Revolt seems to have hit the shores of Hong Kong. I’m not there, but here’s a translation of an article by a Spanish blogger on the spot, who explains what’s happening and why. (Check out the original here)
Occupy Hong Kong and the Contradictions of Neoliberalism in China.
“It’s 10 a.m. in Hong Kong, 6 hours later than Madrid. When I woke up this morning, the occupation was still there. I can almost see it clearly from my window. It’s the one in the district of Mong Kok (on the mainland, Kowloon), because there are two more occupations active on the “island”, which is Hong Kong proper. One is in Admiralty, near the government offices. Another is in Cause Way Bay, one of the congested commercial districts. The barricades cutting traffic there are still standing. They are simple barricades, made of fences and some street furniture. Some of them have been erected by police themselves about 500 meters from the zones where people use to gather. I also see the dozens of buses that have been stranded in the area since Sunday. By now they have become walls of democracy, on which people have attached all kinds of messages. The banners and signs on Nathan Road Avenue and the people sitting on the driveway for the last five days are a unique scene in the city. This is one of the busiest arteries. They are unbearable unless the masses of people and the urban ant nest generate an addictive curiosity in you, as is my case. The pollution there is usually around level 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, these days it’s down to 4 or 5. I can finally walk or cycle without having to fight with heavy traffic. The streets are ours, for now, and me, I also feel part of local issues, no matter that I’m an immigrant.
How did it all start? According to the official accounts of the tabloids, we are now on day 5 of the ‘Umbrella Revolution’, because the tear gas canisters that were launched last Sunday supposedly mark the official beginning. Actually, college students have declared a “boycott” of classes on Monday September 22 when they began to manifest in Admiralty. On Friday 26 middle school students joined. On Saturday there were the first police charges that included the use of pepperspray. Hence the use of umbrellas as protection, which were subsequently elevated to symbol of the protests. That first melee conflict triggered a wave of solidarity which filled the streets on Sunday. The police charges and the use of tear gas exacerbated the protest and since then occupations have been consolidated day and night in the three aforementioned areas.
Almost no-one expected police violence of this type, let alone against students aged 15 to 25 for the most part. Only some remember a similar confrontation with the South-Corean trade-unionists who attended the 2005 anti-globalization protests. But earlier this year, at a pro-democracy rally on July 1, attended by an estimated half a million people, there had hardly been any friction with authorities. The only complaints I remember were due to us having to wait for hours without leaving the site because the police had cordoned off the protest and occasionally opened aisles for vehicles and pedestrian traffic that was unrelated to the protest. On June 4 there was another pro-democracy rally, coinciding with the annual wake in commemoration of those who died on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Furthermore, the pro-democracy protests have a long history in Hong Kong, but this time to understand recent events it’s important to highlight the organization of Occupy Central (OC) which has had a strong presence in the media and on the political agenda for over a year now. They have threatened to paralyze the financial center (Central district) if full universal suffrage “in accordance with international standards” was not guaranteed. This past summer they called a successful electronic referendum, which kept their hopes alive to influence government policy on the subject, the so-called “political reform”. But these hopes vanished when the central government in Beijing declared in August that the only universal suffrage will be the choice between 2 or 3 candidates selected by a special committee of 1,200 members, who have so far always been veered towards the interests of Beijing. OC leaders had all but conceded defeat even though they declared their steadfast intention to carry out a sit-in protest. While their plans were being overtaken by the students, OC declared the night from Saturday to Sunday to be the start of their actions and joined its voice to the call for a mobilization that was already underway and being led by the younger generation. Still it should be noted that one of the most prominent student organizations, Scholarism, is also part of the coalition that forms OC.
What are the demands of the “Umbrella Revolution”? The most obvious is the right to direct universal suffrage. The transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997 was performed in accordance with a mini-constitution, or Basic Law, in which a special status was guaranteed to the region together with numerous freedoms and powers that do not exist in other parts of China. But in the political organization of the region there are many holes left to be filled. One of them is the promise to move towards universal suffrage. As the central government has the power of veto in the election of the president of Hong Kong, it has decided that it also has the authority to interpret the Basic Law in accordance with their own interests and therefore seeks to impose its model of universal suffrage among candidates sympathetic to Beijing. This masquerade is the eye of the current storm. But it is also a symptom of more profound grievances. Since the Basic Law is valid for 50 years, many people suspect that the central government is preparing the ground for a general convergence of the Hong Kong regime with the rest of China. In other words, every time more freedoms, rights and democratic institutions could be suppressed. And some recent policies seem to point in this direction, like the attacks on press freedom, academic freedom, and the manipulation of the history curriculum in schools for example.
On the other hand, as we are observing a large and complex social movement, we have to wonder how many underlying motives are actually playing their part in this. This is a tricky question because it requires us to take into account the entire discourse (and in my case I only have access to what is pronounced in- or translated into English) and understand the overall context. According to everything I read in the streets, in the press and on social networks, I think people want to bring about a Western-style liberal democracy to serve as a containing wall against the authoritarianism of mainland China. Hardly anyone speaks about changing the dominant capitalist economic system and even less its logistic, commercial and financial base that has been giving such good returns to this global city ever since its deindustrialization. It is a paradoxical situation because under colonial rule the city did not enjoy full democracy either. But the brutal repression in Tiananmen reinforced the overwhelming opposition to capitalist authoritarianism by the Communist Party and helped forge the unique ‘identity’ of Hong Kong which embraces colonial legacies such as ‘the rule of law’ and administrative efficiency. Corruption, censorship and repression in mainland China are considered some of the ills which Hong Kong seems to be able to keep at bay.
Finally, it is no coincidence that it’s mostly young people out on the streets. Not only do they have more resources and opportunities to do so, but they will also live more years of their existence under the post-2047 regime than other generations. And they are not only concerned about their freedoms, but also about their welfare. Although the unemployment rate is around 3%, the prospects do not look very promising, because over a third of society is living below the official poverty line. It’s an extreme neoliberal regime based on “workfare” where there are lots of jobs available, but many are so poorly paid and have so few rights that you need to be very optimistic and do a lot of somersaults in order to stay afloat. Getting into college is a privilege for less than a quarter of those who aspire to go to university, and the tuition fees are not cheap (about 4,000 euros per year in the eight publicly funded universities). The housing prices are the second most expensive in the world, behind New York, and waiting lists for access to social housing are saturated for decades, which makes for numerous cases of overcrowding and substandard housing. Some of the principal grievances are concerned with property speculation by foreign capital, especially from China, which invests in local real estate as if it were a casino, causing prices to rise through the roof. Money laundering of proceeds from corruption, among other sources of illegal income, like is also happening in nearby Macau, often in collusion with the big banks, has repeatedly proven to be at the root of this fast-paced economic activity. In the absence of unemployment benefits or public pensions the system forces anyone to indebt themselves or to invest. In fact, the uncontrollable private pension funds that every employed worker needs to subscribe to, have been nurtured by legislation that is increasingly questioned. And if that were not enough, the city-state of Hong Kong enjoys an extraordinary financial surplus even though its successive governments continue to recommen austerity and prudence, together with cuts in social benefits. We might add that the city hosts many of the greatest fortunes of the world, which makes the gap and the social polarization even more unbearable, even though everyday life seems oddly sunk in motley peaceful coexistence. There are also 300,000 domestic workers (mostly Indonesians and Filipinos) subject to draconian conditions of exploitation, abuse and legal hindrance.
Under the carpet of luxury, consumerism, waste and growth without limits, there is a divided society that struggles for dignity and self-determination of their future. In line with a rich experience of struggle and previous actions, including two surprising victories (in 2003 when people opposed the “national security” legislation, and in 2012 when students and the entire education sector, managed to paralyze a plan to implement the “patriotic education”) we can say that there’s a long road ahead. Not only on the streets but also in the institutions, despite the oppressive model that currently prevails.”
So I spent a week in Barcelona this month. First thing I noticed, entering the city: a banner over a motorway bridge, and people protesting against education cuts. Second thing, like last time, the Catalan flags at the windows. There are three types. One with a white star on blue (independence), one with a red star (independence and socialism), and the official flag, no stars, only stripes (union with Spain). You will not find a single Spanish flag flying from the windows.
I won’t go into the nationalist discourse. Just a brief reflection on the tribal instinct. Human beings generally live in packs. They stick together on the basis of certain similarities, linguistic, social, racial, religious, etc. They have a tendency to distrust of differences. In a globalized society, this tendency is largely drowned out by the benefits of cultural, economic and scientific exchange. But it doesn’t take much to stir up those feelings. They are just under the surface. All you need is a soapbox and a loud megaphone. Usually the soapbox is a public stage, the speaker is a politician and the media provide the megaphone. If you keep talking about ‘them and us’, people will pick up on it, and eventually believe what you’re saying. Theoretically it is possible to pitch any group of people against any other group of people in even the most tolerant society. It has been done before.
A Catalan friend of mine came back home after several months abroad and she found everybody suddenly talking about independence. “What the hell is going on?” she wondered. “Did I miss something?”
While I was there, I had the opportunity to meet some of my comrades from the Spanish front, and from the March to Athens. I wondered, what is the state of the movement. The general idea I get is that of nostalgia. Unity turned to splinters. Some initiatives go on, but most people stay at home. Youngsters emigrate.
True. But equally valid is a more positive point of view, as was pointed out to me. A lot of objectives have been achieved. After sustained protests, the anti-protest law that would criminalize the 15M movement is on hold, together with the tightening of abortion legislation, and the privatization of health care in the capital region of Madrid. The faraonic Eurovegas project has also been cancelled. And most spectacularly, there has been brief flare of nationwide resistance, originating from Burgos.
Burgos is at the core of the conservative Castilian highland. It used to be Franco’s headquarters for most of the Spanish Civil War. Popular resistance against the construction of a boulevard in the neighbourhood of Gamonal was swift and effective. ‘Contundente‘, as the Spanish police chiefs like to put it.
A friend from Burgos told me the story with homeric flair. I had to take his word for it, it was too good of a tale. At Gamonal neighbourhood, containers were burned as barricades. Hundreds of well prepared slingers repeatedly battered police lines with stones, filling up their pockets every time they took refuge in the side streets where auxiliary units were preparing ammunition. Hannibal used to incorporate the Iberians into his army, precisely because they were good at this kind of thing.
“So many stones! All at once. It was as though they blocked out the sun!”
Really. That’s what he said. Like the Persians at the Thermopylae against three hundred Spartans. ‘We will be fighting in the shadow.’
In Burgos, however, police didn’t fight back. They mounted their vehicles and left.
Faced with active resistance and nationwide protests the government backed down after only a few days. The project got cancelled.
“The whole country is covered with straw. Anything will do to ignite it.”
I saw a man sitting at a metro station last week. Gracia neighbourhood, Barcelona. He was reading a brick of a hardcover, entitled ‘1914-1918’. It’s a hot topic this year. World War 1, the massacre that ended the Age of Empires and inaugurated the 20th century.
The prologue of the conflict began in Sarajevo, with the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, at the hands of a Serbian nationalist. At the time, the region was at the centre of a power struggle between German-backed Austria and Russian-backed Serbia, and, by extension, between the two grand alliances that included almost every great power of the day. Hence, the local conflict went global.
After one hundred years and three devastating wars, the country and its peoples are still divided and subject to powerplay from abroad. Earlier this month, protests erupted in Tuzla, against corruption, plunder, unemployment and a failed political system. What follows is an overview of the current problems in Bosnia-Herzegovina from an anonymous activist on the ground. For more info about the ongoing protests, check out this article in Roar Mag.
“Political dysfunction started with the Dayton Peace Agreement, which disfigured the country and left it decentralized, in service to the ideas which started the war in the first place. Aggression toward the territory. The Dayton agreement left Bosnia-Herzegovina as the only ex Yugoslav state that had or did not have war without it’s head, and dependent on the ideas that come from the outside supporting nations such as are Croatia, Serbia and Turkey.
Soon after the protests started our local official government had meetings with prime ministers of these above mentioned countries. General idea is that we are a protectorate and a colony for political ideas, economical and religious interests that come from each of these countries. Sarajevo, as a capital city lost its role and two out of three main nations (Serbs, Croats) look at Zagreb or Belgrade as their capital cities though they are in different separate and independent states.
As the country got destabilized and decentralized so did the justice system and with nobody to look after the state’s general interests in post war years, along with the theft of the foreign donations and the mobster privatization played by the ruling parties, the whole core of the state is collapsing, schooling system, medical care system … So that generally, Dayton is looked at as a plunder agreement and not as a peace one.
Once a well organized state became a state of small enclaves of isolated religious and ethnic zealots with corrupted provincial mentality. But, there is a saying in ex Yugoslavia, if Bosnia arises the whole Balkans will. Yugoslavia was actually formed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it was called a ‘little Europe’ back in the day.
Refreshed with a new generation we began the new struggle against socioeconomic dehumanization and humiliation of the common folk for the interest of international religious based mob cartels that want us kept in isolation and hatred while we’re being robbed.
And as soon as the protests stopped people organized in plenums all over the county, seeking honest conversation leading to solutions to the major problems left unsolved, such as, war crimes, post war privatization, social security, cuts for the political parties, nepotism, devastated factories, nontransparent public deals… and in the town of Mostar, which is still kept separated like Berlin was but without the wall, where protesters also burned down the two main party’s headquarters, the message has been sent that these politics of segregation aren’t in our minds and souls as Europeans..”
In the abovementioned article in Roar, the plenum is described by Mate Kapović as being a general assembly, “very similar to the original Russian soviets. The protesters are using them in order to reach collective decisions and demands in a direct democratic manner. What is interesting is that the idea of the plenum, as a political body for democratic decision-making, originated in the 2009 wave of student occupations in Croatia, while the Croatian student movement itself got the idea from the 2006 Belgrade student movement. This, in other words, is a fine example of post-Yugoslav left activist cooperation and mutual inspiration.”
A merry new year to all. And from the looks of it, it’s going to be a good one, revolutionarily speaking. Ukraine is crazy. You will probably know that. I was stunned by the romantic pictures of fire battles in the snow, with demonstrators launching molotovs and riot police in roman legion style responding with flame throwers. It’s epic. The rebels even employed a self constructed catapult to launch fire bombs at police.
Why am I not in Kiev, you might ask, to write a rousing account of the events from the front line? Well, again, vanity. Revolution, in the classic sense of a complete overthrow of society, is a chimera. There are more important things in life.
And yet, I keep in touch, especially with Spain. Last week I received a letter from a comrade whom I met during the first days of the Spanish uprising in the Communications Commission of Acampada Sol. This is the translation. Spanish original down below.
«So… 15M is pretty dead. But certain neighbourhood assemblies remain active. What you do have now, is a myriad of small, well organized groups all over the place: working groups on housing (the Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid unites them all), the citizen waves, Yo Si Sanidad Universal (people without medical insurance, assisted by doctors who practice civil disobedience), new occupations to house people who have been evicted (thirty odd buildings throughout the country), groups who organize themselves to attack the reform of the Citizen Security Law [aimed to punish people with stratosferic fines for demonstrating], feminist groups for free abortion (I don’t know if you know, but there is a law banning abortion being discussed in parliament now).
So even if there is no unity within 15M, there are still a lot of active ‘comandos‘ who take part in the mobilizations, which makes me a little more positive 😉
People are very much concentrated on the electoral front at the moment. There are many new initiatives: the X Party, Alternative from the Bottom, We Can (they presented themselves last Friday and they intend to ‘hack’ the United Left party), personally I collaborate with On Line (enred.cc), which isn’t a party, but we try to create a Democracy charter, a document meant to unite the struggles on the basis of what 15M stood for. Then there is Equo (ecologists), the CUP in Catalonia, an assembly based party which already holds three seats in the Catalan parliament. The political front is very much on the move with the European elections coming up. Though 15M is not tied to any party, many people are active in one of these groups.
Then there’s the struggle [against the construction of a boulevard in the neighbourhood] of Gamonal (Burgos), which has reactivated struggles in many cities around the state. But given the fact that the construction has already been stopped and the demonstrations weren’t that big, I suppose it will implode (in Madrid there have been arrests for three days in a row).
Moreover, on March 22, the Marches of Dignity will arrive in Madrid, an initiative of the SAT, a tenacious Andalusian trade union that occupies estates and raids supermarkets to get food for those who are in need. They can count on a lot of support, and all of us are waiting to see what will happen. Maybe it’s going to be big. Then we’ll see what happens in May. Another 15M anniversary? There are many people who want to hijack the European elections, there is an initiative that is very much on the move: the Troika Party, which aims to ridicule the elections and undermine the two-party system.
Ah, I don’t know if I told you. Together with fellow activists we created a press agency to cover all this, in particular the news that has to do with social movements. It may help you to get an idea of what’s going on in Spain, especially in Madrid. It’s called Diso Press, Agencia de Prensa y Difusión Social, http://disopress.com. All content is CC BY-NC-SA. So you can take whatever you want, whenever you want.»
“Pues… Lo que es el 15M, está bastante muerto. Pero algunas asambleas de barrio siguen trabajando. Lo que sí hay ahora es multitud de pequeños grupos muy bien organizados en todas partes: grupos de trabajo de vivienda (la Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid los une a todos), de todas las mareas , de Yo Si Sanidad Universal (la gente que no tiene cobertura sanitaria mediante médicos que hacen desobediencia civil), nuevas ocupaciones para vivienda de desahuciados (van unos treinta edificios a nivel estatal), grupos que se organizan para atacar la reforma de la Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana, grupos feministas pro aborto libre ( no se si sabes que está ya en el parlamento la ley que pretende prohibir el aborto de los nazis que tenemos en el gobierno)…
Con lo que no hay unidad de 15M, pero hay un montón de “comandos” trabajando y que se suman a las movilizaciones que haya. Con lo que soy algo más positivo 😉
Ahora se mira mucho el frente electoral. Hay un montón de iniciativas nuevas: Partido X; Alternativas desde Abajo; Podemos (se presentó el viernes y pretende “hackear” Izquierda Unida); yo colaboro en En Red (enred.cc), que no es un partido pero pretende crear la Carta por la democracia, un documento que pueda unir la lucha muy basado en lo que dijo el 15M; Equo (ecoligistas); las CUP en Cataluña, que tienen ya 3 escaños en el parlamento catalán y son asamblearias; Proces Constituent también en Catalunya… Es un frente que se está moviendo mucho ya que se acercan las elecciones europeas. Aunque el 15M es apartidista, mucha gente está dentro de alguno de estos grupos.
Y luego está la lucha de Gamonal (Burgos), que ha reactivado la lucha en muchas ciudades del estado, aunque como han parado las obras contra las que protestaban y las manifestaciones no han sido muy grandes supongo que se desinflará (en Madrid ha habido detenciones 3 días seguidos).
Además, el 22 de marzo llegan a Madrid las Marchas de la Dignidad, una iniciativa que monta el SAT, un sindicatos andaluz muy cañero que realiza ocupaciones de tierras e incursiones en los supermercados para conseguir comida para gente necesitada. Tienen mucho apoyo, y todo el mundo está esperando a ver qué pasa. Quizá sea grande. Y habrá que ver qué pasa en mayo. ¿Otro aniversario del 15M? Y mucha gente quiere hackear las elecciones europeas, hay una iniciativa que igual se mueve mucho: Troika Party, que quiere ridiculizarlas y quitar más poder al bipartidismo.
Ah, no sé si te dije. Yo y otros compañeros de activismo hemos creado una agencia de noticias y cubrimos todo esto, especialmente todo lo que tenga que ver con movimientos sociales. Quizá te sirva para hacerte una idea de cómo está la cosa por España, especialmente Madrid. Se llama Diso Press, Agencia de Prensa y Difusión Social, http://disopress.com. Los contenidos son CC BY SA No Comercial, así que coge lo que quieras cuando quieras.”
“Whatever happened to Occupy Wall Street?”
People ask me this sometimes when we get to talk about activism. Many of them hardly remember anything. They recall some images of folks camping out on the squares with cardboard slogans. “Wasn’t it the autumn fashion, the year before last?”
I guess it was.
“So what happened?”
For me, it used to be pretty difficult to answer that. Occupy must have ended somewhere along the way, but I can’t say exactly what happened.
Now I know.
Occupy Wall Street ended up under the Christmas tree.
“Give the gift of spiritual insurrection, posters and canvases now available, click here to purchase”
It’s kinda curious. And in some way, everything fits. Occupy Wall Street started off with a poster, and it ended with that very same poster. Under the Christmas tree.
Now get this. During the course of the French Revolution the representative body steadily decreased in size from an assembly to a directorate, to a triumvirate. Three consuls at the head of the Republic, and one of them made the rules.
Now imagine Occupy Wall Street. There is a small cabin in the woods, upstate New York. Inside, three conspirators are gathered around a laptop, writing a letter to Santa Claus. All three of them wear Santa’s red hat. Only one of them also wears a beard. He is the Leaderless Leader. On top of their wishlist, a flying reindeer sleigh. The three conspirators dream of flying around the world and scattering star dust over the roofs. Disney/Pixar wide screen 3D. Can you see it? Can you see the houses light up, the people taking the streets? It’s the 99%! They are rising up!
No. Different cabin. Same three conspirators. They have forked hooves and a tail, the Leaderless Leader also carries horns. There is a blue haired lawyer knocking on the door. He brings his client and a contract to sign. Three little souls in exchange for every dime that can be made out of the OWS brand.
No. Different cabin. Same three conspirators. They are dressed up in grand uniform. Marshals of the People’s Republic of the 99%. The Leaderless Leader wears a bicorne. They are behind a laptop, photoshopping themselves into the hall of presidents at Disneyworld, Florida.
The Leaderless Leader is the founder, theorist, and prophet of the movement. The commandments of activism that he has brought down from the mountain to the blog are, unfortunately, written in a neo-intellectualoid dialect that isn’t meant to be understood by the 99 percent, if at all. One day, during a university occupation, the Leaderless Leader had a vision of people bringing the occupation to the squares. Maybe he thought he was the first, maybe he had never heard of Tienanmen Square.
Three conspirators. Board members of the ‘Occupy Solidarity Network’, operating occupywallst.org, the biggest megaphone of the movement.
Occupywallst.org is not, and never has been, a tool of the New York City General Assembly, or of Occupy Wall Street or the Occupy Movement as a whole. It is run by a closed affinity group of self proclaimed radicals. As an anarchist collective, they used to refrain from signing their communications with names. Until recently, when the three conspirators dropped their masks and entered the limelight as ‘founders of the Occupy movement’.
The Leaderless Leader presents an interview with Adbuster’s Kalle Lasn and himself in the New Yorker as his credentials for being an Occupy founder.
Let’s go back to the French Revolution for a sec. History as a tragedy and as a farce. When Napoleon and the other two consuls grabbed power on 18 Brumaire 1799, the revolution still held sway over France and beyond her borders. When the three OSN conspirators staged their coup, Occupy Wall Street didn’t occupy a damn thing.
Were they really serious? Did they just want to make fools out of themselves? Did they really think it wouldn’t cause a stir among those people who still feel a certain link with Occupy Wall Street? Maybe they really didn’t. And indeed, on the site there is a queer absence of negative reactions to the poster sale.
A tiny minority appropriating something that belonged to all of us, in order to sell it off. Wasn’t that what made people Occupy Wall Street in the first place? There’s irony here. Read ‘Occupy Irony’, the reaction by the people from ows.net.
It gets more hilarious. The Leaderless Leader is a former editor of Adbusters. As such, he participated in the launch of the original call to occupy Wall Street. Adbusters also created the famous poster. Over a week ago, the Leaderless Leader hacked into the Adbusters Twitter account, to protest against whatever personal resentment separated him from the magazine, and to sell their own poster.
Maybe people are underestimating him. Maybe it was all meant to be a brilliant joke, Andy Kaufman style. A spoof of the spoofers. The renegate prophet hitting Adbusters in the face with their own poster and making a buck out of it. Thus, OWS entered popculture, it consumed its 15 minutes of fame, and now it’s over. Buy the poster. Also available at Wallmart. Hang it on the wall as a memorial to what has been. Tell your grandchildren about it.
No, I fear this whole farce was serious. And even that I can understand. I have played revolution as well the last few years, whenever it was appropriate. It’s a fun game, it’s addictive, you can get carried away by it. You may start to think that what you’re doing is really important. Well, it isn’t. Nobody can predict the moment of revolution. Nobody can ‘make it happen’. Every once in a while there’s a revolutionary moment. Just like that. It won’t last long, maybe a few weeks, at most a couple of months. Then there’s pressure from the outside, struggle from the inside. The harmony breaks down, the bubble bursts, and the rest is vanity.
Vanity, my dear comrades. Give me a pulpit, give me a wooden country church, give me a gospel choir singing ‘Hallelujah!’, and I will preach! Yes I will. Sing it again. Hallelujah!
No really. I have a feeling Santa isn’t coming to town this Christmas. He’ll skip another year. Nobody will notice. Hardly anyone would even recognize Santa, without that silly beard, the red coat, the reindeer/sleigh accessories. The fact of the matter is that Santa comes to town whenever he pleases, and that’s rarely at Christmas.
I met him a couple of times, old Santa. Mostly in summer and spring. This year I saw him pouring coffee and tea for the people at Gezi Park. I have also seen him dance this year, linking together Turks and Kurds, and gay and straight and left and right and everything in between. Santa is jolly and kind. He is also a brave man. I saw him again, in clouds of gas, patiently delivering relief to people’s eyes with a spray of antidote. The last time I saw him, he was sitting in the sun, on guard of a barricade.
Outside pressure. Inside struggle. Vanity. Santa went back to the North Pole.
Will Santa still make it to town? Will the revolution be back next year? Will you give the gift of spiritual insurrection?
Posters and canvasas now available. Hallelujah! Order today, and have yourself a Merry Christmas, ho ho ho!
Tuscany, December 21
A quick update on Italy. The Pitchforks were much hyped, but fizzled fast. During the first few days, populist leaders tried to hop on the train. Beppe Grillo, the comedian opposition leader even called for a coup d’etat by the armed forces. Old lion Berlusconi was set to meet representatives of the pitchfork mob, but backed down just in time.
The uprising against a vote of confidence for the government was to be a pitchfork ‘march on rome’. The historical echo of Mussolini’s takeover of power in 1922 was one of the many issues that divided the spirits. Identity crisis hit fast. A photo in the papers of a presumed pitchfork leader driving off in a second hand Jaguar only helped to aggravate the crisis. Some people went to Rome anyway, not for a march, but for a sit-in. It was a major flop.
“Sure they have all reasons of the world to protest, but come on, I have to go to work, pick up the kids, do groceries, etc.” (Woman at a pitchfork roadblock).
Tuscany, December 10.
This time it took me by surprise. While all eyes are on the ‘eurorevolution’ in Ukraine, yesterday Italy was swept by a sudden outburst of civil unrest. The so-called ‘pitchfork’ movement brought people to the streets all over the country. There were heavy clashes with police in Turin.
So what is this movement? Who is behind it? What do they want? It’s hard to tell, because it seems to be very heterogeneous.
The movement was started by Sicilian farmers two years ago, it gained support by truck drivers, and lately by the impoverished middle class. In general, there is a growing feeling of discontent with the government, with austerity measures, with high taxes, the euro, and with unfair competition from chain stores and cheap Chinese products. Yesterday, many small shop owners closed in solidarity with the protest. Others who didn’t adhere were picketed and forced to close.
There doesn’t seem to be a clear leadership or any plans. A major impulse of the street protest comes from the far right and from neofascist groups. At the same time there was also an unlikely presence of fringes from the extreme left. I have never seen anything like that before, here in Italy.
Motorways were blocked by truckers all througout the country. Railway traffic was disrupted by protesters in Turin and Genoa. In Turin, clashes with police occurred in the central Piazza del Castello as demonstrators tried to storm the regional government building. Police responded with charges and tear gas. From the side of the protesters, the resistance was spearheaded by football supporters from Juventus and Torino. Again, an unlikely brotherhood.
In the early afternoon, something curious happened. After the clashes, demonstrators in Turin challenged the police officers to take off their helmets and lay down their shields. ‘You are underpaid. You are with us!’ someone shouted through a megaphone.
The commander in the field was the first to comply. After that, the others followed suit. The crowd reacted with a wave of cheers. A similar gesture of solidarity from the side of police occurred in Genoa and Bolzano. Spontaneous acts of fraternization with police were recorded in other parts of the country as well.
Today, peaceful actions and road blocks of the Pitchfork movement continue. Some protesters have already threatened that all hell will break loose if the grand coalition of Enrico Letta will survive tomorrow’s vote of confidence.