The one comment I received two posts ago, and it was a good one, mentioned how the media make much of the current forms of communication: text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I sometimes think the “news” is a commercial for those services.
We saw similar commentary about Seattle in 1999. At the time, email was a newly popular thing. Let’s take a step back and put this in perspective. Every revolution, like every major event that happens to people, makes use of communication. (No Shamwow, Sherlock.) In whatever time and place, it uses whatever communication is useful in that time and place. For the American War of Independence, it was the printing press, lanterns hung in a belfry, and Ben Franklin’s Post Office. For the Russian Revolution, it was the wireless telegraph. No one attributes either of those events to the means of communication used at the time.
I don’t want to disparage anyone who is using the latest & greatest communication in the service of a good cause. I’ve ranted quite a bit here about communication and how to use it. But guys, it takes more than that to get flesh to move. I’ve tried it. Throughout the recent antiwar movement, I saw how, no matter how many emails and postcards we sent, or how nicely the information was packaged on web sites, the size of antiwar demos and other actions steadily diminished from early 2003 to the present, not just locally, but everywhere. It takes more than communication. I’ll try to treat this subject a little more down below.
Another thing…. When covering Egypt, the media were obsessed with the size of demonstrations, as if to say “All you need is to get enough people demonstrating, and the regime will crumble.” That sounds like giving any would-be revolutionaries instructions for suicide. Sorry, folks. Demos and marches don’t make the government change any more than military parades win wars. For a better description of what actually happened in Egypt, see: http://www.zcommunications.org/why-mubarak-fell-by-michael-schwartz. The “demonstrations” in Egypt were, in effect, a general strike. Also, they were nonviolent only in the sense that they did not INITIATE violence. When thugs attacked them, they defended themselves violently.
Stepping back now to Seattle, the size of the crowd was a secondary thing. Delegates to the WTO conference were physically blocked from attending by well-planned actions. People decided to break the law and take their lumps (quite literally) to make that happen.
Mass communication is great for informing people about the issues. Mass demos are great for raising people’s spirits and making a little show of POTENTIAL force. Ultimately, though, people need a motivation to actually DO something, and it must come in what they see in their daily lives. Something needs to make it clear to people that: “Something is happening that is more important than going to work today, doing my laundry, or the latest episode of my favorite tv show, and it’s up to ME to do it.” It’s been a very long time since many Americans have thought that way. So what leads people to start thinking that way?
“…all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
World food prices are now at an all-time high, and that’s very likely to be a factor in the rebellions we’re seeing now. Both the French and the Russian revolutions were preceded by famines. Hossam el-Hamalawy gives us some clues when he mentions large labor actions that preceded the uprising in Egypt by a couple of years.
Now think about that. Labor unions are mainly about the most immediate bread-and-butter issues for their own members. They don’t need any abstract ideology. They don’t need to demonize their opponents. All that’s needed to motivate their members is a prospect of more money in their pockets.
This “fight to make a better life for me” is largely missing in our own country, among the people who most need it. There are lots of explanations for that, which I won’t try to get into right now.
Those are my only thoughts right now about motivations that might be needed. Another question is: at what point do people overcome their fear of repression? What’s the point of no return, when they decide they have nothing to lose by going on, breaking the law, and taking the risk of getting “disappeared”? When does the endless cycle in the picture above finally become intolerable? All this is just a restatement of that question at the end of “From a spark, a flame”, a few entries ago. No replies yet. No one ready to stick his neck out?