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United we stand
United we stand
Farid Kahhat

-OpEd-

There are many similarities between the protests around Gezi Park in Turkey and those of the Free Pass Movement in Brazil.

In both cases, initial demonstrations were small with specific objectives: to save the park and to obtain free public transport, respectively. And discontent in both countries reached a critical mass amid widespread perception that police used excessive violence to disperse the protesters. It was at that moment, on two continents, when tens of thousands of people mobilized in solidarity with the initial dissenters — and not just in Istanbul and Sao Paulo, the cities where the confrontations initially took place.

Given the relative indifference or initial hostility on the part of both public and private mainstream media, social networks are the preferred medium for protestors, and they serve as an effective space for coordination and decision-making. Of course, this preference to inform and organize is also dirven by the social and demographic profile of those involved. According to the polling institute Datafolha, the average protester in Brazil is relatively young with a high level of education, and the same is no doubt true in Turkey.

They also tend to be middle class, as measured by income level, and this segment of society has a disproportionately high level of Internet use. They are also more likely to belong to non-governmental organizations or to participate in new social movements, as opposed to having membership in more traditional, blue-collar organizations such as trade unions.

The same was true in the cases of Iran in 2009 and Egypt in 2011, but unlike them, Brazil and Turkey have democratically elected governments. These are societies in which the middle class represents the majority of the population. And that's the paradox. In a little over a decade under the Workers’ Party government, 40 million people emerged from poverty in Brazil. During the same time period under the government of the Party for Justice and Development, GDP per capita tripled in Turkey. And in both cases, a decade of relatively high growth rates came to an end in 2012. The economy grew just 3% in Turkey last year in contrast to 8.5% in 2011. In Brazil, growth last year was an anemic and 0.9% after the previous year's 4.5% before President Dilma Rousseff came to power.

When success breeds discontent

In both cases, the governments that contributed to the emergence of a strong, middle class are the targets of protests by this very population. Perhaps they fear for their economic and social well-being, and don't want to risk a return to the poverty they left behind after their countries' respective economic booms. History suggests that few things are more volatile than a middle class faced with the possibility of downward mobility.

Their decentralized nature, their disregard for traditional hierarchies, and their unwillingness to settle or even ally with political parties are often considered virtues of these new social movements. But these factors can also dampen their political effectiveness, which would be enhanced with organizational cooperation around shared priorities and a more diverse socio-ecocomic representation. The latter, in particular, is still missing in both Brazil and Turkey.

In terms of formulating shared priorities, when a correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El Pais asked the protesters in Brazil about their primary reason for being there, most hesitated before answering. And their ultimate responses were far from uniform. As far as I know, nobody asked the same question in Turkey, though in that case there seems to be an overwhelming and unmistakable common grievance: the growing authoritarianism of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s government.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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