Thursday, March 27, 2008

Protest...Or Not?

I have been asked several times now why I haven't been to the ritual Saturday protests. It's a fair enough question so I'll try to give you a fair answer. The thing is, I'm really not entirely sure why.

I have been a 'protester' since I was 18. My first one was a sit-in at the capital building in Tallahassee, Florida when i was a first year student as Florida State University. The state planned on raising tuition for in-state students, which were already painfully high. So we took to the streets and after some provocative rhetoric from the then governor Lawton Chiles, hundreds of us walked into the state capital building, sat down, and occupied the building for a few days. It was exciting. It has a sense of purpose. And better yet, they didn't raise the tuition for in-state students.

Since then, I have participated in protests around the world. I have marched at the World Social Forum in Brasil where 150,000 of us protested the World Economic Forum - where the world's wealthiest gather to discuss how to alleviate the poverty in the global south - and the negative effects of economic globalisation.

In Edinburgh there were 300,000 of us marching against the G8 meetings. It was so good we took two laps around the city. The next day we held an alternative forum to talk about OUR solutions and ideas.

In Athens and London we protested the invasion and occupation of Iraq at the European Social Forum in the tens of thousands.

Against the war in Yugoslavia i marched in 1992. It was the spark that led me here.

I have been consistently disappointed by the lack of resistance and protest here. Now that it has finally been born - I have this sense of displacement. Of energy I think. I don't think one should protest just for the sake of it. At least for me, I have to FEEL it. Be moved by it. Driven to action.

Perhaps as I get older I tend to be a bit more analytical. I have asked myself time and time again why are we really protesting - and will we get the desired effects if our 'wishes' are granted. The answer in my head comes up, well, blank.

I wonder if Samir Silajdzic and Semiha Borovac are the real problem, or just a small part of it. I wonder why we don't protest for our grandparents, who built this country, and the lousy 150 KM a month they get. I wonder why Brankovic or Silajdzic Senior doesn't bother us more than what i consider to be tiny fish a big pond. Is it an excuse? Maybe. And perhaps not a very good one.

I think a part of me doesn't believe that we are willing or ready to go 'all the way.' Are we ready to boycott, sacrifice our self interest, and stand in solidarity with each other? Something tells me we are not.

I am not of the school that protests or marches have to be well organized and or even have a head and a tail. I believe in spontaneous and organic peaceful resistance and civil disobedience.

If i peel back a few emotional layers I think i get a few more answers too. I remember when the Americans invaded Iraq. I was angry. And then our apathy made me even angrier. Who knows the horrors of war better than us in Sarajevo. No one took to the streets. No one seemed to care. I was upset.

I was at the European Social Forum in Athens with the first ever Bosnian delegation to attend an ESF. Although the Balkan left tend to be a bit more militant for my liking, it was a nice gathering of people. The ESF usually ends with a massive, but peaceful, protest. Amongst us 'lefties' are always a small band of anarchists - many of whom represent the militant left. They traditional smash McDonalds windows or a multi-national bank or two. Their numbers are usually quite minute - but they always make the 7 o'clock news. The Greek police chased them down this day, and began to teargas them. The brave militant anarchists, as always, decided to hide amongst the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters. The police continued to teargas us. Women, children, grandparents. It was aweful. We pleaded with them to stop. Italian peace knicks started screaming 'Fascisti!' at the anarchists. Boris Siber and I watched all this expire. Then an anarchist, the one opposed to police oppression and state sponsored violence, took the rock intended for the riot police and launched it at the head of an old Italian man. He was two metres away. He fell to the ground. His brain oozed onto the pavement. The left had attacked the left.

I left disgusted and really pissed off. What the fuck was that all about!?!?! It made me rethink a lot of things. And still, much of it is not sorted out in my heart and head.

I have been very active in environmental issues, and have been quite vocal too about certain problems and the people creating those problems. I felt as if a movement was starting and we would start fighting fire with fire. I was excited...and proud. When the fire got hot - i found myself in court and being threatened... and my fellow activists were no where to be found. No one called. I had no support during the months of my trial where i was being sued for slander after daring to speak the truth. Not even pat on the back for support. The line went silent. The movement went dry. I felt bitter and betrayed. Not because i was in court or being sued or threatened. But because i believed that we were in this because of the deep principles we believe in and that sacrifice is often needed to achieve our goals. I was prepared - and still am - to pay that price. I found it utterly discouraging to learn that my mates did not.

Maybe somewhere in my sub conscience i now balk. But the people on the streets are my friends. Ones that i have a deep respect for and, in principle, totally agree with.

I do feel that we, the 'left' have not yet offered a viable alternative to anything. We need to be just as tenacious, organized and have vision like the ones we oppose do. We need to get on the ball and quick. Part of this, of course, is taking to the streets. But is that enough? And are we doing the other things required to bring about true change? There are no Obama's on the horizon here...I am anxious to see who will be the one. Is it Bojan Bajic? Danis Tanovic? Reuf Bajrovic? Adi Arapovic?

So why am i not on the streets Saturday afternoons? Ne znam. But believe me, I think about it a lot. Maybe I'm just waiting for that feeling. I'm not making excuses - i really don't have one to make.

peace my friends

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