Street protests - ÖZLEM ALBAYRAK

Street protests

The “yellow vest” protests/movement that started in France against fuel tax hikes reminded me of the uprising that started in January 2001 in the Philippines.

The movement started in the country when a text message was sent to cell phones around midnight in the capital city Manila and its surroundings saying, “Go 2 EDSA, wear black.” EDSA is the largest street in Manila and its meeting point, short for Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue. Following the days after that night, the number of protestors who wore black reached over 1 million. On the fourth day, the president of the Philippines of the time, Estrada, had to resign from his position.

As you can see, the yellow vest garb of France is not a novelty for new social movements. The tactics, the ways of protest and strategies of demonstrators generally bear traces of daily practices of that country in these kinds of movements. Just like the costumes, these tactics, tools and ways of protest are manifestations of identity and an attempt to distinguish themselves.

What is odd for today is that it no longer possible to predict where and when an uprising may start. Last year on New Year’s Eve, we were analyzing the Tehran street protests which seemed as if they were never going to end. Before that, in 2014, there were serious protests in Stockholm and Sweden. In 2013, there were the Gezi protests in Turkey, and although we were so busy with dealing with our own problems and couldn’t see what was going on in other places, there were serious uprisings in Rio and Hamburg the same year. Before 2013, there were the Arab uprisings, primarily in Egypt and Tunisia, about which many books and dissertations have been written so far. We still remember the “Occupy Wall Street” protests in the U.S. and the 2008 protests in Greece which turned streets into war zones.

Since the beginnings of the 2000s, we can easily say that, regardless of geography or region, many people from various countries took to the streets. It seems that the first century after the millennium is the century of those who can come together to protest, whether violently or not, their unhappy lives, thanks to technology. At least the first 20 years, if we round it up, has been like this.

Nevertheless, as far as I can see, there is a fundamental difference between the Eastern and Southern Hemispheres and the Western and Northern Hemispheres: the reality of social movements. The racist far-right is on the rise in Europe, and discriminative, xenophobic policies are becoming mainstream policies as they increase their momentum every other day. A general political dead end is prevalent in the old and new world, which means wasting the values humanity has been accumulating for centuries.

Given the circumstances, people in Europe are going out to the streets not because of these reasons but for economic ones. For instance, they are protesting the fuel tax hike in France. The chaos in Greece was also economic; the increasing debt to the EU at that time was the reason why masses who became penniless took to the streets. In Iceland, the cacerolazo demonstrations (banging pots and pans from one’s kitchen) in which people protested the high prices was so widespread in its scale that it was called the Kitchen Revolution, and they toppled the government in the end. Likewise, in Spain, the series of mass protests started after the economy hit rock bottom, which shook the entire country and were named as a revolution too: the Rhizomatic revolution. In Wall Street too, as it is widely known, the protests started after the mortgage system exploded, hence completely related to economic reasons.

On the other hand, in the Eastern hemisphere, things have been different. In the movements in the east, economic reasons secondary. Neither Turkey nor Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, or the others had major economic problems; at least the economies of these countries were not worse than the previous year. The arguments of the protests in these countries were not referring to economic problems either. The hundreds of thousands of people of the eastern and southern countries came together and protested against the authorities in demand of human rights, democracy, justice, honor, women’s rights, freedom, and against oppressive regimes and corruption.

Why the social movements in the West emerged from economic reasons and not the narrowing political area or racism, and why the movements in the East started regarding demanding human rights, freedom, democracy and justice are both issues that need to be separately pondered and discussed.

We don’t have space to discuss the yellow vest protests in France, so hopefully, we will cover that next week…

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