2011 in review -- year of the masses
2011 was an amazing year. The intense interconnectedness which modern technology has brought to humanity world-wide made itself felt as never before, in a wave of mass protests that drew inspiration from each other despite vast geographical separation and cultural differences. It started in Tunisia, spread rapidly to Egypt and then the rest of the Arab world, then to Europe and our own country, and finally to Russia. Even in China, the tyrants are beginning to tremble.
The circumstances and issues in all these places were different, but the common thread remained. Cynicism, passivity, and defeatism faded before a new realization that ordinary people, organized and energized and determined, can challenge entrenched powers and institutions that seemed as solid and immovable as the Pyramids.
The Occupier movement in the US was a true mass protest. It was not organized or articulate, and it was never clear who, if anyone, spoke for it. But it drew together people of many different kinds who had grasped the central problem confronting our country today -- the explosive growth of inequality to obscene levels, and the destructive stranglehold of the financial parasite class on the economy. For most Americans, real incomes and security and prospects for upward mobility have stagnated and even declined, and we must fight back. The Occupiers may be short on solutions -- may even have created a distraction from real solutions -- but they have, at least, correctly identified the problem.
Originating in Canada but rapidly spreading through the US was another new protest movement, the SlutWalks, triggered by a single clueless police officer's remark that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized". This came to symbolize an omnipresent problem which is hard to define but which we all know when we see it -- the puritanical victim-blaming "slut-shaming" mentality which still taints and deforms sexuality even in our supposedly liberated times. All over North America, women marched to demonstrate that they could and would dress however they damn well pleased and that no one had any right to take it as an invitation, or excuse, for assault.
(Fellow males, do remember that we too have an interest here. Beyond the obvious fact that dressing revealingly does not make women legitimate targets of violence, if society keeps sending the message that it does, then they'll stop dressing revealingly -- and what a drag that would be.)
All these movements were denounced by the powers-that-be in the terms usual for reactionaries in the respective countries. From Cairo to Moscow, authoritarians blathered about foreign agitators (Qaddhafi's regime got so confused as to blame the Libyan revolt on both the US and al-Qâ'idah, unlikely co-conspirators). EU elites grumbled darkly about populism and nationalism. American right-wingers seemed to deal with the Occupiers by slipping into "damn those dirty hippies" mode, apparently forgetting which side from back in the sixties ended up being vindicated by history.
Victory is not yet complete, anywhere. In some Arab lands the old regimes still cling grimly to power with increasingly-bloody claws, while in others there is an ongoing struggle to protect hard-won revolutionary gains against theocratic or military reactionaries. The EU has ignored the mass anti-austerity protests in its member nations, though its grip on them is looking ever more shaky. In our country, the Occupier movement seems to be bifurcating -- an increasingly anarchist faction is descending into bullying of the working class like this and this and will eventually fade away, while the elements that want to achieve real change are joining forces with unions and learning how to work within the political system. And it's too early to tell how Russia and China will turn out.
But it's very hard to imagine the old passivity returning. There will be retreats and defeats, even serious ones, but in the long run the people will win.
Best wishes for the coming year to the newly-awakened world, and especially the people who started it all: the Arabs. I never thought you had it in you. I was wrong.
2011 also saw the deaths of three of the world's worst people -- Osama bin Laden, Muammar Qaddhafi, and Kim Jong Il -- as well as of one of its best. And a personification of evil we'd thought long buried -- Jim Crow -- rose up from the dead, in the form of blatant vote-suppression laws in state after state.
It was a year in which Ireland took a firm stand against evil (to the discontent of some), while many at Penn State embraced it.
Obama ended DADT, gay marriage came to New York state, the US Air Force started upholding the Constitution, the first computer more powerful than a human brain came on line, and yet another religious prophesy fell flat.
I'd like to end this post with a visual reminder of the right-wing contribution to America's national debate:
Just so we don't forget.