To talk of the dramatic events in 2011 is to talk of collective action movements on a global scale – from the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street in the US, to election protests in Russia. If anything else, the image of a Russian activist holding up a sign claiming “We are the 149%” in reference to the activism occurring all the way across the Atlantic is enough to show how the ideas of mass mobilization can permeate a worldwide consciousness.
This outburst of political activism invites a curious mind to discover the common denominator within all of these acts of civil disobedience. The obvious, and yet often still unexpected, answer is people power and the power of mass mobilization on regime change.
In all of these cases, activism was carried out largely by non-partisan youth groups in each of their respective countries. Today, the question arises: Was the “global people power revolution” in 2011 successful? Many activists and NGOs that saw the phenomenon as a positive beacon for non-violent resistance now seem disenfranchised with its effects. Personally, however, I remain an optimist. Here’s why:
Even as critics discuss and argue over the success or failure of these protests, I nevertheless see a paradigm shift. People have been awakened and are understanding power and obedience not in monolithic terms – where the head of state has top-down control that should be obeyed implicitly – but instead as active participants and shareholders in that power.
I was recently in Slovenia and witnessed first-hand the way that youth movements are organizing hundreds of thousands of people and remain optimistic and eager. Perhaps more importantly, this movement is affecting results. Franc Kangler, the mayor of Slovenia’s second largest town, Maribor, resigned amid controversies of corruption. A few days later, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov announced that the government would be resigning, a measure taken largely in response to protests by middle-class Bulgarians coming together to rally against rising electricity prices and a lower standard of living. Regardless of what the implications are for the future of the country, there is no denying that these protests are a direct result of mass collective actions.
Today, protestors, former cabinet members and movement planners are all planning their next moves. Even in places where violence seems like the driving force for policy change, such as in Syria, thriving people power movements continue to spring up. I have personally seen how they are using their new found power in dynamic and creative ways that violent alternatives may not be able to account for.
While we don’t know whether the mobilization is good or bad for nations like Egypt or Tunisia, I subscribe to the following: there are two types of countries in the world – unhappy and happy. In unhappy countries, people are afraid of their governments; in happy countries, governments are afraid of their people. By continuing research into this people power phenomenon and by educating people around the globe in ways to harness it and use it, we can definitely attempt to make the world, at least, a fairer place to live in.
Author: Srdja Popovic is Executive director is Centre for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies (www.canvasopedia.org).