In 2011 the world witnessed a surge of uprisings largely concentrated in Middle Eastern countries suffering from widespread hunger, poverty, unemployment and political corruption. Though the mass protests may have differences in specific characteristics and regional contexts, they’re linked to a wider movement against neoliberalism and are likely to continue as long as such policies remain in place. Unfortunately, implementation of neoliberal policies including resource privatization, deregulation, regressive taxation, bailouts and austerity cuts remain the primary agenda of the transnational ruling class.
On June 1, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in dozens of European cities in Germany, Spain and Portugal because of European Central Bank and IMF loans requiring governments of those countries to enact austerity cuts to rein in debt.
Brazil experienced a wave of massive protests triggered by bus fare increases that went into effect on June 1, a tipping point for longstanding social tensions stemming from mass poverty, economic inequity, political corruption, lack of social services and regressive taxation.
Massive protests began in Istanbul on May 28 when occupiers trying to prevent the demolition of a public square to make space for a mall were brutally evicted. Subsequent strikes and demonstrations were staged across Turkey and by allies in other countries throughout the month of June addressing a range of concerns including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, police violence, and privatization of public land and resources.
From June 14, tens of thousands of protesters in Bulgaria have marched daily in the streets of the capital Sofia in response to the nomination of media mogul Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security. The latest protests follow a series of actions throughout the year in response to privatization of public utilities, lack of political transparency, and promotion of corporate interests under the pretense of spreading democracy.
On June 28, tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi clashed with each other and police. 2 people were killed and at least 90 people were injured, but even larger demonstrations occurred on June 30, the one year anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration. Opposition to the president and his administration stems from ongoing social, economic, and political problems that many hoped would be solved with the ouster of the Mubarak regime. In preparation for the June 30 actions, the U.S. has deployed 400 riot control soldiers to Egypt while John Kerry recently announced the continuation of $1.3 billion in annual military aid despite the Egyptian government’s documented police violence, human rights violations and secret military tribunals for civilians.
These are just a few of the larger uprisings happening simultaneously in dozens of countries around the world. Besides being reactions to destructive neoliberal policies, another characteristic the mass protests share in common is the increasing accessibility and effective use of evolving communications technologies. Not only do such tools allow for more rapid and widespread dissemination of information for organizing actions, as a source for unfiltered history and news it gives the public a deeper understanding of political and economic power and its abuse. Access to such information inevitably builds enough cynicism and distrust towards governments and transnational corporations for citizens to realize that simply voting is not enough.
As is often the case, tools of liberation can also be tools of oppression. Coincidentally, at the same time global uprisings surged in June, whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked revelations about the NSA’s warrantless mass electronic surveillance programs. Rather than speculate about where Snowden is, whether he’s a criminal or what his motives were, as corporate media obsessively does, a more important question to ask is: why does the National Security Agency through Project PRISM need to wiretap the world? Such an operation would be more effective at acquiring political/economic leverage, suppressing investigative reporting and preventing the types of social movements occurring globally from spreading to the U.S. than fighting terror. Then again, losing hearts and minds of millions around the world probably instills terror among the transnational ruling elite whose interests governments all too predictably prioritize over everything else.
Reid is a co-chair for the Seattle-based nonprofit organization Community Alliance for Global Justice.