People want alternatives through meaningful reform
The global year of 2019, long after the 2011 wave, was a year that ushered in a number of street protests. Various parts of the world have seen protests, and many of them have been able to achieve their front-end goal.
From Algeria and Hong Kong to India and Lebanon, calls for greater democracy and justice have shaken the world. The protests, although stemming from various different entry points, have had a similar overarching theme: Dissent with governmentality.
A common reason for that dissent was what we can call strain and deprivation in sociological terms. The common people felt deprived (maybe relatively) by the way that the institutions were functioning. We usually see protests when the institutions are seen as defunct, or actually are defunct, and the people start getting frustrated by it.
And oftentimes, the protests specify the leadership of the government as the root of that evil. In such places, like Hong Kong, anti-government came to mean pro-democracy.
Many of the protests, including those of Hong Kong, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and India erupted from an overall discontent with the regime, but did not create an alternative to the regime yet. Some of them used a new law as an entry point, but it was clear from the speed and the mode of the mobilization that the protests were not just about the new rule, it was about the rule of the regime overall.
Many times, because the movements spread so widely and refuse to take shape under a leadership, ideology, project, and structure, the expression of frustration does not exactly take shape and fails to create meaningful reforms, because the language of the protests supersedes the language of reform and rises to the language of anger.
This, of course, is powerful and justified, but when a movement lacks structure and fails to erect an opposition, it is difficult to push for meaningful change over the long term.
This is not to say that the movements will not create a structure or rally behind old ones in the coming days (an unlikely development for many cases). This is to say that that is what would be the best way to create something more meaningful.
If we hold that the point of the protests is not to make the oppressors wiser and help them oppress in a way that does not inspire more protests, we must expect that the year to come would not simply be a year of protests, but it would be a year of revolutions, and bring those who are oppressed to the forefront of advancement and opportunities.
Why are the new movements so amorphous? They are amorphous because the new protests, as we have seen in many places, are so adamant in proving themselves non-partisan that they fail to become the new partisans.
Even though many of the protests are organized by a number of groups fighting against authoritarianism and fascism, they fail to create a union between themselves, even though they are fighting towards the same goal of overthrowing the fascists.
Maybe there is distrust among the groups, and maybe they do not want to think ahead and just want to fight the fight of the day, but they must also stop to construct their own narrative while they deconstruct the rhetoric of the ruling regime.
A meaningful alternative is needed. In many of the countries listed above, the oppression is not specific to a party, it exists in the system.
Therefore, the task of the partisans is to call for meaningful reform, and provide a solution to the people, along with identifying the problem.
Yes, it is true that it is not the primary task of the protesters to find a solution, that task belongs to those who hold power and knowledge. But we must ask ourselves if we trust those who currently have a hold on power and knowledge.
The fact that millions are marching in the streets of the planet proves that we don’t trust them, and it shows us that this is the age of constructing alternatives. And if we cannot find them, there is no way in front of us than to become them.
The protest wave of 2011, brought about by the Arab Spring splashed over to Bangladesh in 2013, but that wave was wasted, and a third force did not take shape (as I show in my upcoming book Not All Springs End Winter).
I focus this article on the protests around the globe, but it is not hard to imagine that this is pointing at the protests at home.
In 2019, there have been a number of missed movements in the country. There have been events that could have mobilized students and citizens for reforms and change, but that did not happen.
It did not happen because of the distrust between activism groups, both within the students and without. It did not happen because there is not an alternative solution to the present day problem that the people can trust.
But these trends are reversing.
Unions are being created, friendships are being made, and organizations are being erected. 2019, for Bangladesh, was maybe not a year of protests like the rest of the world, but it was certainly a year of preparation.
Anupam Debashis Roy is an organizer and editor at Muktiforum. Reach him at [email protected]