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Worldwide Social Activism Demanding Change

By Graham Peeble

Redress, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 22, 2013

Brazil protests

Change is afoot. Confronted with state corruption and corporate greed, abuse of human rights, environmental chaos and extreme levels of economic and social injustice, the people, overwhelmingly the young, are taking to the streets demanding change and a new political/economic system that is inclusive and just.

With growing unity and confidence, people throughout the world are expressing their collective will and crying out for freedom, justice and equality, and to be listened to – not only by governments, but also by international institutions, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and central banks. These are enormously powerful global bodies which influence and fashion economic frameworks that affect the lives of billions of people. Divisive, ideologically-rooted policies designed to serve the interests of corporations and multinational companies are causing suffering and anxiety among millions of people in developed and developing countries.

A system dominated by “the market” that places profit and reward above the wellbeing of people and the health of the planet must be fundamentally changed.

The scale and breadth of recent protests is unprecedented: people who in many cases have been suppressed for many years are awakening, demanding participation and social justice. The young are leading the charge, seeing clearly the need for a new way of living, one that observes human rights and allows and encourages freedom of expression, and new inclusive political systems free from the ideological constraints of the past.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”. These are rights which under the present unjust system are reserved for those who can afford them.

A system dominated by “the market” that places profit and reward above the wellbeing of people and the health of the planet must be fundamentally changed. It is such radical, commonsense demands that animate many of those marching in the streets and occupying the squares of some of the world’s great cities.

“The people have awakened”

Brazil is the latest country to witness mass protests. Enraged by increases in public transport costs, millions took to the streets in June 2013, marching in over 100 cities across the country, in peaceful protests, an outpouring of simmering resentment and anger at widespread social injustice, lack of participation in the decision making process and years of government corruption. Add to that the poor essential public services – health care and education, denied funds while the government is spending millions on major sporting events.

Such issues are found not only in Brazil, but in many countries throughout the world. “The feeling that took so many people to the streets is not only Brazilian, it’s not only Turkish [referring to protests in Turkey in June], it is global. It’s bigger than a president, the government”, a protestor told the Guardian newspaper. Elaborating, she added that the protests are “about an order, a system, our global system. The fact is that we don’t feel represented. We don’t have a voice”.

The present global political and economic system, an outdated construct designed by elites for elites, has fuelled staggering levels of inequality with enormous wealth and control resting in the hands of less than 1 per cent of the population.

Branko Milanovic, a leading World Bank economist, says “the bottom 77 per cent receive only 20 per cent of the world’s income”, and “a little more than 5 per cent of the world’s population receives 40 per cent of total world income”. In the United States, the 400 richest people “control more wealth than the bottom households combined, that’s 150 million people”. This is a staggering and shameful statistic from the the richest nation on earth. While 50 million US citizens rely on food stamps and languish in poverty, the US government  somehow manages to spend 1 trillion dollars on it’s armed forces – more than the military expenditures of the rest of the world combined.

In addition to the vast income disparity, there is the unjust, unequal distribution of the world’s resources, including food and water. Commonsense dictates that these resources should be shared equitably among the people of the world based on need, not on the size of ones wallet. Under the present system, however, the USA, which has 5 per cent of the world’s population, usurps and wastes 25 per cent of the world’s natural resources and produces a staggering 30 per cent of pollutants. It is a madness that has created tremendous resentment and anger among billions of people.

“We” replaces “I”

There are arguably two major movements that exemplify the current trend of global unrest and transformation: the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring.

The Occupy movement

Occupy began in New York in September 2011 and by early October it had fuelled protests and occupations in 95 cities across 82 countries, including 600 communities in the US. It is based on social unity, is not ideologically driven and is leaderless – a criticism levelled at it by its detractors, enmeshed as they are in the past and unable or unwilling to imagine there may be an alternative way of working and organising society than the authoritarian, personality driven model. The people involved, Noam Chomsky says, “are not in it for themselves. They’re in it for one another, for the broader society and for future generations.” This shift in consciousness is key. Occupy promotes social responsibility and equality; it looks to the wellbeing of the group in contrast to the success of the individual at the expense of the group. This  quality can be found in Brazil’s protests: “we replaced I… we made the world listen that here beats a green and yellow heart full of hope and idealism, but before that love”, Tatyana Alves, one of the many protestors, told the Guardian.

The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring of 2011 brought the collapse of repressive regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, where rulers were forced from power. People power has also erupted in Syria and Bahrain, where force has been used to suppress the calls for change, with terrible consequences. In Egypt the social revolution started in 2011 has been re-ignited recently with huge demonstrations throughout the country. With an estimated turnout of as high as 17 million, these are Egypt’s largest protests since the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak. Angry and bitterly disappointed by “democratically-elected” President Muhammad Morsi’s year in office, the people ousted him and forced what is being described as a “people’s military coup”.

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, one of the protestors, Carmen Bedawi, expressed the view of many, telling the Guardian: “The 2012 elections were unfair. The Muslim Brotherhood distributed oil and water to the poor people – they bought their loyalty. The cabinet was all Muslim Brotherhood and his [Morsi’s] clan.” The people have no faith in politicians and have lost patience with their duplicity. All too often they promise much when seeking office, and once enthroned deliver little or nothing.

Unity is both the key and the aim of the movement for change. “The people have revolted, they did not know how politics worked, they have learned in the last two years and now they do. And they are united”, said Carmen Bedawi. No government can stand indefinitely against the people of a nation, when they are united.

Global people power

The epidemic of social activism has seen demonstrations throughout the world. This is but a random taste of the scale of this unprecedented movement.

  • Angola, 2001: workers go on strike in defiance of IMF-prescribed economic reforms.
  • South Korea, 2000, 20,000 people protest against globalisation and in 2001 up to 50,000 demonstrate against restructuring plans proposed by the IMF.
  • Zambia, 2002: thousands take to the streets to protest against food shortages, again caused by the IMF’s policies.
  • Russia, 2011: an estimated 100,000 anti-Putin pro-democracy protestors marched through Moscow.
  • Hungary, 2012: 100,000 people march in Budapest, protesting against anti-democracy legislation in the new constitution.
  • Kenya, 2011: the “Unga [maize flour] revolution” starts; one activist tells IRIN ,“It’s high time people wake up.”
  • Nigeria, 2012 thousands protest against increases in fuel and food prices, showing that “Nigeria is coming together as a family”, as one protestor said.
  • Nepal, 2001: protests against World Bank policies.
  • Uruguay, 2003: huge protests against IMF-imposed reforms, which almost bankrupt the country.
  • Spain, 2002: over half a million people protest against the globalization and corporatization of Europe, and in 2011 the “Real Democracy Now” movement sees thousands march in 60 cities against austerity and government incompetence.
  • Japan, 2011: tens of thousands attend anti-nuclear rallies in Tokyo and other cities.
  • USA, 2001: 200,000-plus take to the streets to protest against IMF and World Bank policies and militarism, and in 2011, the ground breaking Occupy movement is born
  • Papua New Guinea, 2001: weeklong protests against IMF/World Bank- imposed austerity.
  • Greece, 2010 onwards: Greece aflame with demonstrations against European Central Bank (ECB) conditional loans – or bailout packages with their harsh austerity measures.
  • Ethiopia, 2012: 10,000 mainly young people march in Addis Ababa demanding the release of political prisoners and an end to state corruption.
  • Czech Republic, 2000: 50,000 protest at IMF and World Bank meetings in Prague,

The list is long and seemingly endless. It is a worldwide movement, a true democratic awakening, with people rising up against a range of unjust governmental and extra-government policies. Purification is a primary factor of this new movement and a quality of the times. Buried and ignored for too long, injustice, corruption, greed and dishonesty in all areas of life – large or small – are being brought to the surface.

The diseased, many-headed hydra of suppression, control and fear is being exposed and slain in the clear light of day, as the people of the world demand change, crying out for freedom, justice and the right to live decent, dignified lives free from fear.





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