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The new face of global protest 28 juin 2013

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Guardian Weekly (UK) 28 June-4 July 2013, p. 1

Peter Beaumont (Observer)

Myriad demonstrations from Istanbul to Rio. Fuelled by anger and distrust of political elite. The demonstrations in Brazil began after a small rise in bus fares triggered mass protests. Within days this had become a nationwide movement whose concerns had spread far beyond fares: more than a million people were on the streets shouting about everything from corruption to the cost of living to the amount of money being spent on the World Cup.

In Turkey, it was a similar story. A protest over the future of a city park in Istanbul – violently disrupted by police – snowballed, too, into something bigger, a wider-ranging political confrontation with prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has scarcely been brought to a close by last weekend’s clearing of Gezi Park.

If the recent scenes have seemed familiar, it is because they shared common features: viral, loosely organised with fractured messages and mostly taking place in urban public locations.

Unlike the protest movement of 1968 or even the end of Soviet influence in eastern Europe in 1989, these are movements with few discernible leaders and often conflicting ideologies. Their points of reference are not even necessarily ideological but take inspiration from other protests, including those of the Arab spring and the Occupy movement. The result has seen a wave of social movements – sometimes short-lived – from Wall Street to Tel Aviv and from Istanbul to Rio de Janeiro, often engaging younger, better-educated and wealthier members of society.

If the “new protest” can be summed up, it is not in the specifics of the complaints but in a wider idea about organisation encapsulated on a banner spotted in Brazil last week: “We are the social network.”

In Brazil the varied banners underlined the difficulty of easy categorisation as protesters held aloft signs expressing a range of demands from education reforms to free bus fares while denouncing the billions of public dollars spent on stadiums for the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics two years later.

“It’s sort of a Catch-22,” Rodrigues da Cunha, a 63-year-old protester, told the Associated Press. “On the one hand we need some sort of leadership, on the other we don’t want this to be compromised by being affiliated with any political party.”

As the Economist pointed out last week, while mass movements in Britain, France, Sweden and Turkey have been inspired by a variety of causes, including falling living standards, authoritarian government and worries about immigration, Brazil does not fit the picture, with youth unemployment at a record low and enjoying the biggest leap in living standards in the country’s history.

So what’s going on? An examination of the global Edelman Trust Barometer reveals a loose correlation between the ranking of a country on the trust scale and the likelihood of protests. The trust barometer is a measure of public confidence in institutions compiled by the US firm Edelman, the world’s largest privately owned PR company.

p. 9

Mass global protests fuelled by distrust of political elite

In 2011, at the time the Occupy movement was being born in Zuccoti Park on Wall Street, the UK and the US were both firmly placed at the bottom of the “distrusters” while Brazil topped the “trusters”. By this year Brazil had dropped 30 points on the table, while Spain and Turkey, which have both seen protests this year, were both in the distrusted category.

Paul Mason, economics editor of BBC2’s Newsnight and author of Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions, has argued that a key factor, largely driven by new communication technologies, is that people have not only a better understanding of power but are more aware of its abuse, both economically and politically. Mason believes we are in the midst of a “revolution caused by the near collapse of free-market capitalism combined with an upswing in technical innovation” – but not everyone is so convinced.

What does ring true, however, is his assertion that a driving force from Tahrir Square to Occupy is a redefinition of notions of both what “freedom” means and its relationship to governments that seem ever more distant. It is significant, too, that many recent protests have taken place in the large cities that have been most transformed by neoliberal policies.

Tali Hatuka, an Israeli urban geographer, whose book on the new forms of protest will be published next year, identifies the mass mobilisations against the Iraq war in 2003 as a turning point in how people protest. Hatuka argues that, while previous large public protests had tended to be focused and narrow in their organisation, the Iraq war protests saw demonstrations in 800 cities globally which encompassed and tolerated a wide variety of outlooks.

“Most recently,” Hatuka wrote in the journal Geopolitics last year, “this spirit has characterised the Arab spring and New York’s Occupy Wall Street, which were protests based on informal leadership and a multitude of voices.”

“Up to the 1990s,” she said last week, “protests tended to be organised around a pyramid structure with a centralised leadership. As much effort went into the planning as into the protest itself. And the [impact on the] day after the protest was as significant as the event itself. Now protest is organised more like a network. It is far more informal, the event itself often being immediate.”

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