Friday, February 18, 2011

Something's happening here...

I could be talking about Wisconsin, which may prove significant, if Americans really are starting to wake up. But let me draw attention instead to a substantial article in Foreign Policy called Revolution U, about an international young people's movement originally out of Serbia (!) which is inventing a new revolutionary non-violence. Inspiring! Dissatisfied Canadians might want to take note.

An excerpt:

Early in 2008, workers at a government-owned textile factory in the Egyptian mill town of El-Mahalla el-Kubra announced that they were going on strike on the first Sunday in April to protest high food prices and low wages. They caught the attention of a group of tech-savvy young people an hour's drive to the south in the capital city of Cairo, who started a Facebook group to organize protests and strikes on April 6 throughout Egypt in solidarity with the mill workers. To their shock, the page quickly acquired some 70,000 followers.

But what worked so smoothly online proved much more difficult on the street. Police occupied the factory in Mahalla and headed off the strike. The demonstrations there turned violent: Protesters set fire to buildings, and police started shooting, killing at least two people. The solidarity protests around Egypt, meanwhile, fizzled out, in most places blocked by police. The Facebook organizers had never agreed on tactics, whether Egyptians should stay home or fill the streets in protest. People knew they wanted to do something. But no one had a clear idea of what that something was.

The botched April 6 protests, the leaders realized in their aftermath, had been an object lesson in the limits of social networking as a tool of democratic revolution. Facebook could bring together tens of thousands of sympathizers online, but it couldn't organize them once they logged off. It was a useful communication tool to call people to -- well, to what? The April 6 leaders did not know the answer to this question. So they decided to learn from others who did. In the summer of 2009, Mohamed Adel, a 20-year-old blogger and April 6 activist, went to Belgrade, Serbia.


  1. Anonymous7:18 pm

    That's actually really encouraging, and it's not often I can say that about something in the media. Thankyou for posting it. I was especially struck by this bit:

    The most famous stunt involved an oil barrel painted with Milosevic's picture. Otpor rolled it down a busy street, asking people to insert a coin in a slot for the privilege of whacking Milosevic with a bat. This was Otpor's favorite kind of prank, a dilemma action: It left the regime damned either way. If the government had let the barrel roll, it would have looked weak. But when the police stepped in, the optics were no better: The Otpor members fled, and the opposition TV the next day showed pictures of the police "arresting" a barrel and loading it into the police van. The country sniggered at these pranks -- and signed up for Otpor.

    This reminds me immediately of a story from the Paris riots of 1968, which I have from a Gong album sleeve (because rock music was revolutionary once as you know). I've never been sure it isn't completely made up, but it's still illustrative. (See: medievalist in action...) My apologies if I've quoted this here before, but it's much more relevant now I'm sure:

    Unfortunately this early incarnation of Gong came to an abrupt end during 'Les Evenements' of Spring '68. Rather than hurl rocks, Daevid handed out teddy bears to the police in the Latin Quarter. At the time, they didn't know how to react, but when they saw how dumb they looked on the 6 o'clock news, they did. Daevid and Gilli never knew their time was up and split for Deya less than 48 hours before the police trashed their apartment.

    Similar and yet different: the crucial difference the actions your link points out is that that was spontaneous, not part of any larger plan and unavoidably high-cost. But what they come up with instead is gorgeously neophile. Robert Anton Wilson would have loved it. Here's hoping for a political triumph of laterally-thinking public-minded cleverness, eh?

  2. RE teddy bears and Gong. There's probably some connection between that and one of Gong's most delightful songs: "Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen's Heads"