What calls us to action?
I have been watching, crying, writing and talking of Egypt – and Tunisia, Jordan, Syria, the entire region – non-stop. I am most familiar at this point with Egypt, because of the news coverage and because of who happens to be in my immediate community.
While I wouldn’t write this just anywhere (I am not impressed by groups using other people’s revolutions to promote their work), amongst the network I can’t shake the feeling that we’re watching Ruckus’s vision come to life in a way we must all learn from.
Ruckus has had several visioning sessions over the years, imagining the long-term impact and presence of the network. One core piece of the shared vision we developed was of a future where Ruckus didn’t need to exist, because the spirit and practice of nonviolent direct action was normalized amongst the people.
The response to injustice, in our envisioned future, would be creative, nonviolent actions that resulted in tangible changes in people’s lives in real time. If something happened that disrespected democracy, like a stolen election, we would stop the society from functioning until justice came to pass.
We see this vision as being out somewhere beyond our lifetimes.
The current series of uprisings throughout the Middle East, particularly the current moment in Egypt, feels like that vision come to pass. It induces such hope in me to know it can happen, it is possible, and it is beautiful. It’s not something that happened overnight, and its not some thing easy or romantic – it started with small protests in Tunisia, singular facebook videos and solidarity pages, with fatal action as people self-immolated in protest of repressive regimes. It grew because the actions connected to a shared experience of suffering and faith, of people knowing they deserved, and were, better.
To me this is the civil rights struggle of the modern era, the uprisings people will refer to in the same breath as they mention the lunch-counter-sit-ins. Then: waterhosing blacks. Now: waterhosing men in prayer. Then: inviting people into a shared non-violent vision. Now: same, nationwide.
We must recognize the parallels, especially in terms of the roles that non-Egyptians can play to take action in solidarity, and to take leadership from, the people of Egypt, and of the region as other regimes shake at their foundations.
Revolution is different there than it will be here in the US – in Egypt 90% of the population is living in poverty and there’s been one president for 30 years, so people have a heightened sense of injustice. In the US, people accrue debt instead of facing their poverty, or internalize the poverty as if they did something wrong instead of seeing it as a failure of the government to develop a sustainable people-oriented society. Stolen, or even poorly attended, elections – these are like a skeleton we put quickly into our dark family closet – how would it look for us to violently promote something abroad that we hardly practice at home?
I hope every country is having moments of self-awareness, collective awareness, inspired by Egypt.
We can learn so much from what is undeniably a mass, strategic, nonviolent expression of people’s power. Each day I learn so much, and am politicized by what I see happening half a world away. I am humbled and thrilled by what we are learning in this moment.
The lessons will keep coming. Here are some lessons that stand out to me:
- Every protestor I’ve seen interviewed on Tahrir Square – regardless of gender or age – is on message speaking about their nonviolent action and their demands. Everyone realizes that their actions, their bodies on the square, their self-generated media, their demands (dropped by banner), these all have political weight. And that when years of voting have not yielded results, these actions will.
- It is a practice of patriotism, for the Egyptians on Tahrir Square. This reminds me of how Jimmy Boggs says of the US – “can’t nobody run this country better than me.” Egyptians in the street know they can do better than Hosni Mubarak, and with that rooted confidence they appeal to the army, to the police, to their neighbors, to the international community. They don’t say, ‘we have a perfect solution.’ They say, we have to stand up together and push off the weight of tyranny so we can see the people we are, the possibilities for this country.
- Good actions can win over the whole world. For they are winning the cultural campaign soundly – not just with the strength of facts (the horrors of Mubarak have been exposed before, just as the horrors of US domestic and foreign policy are fairly well known), but with the emotional, spiritual commitment of the action.
- If the timing is right, then the real demands can emerge instead of gutted compromises.
- A mass distributed How-To manual can work wonders (evidenced by the peaceful protests, the flowers for the Army, the cleaning up of litter).
- How illogical a corrupt government can be, to try and keep a tyrant in power (or any of his appointees) during a transition phase.
- There is joy in the shared experience of holding a liberated zone, no matter how far away you are holding it – all of us watching and listening and sending our support and resources to those front lines in Tahrir.
- One of the main challenges of modern revolution is getting folks to believe that decentralized, leaderless, horizontal movement is not only possible, it already exists.
- Even if oppression has been normalized, there is a way to appeal to the part of people who want justice. That way, in this case, was the challenge of Assmah, the persistence of the protestors of Tahrir, and the vulnerability of Wael Ghonim.
I learn more each day that Ruckus is on the right path, with a long way to go, and many teachers.