Tory troll fuck off.
    All the bullshit about Occupy failing, being confused, etc etc is a smokescreen to hide the fact that the movement is rapidly forming links with organised labour to target the 1% finance capitalists who are ruling the world. As soon as the Tahrir revolutionaries make the link with the strikes and help build a general strike you will see leap forward in Egypt. Expect a lot more of the bullshit, including the Time cover treatment, that relegates a revolution in the making to a mere ‘protest’. I expect more of The Standard Anthony. How many times have the MSM put Karl Marx on the front page only to accuse him of being a Keynesian!

  9. Georgecom 9

    A few somewhat disjointed general comments from me.

    Change can take time. Getting the local dairy to stop selling booze may be a fairly simple and quick matter. Institutional change takes time.

    Solidifying social democracy in western economies took a long depression and a world war. The neo-liberal project took a decade of stagnation to become established as orthodoxy. The failure of neo-liberalism was only ultimately laid bare in 2008, 3 years ago. There is not yet any ‘ism’ to replace it as a dominant discourse. We are, domestically, presently afflicted with the Key/English narrative of ‘muddling through’.

    Simply educating people (telling them or making them aware) doesn’t often, in my opinion, lead to immediate and dramatic change. If the correctness of an idea or movement along with general education led to automatic change the globe would be well on the way to adopting, I think, something like transition towns.

    Organisation and active agency are required. So is the framing and discourse of the idea.

    Sometimes things have to get worse before progressive change comes along. It took 2 parliamentry terms of the great depression before a progressive option was presented in the form of the first Labour Government. Building the party was a project started 20 years previously with the defeat of the Red Feds.

    My personal view is that materialism will ultimately determine great shifts in public opinion. I term it ‘in your face-ism’. Things may have to be right under peoples noses before they actually get motivated to make changes. Whilst there is some hope that ‘she’ll be right’ or ‘it’ll come right’ people live in that that hope. It took 6 years before people saw through Roger Douglas and his misrepresentation of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

    Eastern Europe seemed to fall apart within a matter of months however a series of contradictions in the Soviet mode of production were years in playing out beforehand.

    When I was younger I wondered about the Marxist certainty that socialism would transcend capitalism. I wondered how workers would somehow develop socialist tendencies, the ‘leap of faith’ didn’t seem to match the realities I observed. I came to the conclusion later in life that you actually start with what you have, people and present conditions. The material facets of life, when they become bad enough, will shift people whether they actually want to be shifted or not, all things otherwise being equal.

    Rob

  10. Jenny 10

    If that was the year of “The Protestor”, what did it accomplish? Is effective protest no longer possible in today’s world?

    ANTHONY R0BINS

    Despite horrific repression and horrendous losses, protesters in Syria are bringing this intransigent and monstrous dictatorship to it’s knees.

    In Egypt the military rulers who replaced Mubarak have again been forced to back down by the protesters in Tahrir Square.

    On a lesser scale and closer to home.

    New Zealand protesters forced the ruling National Government to think twice over mining on schedule 4 land.

    “Is effective protest no longer possible in today’s world?”

    The answer to this rhetorical question is so blindingly obvious.

    Anthony, Not only is it possible in todays world, but up against intransigent dictatorial and conservative vested interest (of all kinds) that refuse to shift position, protesting has proven to be the most powerful agent for forcing change.

    Depending on your courage and determination to make changes in society – massed civilians protesting in the streets and in the public squares of their cities, is a proven avenue for grass roots people to affect social change.

    This is the undeniable fact that is being celebrated by Time magazine.

    I am genuinely curious. Anthony, what strategy for promoting social change, do you support, that you think is more effective than mass protest?

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