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Zimmerman: Servile Masses Arise, Arise

October 13, 2011

One spark in Tunisia was all it took.   The shot that will be the one heard around the world.  Is anyone else ready for what’s coming?

Let me start with some personal experiences.  I just spent five year at University taking International Development Studies basically learning why the world is so messed up.  I always knew (since 9/11) that the wider world was a backward, unjust place and that humanity was going down a cynical self-defeating road.  Every week, it seemed, we learned about another problem until it came to a nearly overwhelming state where one just sat and lamented about all that one’s learned.  People seemed complacent too, especially once you walk off the campus grounds.  On Universities the debates are vigorous and issues of all types are routinely discussed, but once you were out of that academic bubble things just seemed to continue on like nothing was happening.  Everything was routine and though people got more in debt, found it harder to make ends meet, and were faced with a myriad of troubles, things just seemed to go on.  One morning I remember going to an ATM machine on campus and saw written on the machine: “Capitalism will be our demise”.  Someone else wrote under it “Do you got any better ideas, you pompous, self-righteous dipshit?”  At the time I had a laugh, agreeing with both vandals at once.  There they were, the activist minded student with lots of criticisms and the angry complacent student.  I thought that with all these problems the world over, with such inequality and a changing planet, was there really anything that could be done?  Was there ever going to be any real change?

It was fitting, for my own personal experience, that the real change started in my last year at University (2011).  Aside from my concerns with climate change and the inequity of the global financial system, I started taking an interest in issues regarding the Middle-East.  The Arab States have been run by autocratic leaders since their inception (after World War II) and the people, it seemed from our perspective, were completely complacent with the reign of their dictators.  Then, as we all know, starting with Tunisia, a spark was lit.  Tunisia and Egypt’s dictators fell within a month and the whole Arab World was suddenly on fire with mass demonstrations–from Morocco where democratic reforms were demanded, to Saudi Arabia where women are defying the ban on driving, and also to the Occupied Territories (Palestine) where a budding Palestinian Spring is forming.  It is ironic how a people–the Arab speaking peoples–so demonized and degraded in the Western media will likely be known as history as the people who peacefully got rid of some of the worst despots (save the Libyan experience).  Following the Arab Spring was the demonstrations within Israel, largely focused in Tel Aviv, which has been called an Israeli Spring and J14.  This mass movement was started by lower-income Israelis who have become fed up with the rising inequality of the Israeli state.  Many of the first protestors were from ethnic minorities, that is, non-Ashkenazi (white) Jews.  Later on various Palestinians with Israeli citizenship joined in.  Many have criticized the Israeli movement for not addressing the Palestinian issue and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and siege of the Gaza Strip.  This was true at first, that the Israeli Spring was largely exclusivist, but this changed.

Egyptian Revolution 2011

One thing massive demonstrations do is potentially unite people.  Before I get back to Israel/Palestine (as I often do), let me go back to Egypt.  Since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak there has been rising sectarian tensions within Egypt largely between Muslims and Coptic Christians.  These problems existed before the Egyptian Revolution and the Coptic Christians, being a minority, have faced persecution from extremist Muslims and just recently have experienced brutality from the Egyptian military, which still runs the show in Egypt officially.  The tensions are high and we cannot be sure how things will unfold, but through it all one can be heartened to see the chants “Muslims and Christians are one” that followed.  There is unity and this unity can be a by-product of common struggle.  Struggle unites.  Turning back to Israel/Palestine.  As stated above, critics derided the J14 protests as exclusive to Jewish Israelis and some commentators saw hypocrisy in this.  Things began to change though starting with Palestinian Arabs getting involved in the demonstrations.  This began to shift the discourse to one that includes the plight of both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians living under siege and occupation.  A theme of Jewish-Arab unification started to seep into the movement.  As one anti-occupation Israeli (Haggai Matar) described:

“Odeh Bisharat, the first Arab to address the mass rallies, greeted the enormous audience before him and reminded them that the struggle for social justice has always been the struggle of the Arab community, which has suffered from inequality, discrimination, state-level racism and house demolitions in Ramle, Lod, Jaffa and Al-Araqib. Not only was this met with ovation from a huge crowd of well over a hundred thousand people, but the masses actually chanted: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” And later, in a short clip of interviews from protest camps across the country, Jews and Arabs spoke, and a number of them, including even one religious Jew, repeatedly said that “it’s time for this state to be a state for all its citizens.” A state for all its citizens. As a broad, popular demand. Who would have believed it?”

J14 sign in both Arab and Hebrew

It is through such large-scale movements where such syntheses take place.  Causes against injustice and oppression can find common grounds when people are united against a common enemy, whether that enemy be a dictator or an unjust system.  Inspired by the Arab Spring comes the Occupy Wall Street movement.  There are many commentators criticizing this movement for “not having a clear goal”.  This has shown to be untrue.  These are citizens who are angry at the system, one where the financial institutions have been bailed out by taxpayer money for their own mistakes, and at a system that has allowed such inequality.  The movement has already spread to various cities across the United States and shows little sign of stopping.  As I write this I am informed that as of 7am tomorrow the NYPD will commence in evicting the protestors who are camped out on Wall St.  What this will lead to is anybody’s guess, but I doubt it will hinder the movement. 

People may ask why they chose to demonstrate, or what they hope to achieve.  This movement spreads into Canada this Saturday, October 15, 2011.  Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and various other cities will be “occupied” at their financial centres.  We in Canada have not had our banks bailed out, but the inequality has been on stready rise for decades now and it is doubtful to decrease with a Conservative Majority Government.  Many in this country are critical of a movement here in Canada.  They ask “Why not just get involved politically through the institutions that already exist?”  Nevermind that these institutions with their limited democracy are based on the English Parliamentary system that only came about with universal franchisement due to decades of popular struggle.  The elites, you see, don’t just give people their voices, people always have to fight for them.   The movement is coming here no matter what and it should.  What good is it to sit around and wait for elections every four years when the nation’s financial capital (Toronto) can be turned into a defacto police state within a given time frame such as it was during the G20?  When people are charged by police officers like they were in Queen’s Park while demonstrating peacefully and then rounded up, processed, and detained in tiny cages resembling the worst of any “Third World” prisons, why should we sit and not speak up?  The Tar Sands pump their millions of tonnes of carbon into our atmosphere, one of, if not the worst environmental projects in the world right now, yet we are told to wait until Harper’s government is defeated to do anything about it.  Above all else these demonstrations, these movements, will produce syntheses of causes.  People who are ordinarily marginalized by mainstream media and mainstream politics (First Nations, immigrant communities, working poor, homeless people, etc.) will take part in a movement where the voices of those normally silenced can be amplified.  People from all walks of life, all with their own struggles and challenges, can unite and learn from one another.  There may not be easy solutions, but we cannot reach any alternatives until this movement becomes a political force too immense to ignore much like the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. 

Massive political movements can get more accomplished than any elected official

These last few decades have witnessed massive de-democratization, particularly since the onset of neo-liberal policies (Reaginite and Thatcherite ideas) and its forms of globalization.  Now in the age of WikiLeaks, massive communication, a new generation is connected with one another across cyberspace with no limits of borders.  The world is a harsh place, but we can only bear the sea of troubles united.  The movement’s coming here on October 15, 2011.  It’s uncertain where it will lead us, but mark your calenders for this Saturday.  It’s not going to be a small thing.


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