Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pro-Democracy protests in USA too?

The fury among thousands of workers, students and union supporters rose to a boil on Thursday. Protesters blocked a door to the Senate chambers. They sat down, body against body, filling a corridor. They chanted “Freedom, democracy .....!"
 Over three days, protesters’ backpacks, sleeping bags, water bottles and homemade signs have come to jam the marble halls of this Capitol, and on Thursday evening the rallies grew. People screamed: “Shut it down! Shut it down!” Drums pounded. Students, some barefoot, danced. Extra law enforcement workers now pepper the building, trying to guide officials through the thick, chanting crowds.

Many among the protesters said that they had no plans to leave, and that they would wait, as long as it took.
From Newyork Times

The above news report is not about events from yet another Arab State ruled by a Dictator. This news item is about the pro-democracy mass protests taking place in Wisconsin,USA,the so called cradle of Democracy.

Mass agitation in Wisconsin

Citing Wisconsin’s gaping budget shortfall for this year and even larger ones expected in the years ahead, Gov. Scott Walker proposed a sweeping plan called the Budget repair Bill, last week to cut benefits for public employees in the state and  strip them of their collective bargaining rights. All public workers will get less pension and Health Insurance and will loose ability to ask for better benefits in the future even if the economy booms.
Mr. Walker made several proposals that will weaken not just unions’ ability to bargain contracts, but also their finances and political clout.

His proposal would make it harder for unions to collect dues because the state would stop collecting the money from employee paychecks.
He would further weaken union treasuries by giving members of public-sector unions the right not to pay dues. In an unusual move, he would require secret-ballot votes each year at every public-sector union to determine whether a majority of workers still want to be unionized.
He would require public-employee unions to negotiate new contracts every year, an often lengthy process.
The Bill invited wide spread protests  and it is growing day by day.

Mike Imbrogno, a cook at the University of Wisconsin in Madison  described the move as an “attack” on working people.

Molly Noble is a graduate student in sociology and project assistant at UW-Madison. The bill, she says, would hurt her tuition remission and health care coverage. “This is political, not economic. It’s an attack on workers and an attack on democracy.
Martha Fischhoff, a graduate student in gender and women’s studies at Madison said,
“I was hoping to stay in Madison and teach—I love Wisconsin.“But this bill would make it untenable for me to stay. I would not stay here to teach if this bill passes.”

President Obama supported the workers saying “Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally seems like more of an assault on unions,And I think it's very important for us to understand that public employees, they're our neighbors, they're our friends.”

The President said it is important “not to vilify” these employees, “or to suggest somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.”

The two most striking features of the Wisconsin protests are their massive size and their palpable energy and anger. There were around 30,000 people present on Thursday—the largest demonstration in the city since the Vietnam War-era. . Gov. Walker’s bill has struck nerves in diverse groups of citizens.

 Read  what Mitchell Bard wrote in Huffington Post::
What I didn't realize on my way to the rally was the national implications of the Wisconsin protests. I admit that in my head, as I walked toward the Capitol, I expected to see a lot of students, teaching assistants, teachers and soccer moms.
Upon reaching the Capitol, I was shocked to see that the crowd was nothing like I had imagined. For starters, the Square was packed like I've never seen it before (even on the most beautiful summer day for the weekly Saturday farmers' market). The idea that I would be able to find my colleagues became instantly laughable (and, in fact, I never ran into a single person I knew). There were clearly students sprinkled throughout the crowd, but the vast majority seemed to be working-class and middle-class people: taxi drivers, construction workers, maintenance workers, prison guards etc

Then I saw members of the police union marching around the Square, and, later, a seemingly endless parade of firefighters went by, all expressing solidarity with the workers at the Capitol even though their collective bargaining rights were not at risk. When the crowd applauded, I got chills.

It was the appearance of the firefighters, in their matching shirts, that really triggered something in my head. This protest was way bigger than I had imagined.

Walker's "budget repair bill" isn't about deficits in Wisconsin. In fact, a nonpartisan commission found that the deficits are not severe and do not require any kind of austerity action. And what is the main cause of the current budget shortfall? Walker's own tax cuts. In other words, the new governor created this "problem," and now, conveniently, he is offering a solution.

Only, his solution has nothing to do with the alleged problem. Instead, it's an attack on state employee unions. Walker is using the concocted budget issue as a smokescreen to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of unions, a long-time item on the right-wing wish list. He is trying to eliminate five decades of collective bargaining rights in one week.

Noam Chomsky says in an interview to Demecracy Now
 there’s been a wave of propaganda over the last couple of months, which is pretty impressive to watch, trying to deflect attention away from those who actually created the economic crisis, like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, their associates in the government who—Federal Reserve and others—let all this go on and helped it.

The CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, got a $12.5 million bonus, and his base pay was more than tripled. Well, that means he—the rules of corporate governments have been modified in the last 30 years by the U.S. government to allow the chief executive officer to pretty much set their own salaries. There’s various ways in which this has been done, but it’s government policy. And one of the effects of it is—people talk about inequality, but what’s a little less recognized is that although there is extreme inequality, it’s mostly because of the top tiny fraction of the population, so like a fraction of one percent of the population, their wealth has just shot through the stratosphere.

A proposal to end collective bargaining rights for public sector workers is not a serious policy recommendation to pull a state out of a fiscal crisis. Rather, it is an attempt to shift the debate on where blame for massive budget deficits and fiscal crises should lie. Instead of blaming massive Tax cuts for the rich and lax Federal Laws which allowed un restricted profit making in Wall Street, Public Workers like Teachers,Nurses,Fire fighters and Police are being blamed for the crisis..
 It will take a massive people's movement that includes all unions, private and public, as well as other sectors of the progressive movement to succesfully fight against the scapegoating of working people as the culprits of a crisis they had nothing to do with.

Noam Chomsky interview
Huffington Post
Obama on Wisconsin protests

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Victory for the People in Egypt

30 years of Dictatorship of  Mubarak has ended after a historic exhibition of People's power in Egypt.We have just witnessed a people's REVOLUTION in Tahrir square. I am sure that the momentum of this revolution will soon result in a democratic liberal Egypt. I am also sure that the momentum will go beyond the borders of Egypt and will shake the autocrats and monarchs of Arab countries.
It is too early to analyse the dramatic developments but let me try to look at the background of the revolutionaries who stunned the World in a  non-violent mass non co-operation movement reminiscent of Gandhiji and our own country's freedom struggle.

These are some of the movements that is behind the Egyptian revolution.

April 6 Youth Movement
An Egyptian Facebook group started by Ahmed Maher and Ahmed Salah in 2008 to support the workers in El-Mahalla El-Kubra, an industrial town, who were planning to strike on April 6.

 It has more than 70,000 predominantly young and educated members, most of whom had not been politically active before; their core concerns include free speech, nepotism in government and the country's stagnant economy.Their discussion forum on Facebook features intense and heated discussions, and is constantly updated with new postings.

We are all Khaled Said
On June 6th 2010,Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian from the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt, was dragged out of an Internet cafe and  tortured to death at the hands of two police officers in broad day light in front of many witnesses.Said was about to upload a video on the Internet of officers sharing the spoils from a drug bust among themselves.

Within five days of his death, an anonymous person [many believe Wael Ghonim, Google's head of Marketing for the Middle East and North Africa] created a Facebook page — We Are All Khaled Said — that posted cell phone photos from the morgue of his battered and bloodied face. This movement with more than 50000 fans is believed to have sparked the protest by joining youth together who say they will not stand for the corruption or police brutality in their country.

National Association for Change
It is a loose grouping of the various Egyptian of all political affiliations and religion, men and women, including representatives of civil society and young people who aims to change Egypt.The goal of the group is to bring about political reform based on democracy and social justice. Mohamed ElBaradei is in-charge of the National Association for Change. Muslim Brotherhood has also joined this grouping.

Kefaya (“enough”)
 The Egyptian Movement for Change a grassroots coalition which draws its support from across Egypt’s political spectrum to oppose Hosni Mubarak’s presidency. Formed in 2004 it drew its members from Palestine Solidarity movements and anti-war movements. It draws its support from a cosmopolitan range of sources including Nasserists, Islamists, Liberals, Marxists, Secularists etc., some of which have deep-rooted ideological differences, and have even clashed in the past. Activists frequently stress that it is not a political party aiming to achieve power, but a “national coalition movement” united by the common goal of seeking an end to President Mubarak’s rule.
Kefaya’s first rally, held on 12 December 2004, was an historic event, being the first occasion a protest had been organised solely to demand that the President step down. Surrounded by riot police, between 500 and 1000 activists gathered on the steps of the High Court in Cairo. They remained mostly silent and taped over their mouths a large yellow sticker emblazoned with “Kefaya.

Here are some excerpts from an interview with the acclaimed Egyptian writer and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif taken from Democracy Now website which show the spirit of Tahrir Square movement.

I’m Ahdaf Soueif, and I’m a writer. And I’m in Tahrir Square in the middle of the Egyptian revolution. And you can see how amazing it is and what a wonderful atmosphere we have here. We have hundreds of thousands of people. This has now been going on for more than 10 days. The government wagers that it will lose momentum. It is very clearly not losing momentum.

I think what has happened here is that people have—they’ve found their voice, and they’ve found their personality. In other words, there is a definite sense that this regime had been not only robbing people of their country, but had been alienating people from their own personalities. And now they have found it. And you see people saying, "They told us we were divided. They told us we’re extreme. They told us we’re ignorant. But here we are, and we’re great." And this is why this is just not going to go away.

This is a civil space which has become a completely—I don’t know—a completely open, democratic forum. Every idea, every shade of political opinion, everybody’s here. And the very important thing, particularly for Democracy Now! to know, is that this is not just about the people in Tahrir, this is about the people of Egypt, because in Alexandria, Alexandria has had proportionally more people out on the streets than Cairo. In Alexandria, the chant two days ago was [in Arabic]. It means "Legitimacy will come from Tahrir." They’ve sent delegations. Suez is here. Aswan is here. Many, many cities and towns of Egypt are here saying, "Decisions will be made in Tahrir." In other words, this is true representation on the ground.

And I think that here in Egypt today, we are engaged in an experiment, which is benign, which is civil, which is modern, which is young, which is optimistic, which is inclusive, and which will—which will be a wonderful model for the world. And I think we are doing something that is good for the entire world, not just for us Egyptians.

You know, this is intense, but this is how Egypt used to be before the 30 or even 40 years of this kind of divisive regime. Egypt has always been inclusive. And I won’t even say tolerant, because tolerance assumes there’s something to be tolerated. No, Egypt is naturally diverse and celebrates its diversity. And this is what we have here today. This morning, a Christian mass was said, Muslim prayers were prayed. Prayers for the dead for both Christians and Muslims were said, and the whole square was here. We are here—women, men, young people, old people, kids, every shade of political opinion, every age, and people from every location and professions. There are people here who would personally not gain, you know, by having a revolution, but they’re here because it’s good for the country. And we want to live in an Egypt which is inclusive and which is democratic and which is real and which is creative and which is run for the benefit of its citizens and where everybody has a chance and everybody can be as good as they want to be.

This movement does not see gender as an issue. Women are citizens, just like men are. And a lot of girls, a lot of young women will tell you that, for the first time in years, they feel that they are not objectified as sexual objects in this space. This is the first time in a very long time that young women have been in the streets without any danger of harassment.

And what is happening is that our young men, who have a certain amount of machismo—and of course young men have to have machismo—their machismo is now channeled in the right direction: they are here to regain their country, and they’re here to protect anybody who is weaker. And you see them. You see them sweeping the streets. You see them handing out food and water. You see them forming human chains to block the militias of thugs that our government is turning loose on us. And so, the young men have found a way to express their manhood, which is benign, and we are safe here.

Here is some excerpts from an interview with Nawal El Saadawi. She is an Egyptian psychiatrist, scholar, novelist, feminist and activist --and  has been agitating for change in her home country for more than 50 years. An outspoken opponent of female genital mutilation, she was fired from her position as Egypt's director of health education in 1972. When President Anwar Sadat threw her in prison for her activism in 1981, she penned her memoirs on a roll of toilet paper. A committed secularist, her name appears on fundamentalist death lists.This interview given few hours before Mubarak stepped down is taken from The Root website.

The Root: Where are you now?

NS: I am home in my apartment in Cairo, and we are preparing to go out into streets.

TR: Are you going to [Tahrir] Square?
NS: The square is full. There is no more room in the square, and so we have decided that we will be everywhere. Egyptians will be in every square, on every street, at the Presidential Palace and at the national television station. We will be in every place. This revolution has unified us. We are not men and women, Christian and Muslim, professional and nonprofessional; we are all Egyptians, and we will not let Egypt burn.

TR: How are you organizing this revolution? Is there leadership among the people?
NS: We are doing it all with Facebook and mobile phone and e-mail.

TR: Are you concerned about who will take Mubarak's place? What about the Muslim Brotherhood, or other extremist groups?

NS: I am not at all worried about the Brotherhood. There is a lot of exaggeration about this organization, and it is used to frighten women here and Western women, too. The Muslim Brotherhood is a minority. They do not lead the revolution, and many of the men involved in the organization want a secular constitution. Men and women protested in the square and died in the square together.
There was not one single harassment of a woman in the square. And these are covered women, secular women, all women from every background. No, it was not the Muslim Brotherhood who hurt women, it was Mubarak's people who entered the square and killed. All of this talk about the Brotherhood is an attempt to use religion to divide the people. Do not worry; the Muslim Brotherhood will never rule Egypt.

TR: What role would you like the U.S. to play?

NS: I don't expect the power or support or interference of anyone, of any government. We here in Egypt are fed up with U.S. colonialism. Obama is a pragmatic person and thinking of the interests of his country; I understand this. But now he is confused: One minute he supports Mubarak, one minute he doesn't; one moment he is afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood, the next he is not. Now I believe in the people of Egypt only, I depend on the people of Egypt only.

TR: Your work has mainly revolved around women's rights and equality. How are these issues playing out in the revolution? What is the role of women on the ground?

NS: Women and men are in the streets as equals now. We are in the revolution completely. Of course if you know the history of revolutions, you find that after the revolution, often men take over and women's rights are ignored. In order to keep our rights after the revolution, women must be unified. We must have our women's union again. We cannot fight individually.

TR: How do you know that the people who will follow Mubarak will honor your hopes for change?

NS: This revolution changed everything. In history, the millions win, that is democracy. Now the people in the street say no to Mubarak and then will form a temporary government, protected by the army. Then we have to protect the revolution from being aborted; that is the most important fight.
I must go now. There are many people waiting here for me. It is time to go on and do the next things that must be done.

Egyptians are showing the way for all the oppressed people in the World how to over turn a dictator in a non violent, inclusive and democratic way.Let us salute the brave revolutionaries who proved that the lives of hundreds of martyrs did not go in vain.