The month of May will be of great significance to the struggle between the privileged ranks of society and the precarious generations who are most exposed to impoverishing winds of the economic crisis. There has already been multiple spikes in social tensions over the past year. The mass protests by indignant Europeans, the United States Wisconsin and Occupy protests, the student strikes in Chile and Quebec, February’s unrest in Greece, all of these events failed to alter the degree of power held by the privileged ranks atop society, but these events have rallied strength behind new opposition forces like Occupy and Indignados, strength that is to be redeployed throughout May.
May 1st, long a traditional day of international protest, will have renewed energy this year with Occupy calling it a day without the 99%. In Quebec, labor unions will join events held by the tens of thousands of striking university students. In the U.S., protests will span across the country’s length. There will be numerous actions taking place in New York City alone. Counting the more annualized May Day protests in Europe and South America, the day initiates a month of mobilizations.
On May 2nd and 3rd, attention shifts to Catalonia where the Spanish authorities have been trying to stem the arrival of protesters for the European Central Bank summit in Barcelona. On May 12th, Spain’s indignados will retake the streets in a global day of protests called by the movement. Three days later, the movement plans to reoccupy the iconic Puerta del Sol to mark the movement’s one year anniversary. The NATO summit in Chicago on the 20th will draw further protests in the United States. This is but a brief summary of what’s on schedule for May.
This month is crucial for globalizing the act of protest. This is highly necessary in an age when globalized economic and political institutions overwhelm localized forms of resistance, whether they are indigenous groups, students or labor unions. However, we must not confuse global protests with the ultimate objective of globalizing protest. One country copying the protests of another is hardly a new phenomena. In 1848, it took only weeks for a revolution in France to be followed by revolutions in central Europe. Today, the challenge is not to replicate but to achieve the combinations of struggles.
Many will be provoked into the streets this May by shared economic conditions of unemployment and stagnant and declining wages. The scheduled protests across the globe will give participants a rush of strength and encouragement, but this is a momentary effect as months if not years pass between global days of actions. The movement has grown rapidly over the past year and May will demonstrate its growth, but the largest hurdle remains ahead. The practice of solidarity alone still maintains the isolation of protests to their individual countries while market forces alter economic conditions of the whole globe on a daily basis. The ultimate hurdle is to develop the globalized protest out of solidarity and into a common function for collective benefit. This common function can start with globalized policy demands to elevate people from both the developed and developing world.
Fear remains the last political lever that drives voters to the ballot box. This was well demonstrated this past weekend when 6.4 million French voters came out to back the far-right’s Marine Le Pen in the first round of the country’s presidential elections. The backers of Le Pen didn’t total more than 20% but it was the best result achieved by a party that insists immigration is an existential threat to the French nation.
France is not the only country engaged by politics of the far-right. It reaches high absurdity in Greece where candidates for parliament are pledging to defend Greeks from the migrant searching for a day’s work. It is a country ruined by austerity demanded by the most senior of politicians fixed atop the whole of Europe. The woes of Greece originate from their failures yet it is the migrant worker who is being blamed for the terrible fate that has befallen Greek society, the migrant worker who has little say in his or her own life, let alone on anyone else’s.
Leading the opinion polls ahead of the May 6th election, New Democracy is engaging in the same anti-immigrant politics practiced across Europe. The party’s leader, Antonis Samaras, pledges a crackdown on undocumented immigrants already in the country and to step up efforts to secure the borders. Already there are plans to build thirty detention centers across the country to hold undocumented immigrants, this at a time when schools and hospitals are being shuttered to slash public sector spending. Austerity applies to anything but expensively held fears of foreigners.
But we would be mistaken to assume the right-wing is merely tapping into the worst assumptions held by voters. The extremist Golden Dawn party is attempting to fill the space previously held by the Greek state. A report by Reuters explains:
“Former Socialist voter Katerina Karousi, a 76-year old cancer patient, broke down in sobs when party members showed up at her doorstep with large bags of food on Friday morning… At another stop, 41-year-old Constantina Tassiou looked bewildered and overwhelmed as Golden Dawn members piled clothes and supermarket bags at her doorstep. ‘It’s the first time someone has brought us clothes and food. Only the church has helped us so far’ said Tassiou, an epilepsy sufferer whose family lives on her welfare benefits.”
We can easily become obsessed with the far-right and watch in idle horror as they follow up electoral gains with more electoral gains. But not everyone voting for Marine Le Pen or Golden Dawn is a fascist militant ready to fight street battles with their political adversaries. The political center is crumbling and many like Katerina Karousi and Constantina Tassiou are electoral refugees who’ve found themselves in the false shelter of the far-right. These election results for the far-right should be a ticking clock urging us to complete the task that’s been demanded of us all along: to end the austerity regime dealing out this tremendous level of suffering.
I’ve been deleting posts I have elsewhere on the web and I decided this poem was one thing I wasn’t yet ready to suppress out of existence. It’s the only poem I ever attempted. I believe I wrote it during my particularly insufferable years of high school. Pay the post no attention as I’m simply archiving it.
In this small piece of land
There has been more blood than anyone can imagine
More tragedies and travesties and catastrophes
More bombings and killings
More assassinations and invasions
In this small piece of land
Whole nations are created
Whole nations are decimated
Great leaders have fallen
Greater ones have risen
In this small piece of land
A 12 year old boy fought a tank
And in death became immortal
Representing the resistance of a nation
A hope to his proud people
In this small piece of land
That we see with a distorted perspective
of Israeli assaults in “self defense”
of Arab attacks as acts of terror
Of Israelis as heroes
Arabs as monsters
In this small piece of land
The word Apartheid has been resurrected
With roads for Jews and roads for Arabs
Rights for Jews and rights for Arabs
Neighborhoods for Jews and Neighborhoods for Arabs
In this small piece of land
No crime is unimaginable
Refugee camps exterminated
Holocaust survivors targeted
No act too detestable
No murder is unconscionable
All lives are expendable
In this small piece of land that knows no peace.
Since its start, the democracy movement in Bahrain has been the most inconvenient uprising in the Arab World for the United States. The United States saturates its political discourse with idealism and notions of American exceptionalism, yet when confronted with the island Kingdom of Bahrain, the United States is reduced to a mere cynical world actor that readily accommodates a monarchy over the many of tens of thousands of Bahrainis who are demanding the democracy the U.S. allegedly exports.
The United States can claim the distinction as the superpower that not only arms the brutal regime in Bahrain, but which also arms neighboring Gulf states which invaded Bahrain in order to participate in the crackdown. These are very inconvenient facts we must bring up as Bahrain continues to be normalized by the U.S. and the international community, a normalization that is illustrated by the Formula 1 event underway in the country.
The regime in Bahrain has vocally defended the Formula 1 race as a sporting event entirely unrelated to the political turmoil affecting the country. This comes as no surprise. No one counted on the regime to pass up a racing spectacle to distract itself from the bloodshed caused by its security forces in the poor and neglected villages on the outskirts of the capital. The difficulty with the Formula 1 race rests in the inability of the West to address its role in the ongoing repression in Bahrain.
The tear gas powering this weekend’s Formula 1 event was fired last week as it will surely be fired a week from now. The international film crews may disperse alongside the race car drivers but the diplomatic and military support offered by the West to Bahrain is a permanent fixture on the calender. The West simply can’t confuse itself as a neutral actor merely trying to decide if the race is in bad taste. Having intervened on behalf of the regime and at the expense of the Bahraini people, the West has no standing to condemn the Khalifa ruling family.
The protests by Bahrainis against F1 will rightly turn myself and many others away from the television broadcast, but will we be stirred next week when the protests dwell less on our sporting event and more on our teargas shipments? It’s a much easier task to question Bahraini and F1 officials about the appropriateness of the event, it’s far more difficult to question the appropriateness of our own conduct. The race is a travesty but F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone can’t drown out Bahrain’s cries for democracy with his race cars, nor can he be scapegoated for all the accumulated sins of Western powers.
It wasn’t more than a handful of years ago when proponents of healthcare reform would point out that the United States was the only developed nation without a universal healthcare system. Right-wing electoral victories and several IMF interventions later, a number of European nations now keep the United States company on the list of developed nations that privilege healthcare access based on ability to pay rather than need.
Few if any would gasp when told that the most unforgiving attack on universal healthcare has been felt in Greece, a place where democratic norms have been suspended to accommodate the demands of international creditors. Current healthcare spending in Greece is down 25% from what it was in 2009. As the austerity program shutters public hospital wards and clinics, Greeks in need of medical assistance are left to turn to the private healthcare system. With a staggering unemployment rate of 21% and with pensions slashed, this simply isn’t an option, leaving families to seek out charity health services that would otherwise be assisting those in need in the developing world.
This story of decimated healthcare services is repeated to varying degrees of severity across Europe. In Portugal, the IMF and European Union have demanded increased fees placed on the country’s public healthcare system, fees that have priced an increasing number of Portuguese out of those services amid widespread wage cuts. In Spain and the United Kingdom, right-wing governments have taken upon themselves the task of gutting their healthcare systems. The Spanish People’s Party is initiating a nationwide program to cut healthcare spending and subsidies for the elderly in need of medical care. In Britain, the Tories are slashing staff levels in the country’s National Health Service.
This assault upon public healthcare in Europe places the continent on a trajectory toward the model currently maintained by the United States. Whether it’s the United Kingdom, Portugal, Greece or Spain, weakening public healthcare sets the stage for such services to be filled by the private sector. With the British National Health Service facing significant reductions in staffing, users of this health service will rightfully complain about its reduced quality. To this, the free-market fundamentalists in British government will provide a false cure in the form of privatizations.
The sad irony is that in this age of austerity and proverbial belt-tightening, Europe is in the process of shedding the relatively inexpensive public healthcare model for the overpriced American model. The United States overspends on healthcare by 40%, 85% of this overspending is linked to the private insurance system the country has opted for. This figure shouldn’t surprise with private insurance companies posting profits in the billions, none of these profits charged by civil servants in Europe who merely demand a living wage and a respectable pension.
But this profit extracted out of America’s failing healthcare system is the very motivation to slowly creep the U.S. model into Europe. With intact public healthcare systems in Europe, these crucial social services are closed off to exploitation by the market. Dismantle them and suddenly a public good becomes a commodity vulnerable to market speculation and record profits. But it’s difficult for right-wing politicians in Europe to dismantle public healthcare systems that have serviced the public for decades. These systems must first be reduced at their foundation, at their quality of service before the whole structure can be brought down in favor of a for-profit structure.
Those who cherish their public healthcare systems in Europe must not allow themselves to be reduced to inaction by claims that the reforms are modest. True reform would entail the improvement of service, a feat hardly achieved with less nurses, doctors and stocked facilities. Instead, the drive in Europe is to leave public healthcare deformed and mutilated. At this moment, it is the public healthcare model that is in the emergency room. In has already suffered repeated wounds from austerity wielding politicians. If left any longer in their hands, there is little chance universal healthcare can avoid the morgue.
To say a ceasefire has been established in Syria is an overly optimistic assertion. It’s an assertion that will be refuted by each bullet or artillery shell directed at residential areas in towns and cities across the country that have committed the offense of merely protesting Assad rule. Flawed and insufficient the ceasefire may be, it was desperately needed after a period of eight days when one thousand Syrians lost their lives in violence that showed no way of ending in either regime triumph or defeat.
The ceasefire, however, should be seen as a triumph to the various forces opposing the Assad regime. Assad has since the inception of the uprising portrayed it as the work of armed gangs, terrorists, and any other term that can be used to belittle and delegitimize opposition. For the regime to agree to a ceasefire doesn’t simply acknowledge the regime’s weakness, it acknowledges that Syria as a nation is contested territory the Assad regime is physically incapable of controlling even with all the tanks and soldiers at its disposal.
The ceasefire holds a great advantage to opponents of the Assad regime. If the ceasefire is entrenched in the days and weeks ahead, it can permit the intensification of the popular phase of the revolution that dominated the first half of the Syrian uprising. Even in its current tenuous state, the ceasefire has seen large and energetic demonstrations like this one today in the Damascus suburb of Douma:
If the ceasefire deepens and displaced families are permitted to return, protest mobilizations may soon return to their previous form of bringing hundreds of thousands to the street in contrast to the still magnificent mobilization today that brought out tens of thousands of Syrians.
The Syrian revolution is at its healthiest when the largest number of Syrians are able to participate in it. The armed phase, however justified in resisting a brutal military crackdown, simply doesn’t enable enough Syrians to involve themselves in the revolutionary struggle when it is in the form of an armed campaign, an armed campaign defined by smaller and highly mobile units avoiding direct confrontation with the full might of the regime’s army.
The revolution will find its completion through its original mass participation that left the regime so desperate that it stoked sectarian tensions in a cynical ploy to justify its own existence as a supposed vanguard of a united Syria. Toppling the Assad regime requires a diverse coalition from Syrian society, a coalition that stands a better chance of forming during this ceasefire than during the heat of combat that raged just last week. As described with biting accuracy years ago by Ella Shohat, “war is the friend of binarisms, leaving little place for complex identities.” In a society as rich with diversity as Syria, the role of an armed struggle is limited even with revolutionaries retaining the best intentions. I have little doubt that opposition fighters prevented an even greater death toll in population centers like Homs and Idlib. That said, armed struggle stands little chance in subduing the Russian armed Assad regime and stands a lesser chance of replacing it with a government that meets the aspirations of the revolution. Both these goals are to be achieved by the energy and ingenuity of Syria’s youths who initiated the revolution.
The Arab revolutions found their trigger in Tunisia and well over a year after Tunisians drove Ben Ali out of power and into exile, the completion of their revolutionary goals still demands street mobilization. Today, April 9th, The General Union of Tunisian Workers called a protest against the continued unemployment faced by Tunisians, especially Tunisian youths. However, the government of Tunisia maintained a ban on protests and police were used to disperse the crowds of demonstrators who assembled:
Governments will readily reorganize themselves to reestablish a facade of legitimacy. They will fight till the end, however, before conceding any ground on the fundamental inequality and poverty that structure both regime and society. As the following video shows, the government is ready to have Tunisians bleed in order to maintain this structure: