Tunisia. Egypt. Yemen, Iran, Bahrain. Libya. Even Wisconsin. You look at the places pitch forked into the headlines and wonder if 2011 will be “Year of the Demonstration,” where angry protesters do political — or more violent battle — against their governments. And you have to conclude that political establishments will see what has happened so far and decide to crack down. Hard.
Demonstrations dotting the globe ““ this time fanned on by a transformed mass media, new media, social communications, and those with grievances seeing that demonstrations can work ““ are dÃ©jÃ vu to those who lived through the 60s Each demonstration is a textbook to aspiring protesters on what to do and what not to do. And just as big issues were at stake in the 60s, big issues are at play abroad and in the United States now. So the operative questions become: what are the end games ““ and what will endgames’ consequences be?
Consider the chronology:
The chain of Middle East events began in December in Tunisia with mass demonstrations sparked by unemployment and demands for political freedom. By January, some 50 protesters had been killed by police. It ended with President Ben Ali fleeing into exile. Tunisia’s interior minister, Farhat Rajhi, has now taken steps to steps dissolve Ali’s party.
Demonstrations’ efficacy as a political tool inspired the virtual revolution that exploded in Egypt on January 25 sparked by high inflation, low wages, job losses and demands for more democracy. After twice suggesting he intended to hang around a bit longer, Hosni Mubarak got the hint that he didn’t have support from some troops on the street or military bigwigs and resigned on Feb. 11.
Tunisia and Egypt begat Bahrain where protesters gathered in Manama. The government cracked down, some 10 people died and the king released a number of political prisoners as a conciliatory gesture. Next stop: Yemen, where 12 people were killed in protests as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh resisted demands for him to step down. News reports note that the more there is a crackdown, the more angry people want to get onto the streets.
But the technique doesn’t always work: in China attempts to get demonstrators on the streets using online techniques flopped. In Iran, amid clashes between police and demonstrators, the government signaled it’s ready for a brutal crackdown by squelching protests in the capital as Iranian lawmakers call for executing protestors and opposition leaders.
In Libya, one-time iron man Moammar Gaddafi sent out snipers and aircraft to take out demonstrators reportedly inspired by Egypt and Tunisia as the death toll climbed beyond 200. Reports suggest some troops are refusing to fire on demonstrators. His own ambassador to the US called for him to resign. Gaddafi’s response? A vow he won’t leave and a promise to offer reforms (right!). Look for continued turmoil.
What does this mean to the U.S.?
Many Americans on the left and right will see demonstrations as a potent tool. In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is pitted against public union employees demonstrating against what they call a “union busting” bill. Rage Against the Machine Guitarist Tom Morello now calls Walker “The Mubarak of the Midwest.”
Bottom line one: Governors must balance budgets and they are asking for sacrifices. Bottom line two: The 2010 elections left the GOP in control of the majority of governorships and many state legislatures. Many insist Walker is using the economy to try and disembowel unions that provide money and foot soldiers for Democrats ““ and roll back labor gains going back to the New Deal to please the Tea Party and his Koch brothers supporters. For unions, some things don’t go better with Koch.
Demonstrations are likely to increase throughout 2011 abroad and here. How will governments react with security forces there? How will state governments react here?
Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.
Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman.