Tag Archives: los indignados

Gilets Jaunes, Avaaz, Macron & Facebook (or when grassroots ‘populism’ meets controlled opposition)

Gilet Jaunes

In late November last year a new grassroots movement took to the streets of Paris. Taking its name from the adopted emblematic apparel of hi-vis yellow vests which every French motorist is obliged to carry in their vehicles, early reports repeated the claim that the thousands of demonstrators had gathered for the rather limited mission of stopping the implementation a new fuel tax. As the weeks passed, however, and as the protests continued even after President Macron’s concessionary intervention to freeze the tax hike 1, it became evident that although elected to office just eighteen months previously, Macron was suddenly facing a very serious political crisis. One of the few political commentators to recognise the nature and the importance of the Gilets Jaunes was American author Diana Johnstone, who is based in Paris and wrote in early December:

Initial government responses showed that they weren’t listening. They dipped into their pool of clichés to denigrate something they didn’t want to bother to understand.

President Macron’s first reaction was to guilt-trip the protesters by invoking the globalists’ most powerful argument for imposing unpopular measures: global warming. Whatever small complaints people may have, he indicated, that is nothing compared to the future of the planet.

This did not impress people who, yes, have heard all about climate change and care as much as anyone for the environment, but who are obliged to retort: “I’m more worried about the end of the month than about the end of the world.”

After the second Yellow Vest Saturday, November 25, which saw more demonstrators and more tear gas, the Minister in charge of the budget, Gérard Darmanin, declared that what had demonstrated on the Champs-Elysée was “la peste brune”, the brown plague, meaning fascists. (For those who enjoy excoriating the French as racist, it should be noted that Darmanin is of Algerian working class origins). This remark caused an uproar of indignation that revealed just how great is public sympathy for the movement – over 70% approval by latest polls, even after uncontrolled vandalism. Macron’s Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, was obliged to declare that government communication had been badly managed. Of course, that is the familiar technocratic excuse: we are always right, but it is all a matter of our “communication”, not of the facts on the ground.

Maybe I have missed something, but of the many interviews I have listened to, I have not heard one word that would fall into the categories of “far right”, much less “fascism” – or even that indicated any particular preference in regard to political parties. These people are wholly concerned with concrete practical issues. Not a whiff of ideology – remarkable in Paris! 2

Click here to read Johnstone’s full article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron”.

Although there is a great deal of misrepresentation of the Gilets Jaunes, it isn’t very hard to trace their origins. We could go back fifty years to the same Paris streets and the anti-establishment uprising instigated by student protests that signalled the beginning of the end for Charles de Gaulle. However, there was a stronger ideological current in ’68 than now; the movement then stirred into being and driven by the purposefully obscure quasi-Marxist slogans of the Situationists, most famous for enigmatically declaring “Sous les pavés, la plage!” (“Under the pavement, the beach”).

Within a few decades following the dissolution of the Situationists, a more distinctly anti-capitalist movement began to emerge. Widely referred to at the time as anti-globalisation, for many years it was belittled and trivialised, characterised as directionless and quixotic. In fact it was simply ahead of its time, and with the millennium rapidly approaching, the mobilisation of many tens of thousands who steadily gathered outside the WTO convention in Seattle was about to seriously unsettle the western establishment.

On November 30th 1999, with the conference underway, the authorities reacted. Their response has since become a familiar one: blockades, pepper spray, tear gas and stun grenades rained down on what had been more or less peaceful demonstrations. Having provoked a response, the Mayor of Seattle, Paul Schell, subsequently declared a state of emergency, and then, the following day, State Governor, Gary Locke called in National Guardsmen to enforce a no-protest zone. At the height of what would later be known as the “Battle in Seattle” the streets were strewn with shattered glass just as the air was thick with teargas. The estimated costs to the city exceeded $20 million.

As it transpired, the protests Seattle represented the apogee of this first anti-globalisation movement, its growing strength abruptly snuffed out by the attacks on the World Trade Center. No movement so openly hostile to global trade could sustain itself in the immediate post-9/11 environment, and so it withered away as the peace movement would too; all anti-establishment causes becoming collateral damage. In fact it took nearly a decade for any comparable movement to re-emerge, and this time it was born in the shadow of the banking crisis and on the back of the “Arab Spring”.

It was not until 2011 before thousands in Spain and Greece finally took to the streets protesting against neo-liberalism and the “austerity measures” that were starting to cripple their economies and to undermine welfare and other state provision. This happened during the earliest days of this blog, and so I cut my teeth writing a sequence of articles which began with the first of the ‘los indignados’ protests on May 15th (also known as 15M). Shortly afterwards on July 25th, a small contingent of the burgeoning movement had embarked on a thousand mile march from Madrid to the European Parliament in Brussels in forlorn hopes of petitioning “the Troika” to end their measures.

Across the Atlantic, and inspired by popular uprisings now taking place around the Mediterranean (including the so-called Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt), Occupy Wall Street then commenced with its call for people to gather on September 17th. Just a month later, on Saturday October 15th (15-O), there was a coordinated day of international dissent called for by los indignados with rallies taking place not only in Spain (half a million in both Barcelona and Madrid), but also in Greece and the other “PIGS” (to use the vile and frankly racist acronym quite freely attached by the press), as well as in other major European cities and across the United States. The 15-O event actually sparked protests as far afield as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai, Canada, South America and Africa.

Click here to read a list of the 15-O Occupy protests around the world and here to read my own post about this first day of global outrage.

By the symbolic (if coincidental) date of November 5th, Occupy Sheffield sprang up too, when a small band of disillusioned strangers put together a makeshift protest camp outside the cathedral. Thus the Occupy movement that had been inspired by los indignados in Spring, and spread to Wall Street by mid-September, was within months recruiting fellow travellers in my home city as in other towns and cities of the UK including the capital.

For a brief moment, the Occupy movement became a global protest movement, and one that in superficial respects, resembles today’s Yellow Vest movement. It was horizontally structured, eschewed leadership and listed no formal demands. Finally, and in spite of its foundational and unswerving commitment to non-violence action, when the time came – in America especially – the police response was unrestrained and brutal. The largest encampment in Zuccotti Park would be swept aside within just a few hours on November 15th, scarcely two months after the protests had commenced.

It is true to say that los indignados slowly transformed into the new political party Podemos, and that the parallel protests in Greece likewise helped to trigger the rise of Syriza, however, once the last pockets of resistance were vanquished in other parts of the world, little more remained than a lasting slogan: “we are the 99%”. And so in spite of the tremendous enthusiasm and initial optimism, the revolution was cancelled. Doubtless in part it was doomed to fail if only because camping in the park – especially at the onset of Winter – was a desperately poor strategy to begin with, but more importantly, the movement had never managed to reach out to the wider populous, whether through trades unions, civil rights groups or by tuning in to the real concerns of disaffected groups beyond the large metropolitan centres.

I visited the camp at the Cathedral on a few occasions and at first was eagerly welcomed in, but as the weeks passed, the mood changed. The mix included students, the homeless, drop-outs and well-intentioned others, but rather than actively protesting, this in-crowd mostly spent their days cooking food, constructing shelters and sitting in meetings with comrades where decisions were made on a strict consensus basis, and nights hunkered down in tents or under tarpaulin. They had built makeshift libraries and hung up posters – I recall that one was for Avaaz – and they did workshops for anyone interested. In short, Occupy was always directed towards building a ‘community’ and as such was inward-looking. Outside the tents, the passersby passed by, and most were unimpressed by the genuine commitment shown by those who nightly sacrificed the warmth and comfort of a bed to sleep out on the streets.

Although the Gilets Jaunes are successors to the fin de siècle anti-globalisation movement that culminated in Seattle, and to the Occupy camps which disbanded a decade after, their anger is more palpable and their strength has been greatly reinforced due to support throughout the rural provinces. Unlike the earlier movements, the Gilets Jaunes are in fact marginalised in a different way: largely abandoned by the left-leaning intelligentsia, for better or worse, neither do they enjoy celebrity endorsements. Finally, at the extremes of the criticism they endure, they are disparaged as ‘populist’. This is actually their greatest strength, of course, and the biggest reason they are met with such hardline suppression by the authorities. It is also why both their political cause and the gatherings of thousands each weekend (especially when peace is maintained) have been dutifully downplayed by the corporate media.

In truth, this spontaneous and mostly leaderless movement is more straightforwardly working class, and it is this factor above others that singles it out and makes it significantly different from the earlier movements. Such an awakening of class consciousness also potentially makes it a genuine existential threat to the establishment.

Activist, writer and theoretical physicist, Jean Bricmont, a Belgian perhaps best known for his role in the ‘Sokal Affair’, is a leftist commentator who has actually participated in the Yellow Vest protests. In a recent interview with independent Algerian journalist, Mohsen Abdelmoumen, he outlined other ways in which the Gilets Jaunes radically differs from previous social uprisings:

[T]he movement is intensely patriotic – they sing the “Marseillaise”, wave the French flag, etc. It is an attitude that deeply disturbs the left.  The people show that they are attached to their country – as the Algerians are attached to Algeria, the French are attached to France –, which does not imply any hostility towards foreigners, but it implies a certain idea of national community and this is something that the left has hated for decades. It is the great problem of the left that it is cut off from the majority of people because it rejects this idea of a national community and puts forward its membership in Europe, globalization, etc. From this point of view, the left is completely cut off from the people.

According to Bricmont, the Gilets Jaunes confront the powers-that-be with what is for them an irresolvable crisis:

Yellow Vests ask such fundamental questions that no European government could answer them. Moreover, Macron is a prisoner of the European Union logic. He throws oil on the fire with his provocations, but the crisis is the result of decades of neoliberal politics, deindustrialization, destruction of public services, and so on.

Asked whether the emergence of the GJ movement is historical, Bricmont replies:

Yes, I think so, but it is very complicated to imagine the form by which the people would take power. They talk about the RIC (Citizens’ Initiative Referendum) and the European Union, but they are not at all clear on the latter issue. The problem is that it is a spontaneous and unorganized movement, so there are no leaders, no method for collective thought. There is collective thought developed by people discussing in the traffic circles and who think of alternatives, but the movement is not yet structured enough so that we could know where it will lead. I tend to think that we have to wait to know what will come of all this. For now, they are resisting, which is already remarkable, but where it will go, I do not know. 3

Click here to read the full interview in the American Herald Tribune.

Interestingly, although leaderless, as far back as December 5th a set of demands purporting to be an ‘official’ Yellow Vest manifesto appeared:

Soon after a translated version appeared too:

For alternative leftist analysis of the movement we may also turn to Serge Halimi, editorial director of Le Monde diplomatique, whose thoughts were published by Counterpunch on January 8th. Halimi writes:

The sudden emergence of the yellow vests, just as miraculous and much more powerful, demonstrates the gradual impoverishment of an ever-larger section of society. It also demonstrates the feeling of absolute defiance towards — almost disgust at — the usual channels of representation: the movement has no leaders or spokespeople, rejects political parties, keeps its distance from unions, ignores intellectuals and hates the media. This probably explains its popularity, which it managed to retain even after violence any other government would have capitalised on. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Forgotten France Rises Up”.

Another article that shines some clearer light on the rise of the Gilets Jaunes was written by Max Parry and published in Counterpunch on January 4th. He writes:

In less than two months, the yellow vests (“gilets jaunes”) movement in France has reshaped the political landscape in Europe. For a seventh straight week, demonstrations continued across the country even after concessions from a cowing President Emmanuel Macron while inspiring a wave of similar gatherings in neighboring states like Belgium and the Netherlands. Just as el-Sisi’s dictatorship banned the sale of high-visibility vests to prevent copycat rallies in Egypt, corporate media has predictably worked overtime trying to demonize the spontaneous and mostly leaderless working class movement in the hopes it will not spread elsewhere.

The media oligopoly initially attempted to ignore the insurrection altogether, but when forced to reckon with the yellow vests they maligned the incendiary marchers using horseshoe theory to suggest a confluence between far left and far right supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen. To the surprise of no one, mainstream pundits have also stoked fears of ‘Russian interference’ behind the unrest. We can assume that if the safety vests were ready-made off the assembly line of NGOs like the raised fist flags of Serbia’s OTPOR! movement, the presstitutes would be telling a different story.

And he addresses the reason behind the mostly silent response coming from progressives within America:

While the media’s conspicuous blackout of coverage is partly to blame, the deafening silence from across the Atlantic in the United States is really because of the lack of class consciousness on its political left. With the exception of Occupy Wall Street, the American left has been so preoccupied with an endless race to the bottom in the two party ‘culture wars’ it is unable to comprehend an upheaval undivided by the contaminants of identity politics. A political opposition that isn’t fractured on social issues is simply unimaginable. Not to say the masses in France are exempt from the internal contradictions of the working class, but the fetishization of lifestyle politics in the U.S. has truly become its weakness. […]

In today’s political climate, it is easy to forget that there have been periods where the American left was actually engaged with the crisis of global capitalism. In what seems like aeons ago, the anti-globalization movement in the wake of NAFTA culminated in huge protests in Seattle in 1999 which saw nearly 50,000 march against the World Trade Organization. Following the 2008 financial collapse, it briefly reemerged in the Occupy movement which was also swiftly put down by corporate-state repression. Currently, the political space once inhabited by the anti-globalization left has been supplanted by the ‘anti-globalist’ rhetoric mostly associated with right-wing populism.

Globalism and globalization may have qualitatively different meanings, but they nevertheless are interrelated. Although it is shortsighted, there are core accuracies in the former’s narrative that should be acknowledged. The idea of a shadowy world government isn’t exclusively adhered to by anti-establishment conservatives and it is right to suspect there is a worldwide cabal of secretive billionaire power brokers controlling events behind the scenes. There is indeed a ‘new world order’ with zero regard for the sovereignty of nation states, just as there is a ‘deep state.’ However, it is a ruling class not of paranoiac imagination but real life, and a right-wing billionaire like Robert Mercer is as much a globalist as George Soros.

Ever since capitalism emerged it has always been global. The current economic crisis is its latest cyclical downturn, impoverishing and alienating working people whose increasing hardship is what has led to the trending rejection of the EU. Imperialism has exported capital leading to the destruction of jobs in the home sectors of Western nations while outsourcing them to the third world. Over time, deep disgruntlement among the working class has grown toward an economic system that is clearly rigged against them, where the skewed distribution of capital gains and widespread tax evasion on the part of big business is camouflaged as buoyant economic growth. When it came crashing down in the last recession, the financial institutions responsible were bailed out using tax payer money instead of facing any consequences. Such grotesque unfairness has only been amplified by the austerity further transferring the burden from the 1% to the poor. 5

Click here to read the full article entitled “Why France’s Yellow Vest Protests Are Ignored by ‘The Resistance’ in the U.S.”

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“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” said Gandhi (or possibly somebody else 6), but that was old school in any case. In today’s ‘post-truth’ era, ‘they’ have been enabled both to ignore and to fight you simultaneously. And just as the Occupy movement was forcibly dismantled with the cameras turned away, so on the streets of France another unreported crackdown is being carried out right now.

On January 28th, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, who has “been keeping close track of the events linked to the ‘yellow vest’ movement in France since mid-November 2018” made an official visit to Paris, prompted by what she describes as an “increasing number of violent incidents, reported by a very large number of media outlets, confirmed by information passed on to her by national human rights bodies and borne out by evidence received directly by her Office”. A month later on February 26th, she released her damning report on “the circumstances of the use of force by law enforcement officers and some demonstrators, and assess[ing] the human rights situation in the context of the various forms of action linked to the yellow vest movement.” The following summary is directly quoted from that report (further extracts are reprinted in the footnote):

[A]ccording to figures from the Ministry of the Interior 12 122 LBD rounds [i.e., rubber bullets], 1428 instant tear gas grenades and 4942 hand-held sting grenades were fired or thrown between the beginning of the yellow vest movement and 4 February 2019. She is concerned at the high level of use of these so-called intermediate weapons despite the fact that their deployment is restricted and they can cause serious injury. The Commissioner notes that according to a count carried out by an independent journalist, at the time of writing, the three types of intermediate weapon referred to above had been involved in 253 of 428 reports made to him by persons claiming to be victims of police violence, which he himself had documented and cross-checked, confirming a high prevalence of LBDs, accounting for 193 of these cases. The count highlighted 38 wounds to upper limbs including 5 lost hands, 52 wounds to lower limbs, 3 wounds to the genitals and 189 head wounds including 20 people who have lost an eye.

In conclusion she says:

The Commissioner is extremely concerned about the number of serious, concurring and credible allegations of police violence causing mutilation and serious injury, particularly to the head. She considers that head wounds caused by LBD [rubber bullets] fire show a disproportionate use of force and the unsuitability of this type of weapon in the context of operations aimed at maintaining public order. 7

Investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley has witnessed the police violence first-hand and has been running regular columns throughout the already five months since the GJ first took to the streets. Back on January 31st, she reported:

Since the 24th November 2018 the violence witnessed on the streets of cities across France has escalated dramatically. One French independent journalist, David Dufresnes, has been recording all infractions committed by police and security forces and tweeting them to the Interior Ministry while giving interviews to a huge number of French media channels to raise awareness of the police brutality during peaceful protests. In the tweet below, infraction number 362 dated 26/1/2019, an off duty soldier is reported to be hit in the head by a police LBD40 rubber bullet as he is leaving a restaurant in Montpelier on his way to the nightclub with two of his colleagues:

Link to Tweet and video here.

Dufresnes has recorded 157 injuries to the head including 18 who have lost an eye, fractures of the jaw and comas in the most severe cases. 11 hand injuries, in 4 cases resulting in the loss of a hand. 8 back injuries, 28 injuries to the upper body, 40 lower limb injuries, 3 injuries to the genital area, 48 unspecified injuries and 55 cases of intimidation, insults, repression of press freedom infractions. One eighty-year-old was murdered on the 1st December 2018 in Marseilles – Zineb Redouane was killed when a tear gas grenade was thrown in her face by the security forces. According to Dufresnes this is the list of the more serious injuries, an estimated 2000 – 3000 more GJs have been “lightly” injured during the protests since November 2018.

Record of some of the appalling injuries inflicted upon unarmed civilians by police forces across France. (Photo: Desarmons.net)

Dufresnes argues that the police have already lost control of the situation and can no longer be legitimately claiming to “maintain law and order”. In one interview Dufresnes points out that the use of 10,000 tear gas grenades on one day of protests points to a “panic” situation among the security forces. During “Acte XI” of the protests on the 26th January the elderly man, Eric, in the photo below was hit on the head by a police truncheon in Marseilles. He has three fractures and is forced to eat only liquid food from the left side of his mouth for three weeks, according to his brother.

On February 11th, Venessa Beeley delivered a presentation at the Mot Dag Conference in Oslo and provided a powerful testimony of the state sanctioned violence against unarmed civilians in French cities:

Having cited other instances of entirely innocent protesters who have been maimed or otherwise seriously injured, Beeley writes:

Effectively the Gilets Jaunes have exposed Macron and his government for what it is. Macron is the President who was elected by the globalists, the capitalists and the ruling elite to protect their interests. A book recently published, authored by Francois-Xavier Bourmand, entitled “Emmanuel Macron the Banker who would be King” has investigated the corporatocracy who ensured Macron’s election win in order to expand their interests globally and to convert France from Republic into Plutocracy at the expense of the “dispensables”, the “little people”.

During one confrontation with a citizen at one of the Grand Debates, Macron is asked why he has failed to fulfill his pre-election promise of “no more SDF (homeless) on the streets of France – 580 SDF died on the streets of France in 2018. Rather than show compassion for the poverty-stricken and homeless, Macron defends his policies with accountant-speak, informing the audience that the elite must be protected in order to provide jobs for the “poor”.

If indeed Macron’s coterie in government are pushing for confrontation between the people and the security forces and introducing increasingly repressive measures to up the pressure on the protestors rather than trying to defuse matters, it is really ten minutes before midnight in France. The insanity of Macron supporting the “uprising” in Venezuela while sanctioning vicious reprisals against his own people at home is glaringly obvious to all but Macron and his backers. That is because Macron is doing his job and his job is to manufacture the conditions in which the privileged, wealthy ruling elite can thrive and further their globalist ambitions which includes military adventurism and resource theft from target nations that include Venezuela and Syria.

Violence will escalate in France because it is state-sanctioned. Unless the police wake up to their manipulation by the state and join forces with the GJs there is a risk of a serious confrontation in the very near future.

Click here to read Vanessa Beeley’s full article published on Patreon.

On January 28th, Vanessa Beeley, was interviewed on The Last American Vagabond about the “Yellow Vests” movement. She discussed the media suppression, police brutality and its subsequent cover up, and also spoke about the orchestration of an alternative so-called ‘Red Scarf’ resistance movement:

Then on March 10th, Vanessa Beeley appeared as a guest on George Galloway’s RT show ‘Sputnik’, were she again talked about the ‘Yellow Vest’ protests and the media silence:

Protests on consecutive weekends have now passed more than a hundred days, and with no sign at all that the movement is ready to fade away, the Macron government has been stepping up its strong-arm measures, including the deployment of the army on the streets of Paris. This latest move is justified on the basis of an abrupt escalation in violence and vandalism during the 18th act of the protests. However, as wsws.org reported on Thursday 21st, the crackdown comes in spite of widescale evidence of police collusion with black bloc and other agitators:

The escalation of repression by the Macron government after Saturday’s clashes with protesters on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, during the 18th weekly “yellow vest” protests, raises the most serious questions as to the government’s role. No evidence has been provided that the violence was caused by “yellow Vest” protesters. But the Élysée is seeking to tear up the right to protest on the basis of these murky events, which sections of the state apparatus itself have attributed to far-right forces.

On Monday, the government announced that protests could be banned in areas where violence had previously occurred, if police declare that “extreme elements” could be present among the protesters. But it is precisely the question of the police’s own role that is raised by Saturday’s events, which saw numerous buildings set on fire, notably Fouquet’s restaurant.

The police, which were filmed ransacking the merchandise store of the Paris Saint-Germain football club, are now threatening the “yellow vests” with a major escalation of violence. Frédéric Lagache, the general secretary of the Alliance police union which is tied to neo-fascists, called for the injuring of demonstrators: “We should be willing to clash with them and maybe cause some injuries. We’re not going up against choir-boys.”

The incriminating footage of alleged police looting can be found here:

[A] segment of a video originally live-streamed by Rémy Buisine, a journalist for the French news site Brut, has gone viral, garnering more than three million views. The footage shows an officer a few metres from the PSG shop entrance carefully folding what looks like club jerseys or white sweatshirts and putting them into a black bag.

Buisine is heard commenting that “some items were…” before being brusquely interrupted. As the camera shakes, Buisine says that he was clubbed by a police officer with a baton, although that isn’t clearly shown in the video. 8

The same wsws.org article continues:

On Saturday, the Socialist Party mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, reacted to the violence by declaring: “What I saw tonight were extreme right groups who want to destabilize democracy, and groups of looters.”

She also pointed to the responsibility of police for the violence that erupted on the Champs-Élysées: “It ought to be possible to take control of a situation like the one we just passed through.”

Naturally, Hidalgo chose her words and took care not to express herself in a way that would raise questions as to the role of the state machine, of which she is herself an important cog. But it is necessary to ask the questions which are directly posed by such statements.

If far-right groups are indeed responsible, then which far-right groups are they? Who are their leaders, and who gave orders to set different shops and buildings on fire? Are there ties between the far-right groups that ransacked the Champs-Élysées, according to Hidalgo, and those, for example, who are now appealing the conviction of their ex-members for the fascist murder of Clement Méric?

Given the vast powers that the state has to monitor electronic communications and mobile phones, how is it possible that they do not know the identities of those responsible?

And if, as Hidalgo claims, the responsibility for the violence lies with far-right forces that threaten democracy, what conclusions should one draw about the role of the government? Why are Macron and his ministers silent about the role of the far right, besides the fact that this discredits their claim that the “yellow vests” and those who support them—some 70 percent of the French population—are responsible for the violence? 9

Click here to read the full report entitled “Unanswered questions on French police role in Saturday ‘yellow vest’ clashes”.

On Saturday 23rd, ‘We Are Change’ released an extended interview with an anonymous Gilets Jaunes spokesman “Bob” who spoke to Luke Rudkowski about the violence of the previous weekend’s “18th Act”; the psychological problems suffered by police officers; the use of a new type of unknown ‘teargas’ agent; the deployment of troops; and the callous manipulation of the narrative by Macron. Both parts of the interview are embedded below [warning: the introductory music is unnecessarily loud]:

In short, fighting against what have been, for the most part, peaceful protests is in the long run a losing strategy, so it has been essential to denigrate the entire ‘Yellow Vest’ movement by tarnishing its reputation, whether by means agents provocateurs (Vanessa Beeley reported on this in early February) or else by branding its supporters as racists, or more specifically, accusing them of antisemitism – an increasingly prevalent trend which usefully serves also to reverse an otherwise defensive posture needed to protect Israel. As independent journalist Jonathan Cook wrote in an excellent piece entitled “France’s Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism”:

Macron’s sleight of hand [“his repeated conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism”] has a related and more specifically self-serving agenda, however, as has become clear in the wider misuse – or weaponisation – of antisemitism slurs in Europe and the US.

Macron is faced with a popular revolt known as the Yellow Vests, or Gilets Jaunes, that has taken over high streets for many months. The protests are rocking his government.

Like other recent grassroots insurrections, such as the Occupy movement, the Yellow Vests is leaderless and its demands difficult to decipher. It represents more a mood, a spreading dissatisfaction with an out-of-touch political system that, since the financial meltdown a decade ago, has looked chronically broken and unreformable.

The Yellow Vests embody a grievance desperately searching to hitch its wagon to a new political star, a different and fairer vision of how our societies could be organised.

The movement’s very inarticulateness has been its power and its threat. Those frustrated with austerity policies, those angry at an arrogant, unresponsive political and financial elite, those craving a return to a clearer sense of Frenchness can all seek shelter under its banner.

But equally it has also allowed Macron and the French elite to project on to the Yellow Vests any kind of malevolent motive that best serves their efforts to demonize the movement. A charge spokespeople for the movement deny.

And given the rising tide of nativist, far-right movements across Europe, casting the Yellow Vests as antisemitic has proved difficult to resist for the embattled French president.

Just as Macron has presented leftwing and anti-racism activists supporting BDS as in cahoots with neo-Nazis, he has lumped together the Yellow Vests with far-right white nationalists. Much of the French media have happily recycled this mischief. 10

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

There are few satirists who puncture the convoluted pomposity of today’s febrile political climate quite so astutely as playwright and novelist CJ Hopkins. Lately he has gone to town on the virulence of what he calls the “Anti-Semitic Pandemic” and in his most recent piece, wryly retraces its spread from latent seeds within British Labour Party out to the streets of Paris:

Emergency measures are now in effect. A full-scale Labour Party lockdown is imminent. Anyone not already infected is being advised to flee the party, denounce anyone who hasn’t done so as “a Hitler-loving Corbyn-sympathizer,” and prophylactically apologize for any critical statements they might have made about Israel, or “elites,” or “global capitalism,” or “bankers,” or anything else that anyone can construe as anti-Semitism (preferably in the pages of The Guardian).

Nor has the Continent been spared! What at first appeared to be a series of spontaneous protests against Emmanuel Macron, economic austerity, and global capitalism by the so-called “Yellow Vests” in France has now been officially diagnosed as a nationwide anti-Semitism outbreak. In a heroic attempt to contain the outbreak, Macron has dispatched his security forces to shoot the eyes out of unarmed women, pepper spray paraplegics in wheelchairs, and just generally beat bloody hell out of everyone.

Strangely, none of these tactics have worked, so France has decided to join the USA, the UK, Germany, and the rest of the empire in defining anti-Zionism as form of anti-Semitism, such that anyone implying that Israel is in any way inherently racist, or a quasi-fascist Apartheid state, or making jokes about “elites” or “bankers,” can be detained and prosecuted for committing a “hate-crime.” 11

Click here to read CJ Hopkin’s complete essay.

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Avaaz

On March 12th, Avaaz released a lengthy report entitled “Yellow Vests Flooded By Fake News: Over 100M Views of Disinformation on Facebook”. The cover page features the image below:

What this image is depicting is not entirely clear, however I suggest that we try to dissect it to see if we can uncover an underlying message. To begin then, who are the two screaming victims meant to represent and why are they in the throes of such extreme agony? Moreover, what is the unseen agency pulling at their strings? To my eyes the torment and the envisaged tormenter are conflated, deliberately so given how there is no other visible cause for their trauma. Presumably then the subliminal message is that the pain that is felt and expressed by the Yellows Vests is both the outcome and an expression of one source: ‘fake news’. Of course the main purveyor of this dread ‘fake news’ is then made clear in the accompanying caption:

“Avaaz calls on Facebook to Correct the Record ahead of EU Elections – with an in-depth study showing how fake news surrounding the Yellow Vests reached over 100 million views, and how Russia fueled the divide.”

[bold highlight added]

In short, Russia is to blame, and not just for somehow orchestrating mass demonstrations across France that have been ongoing since November, but for bringing such grief to the French people by generating and stoking their rage. You see the people who go out on the streets in their tens of thousands are actually dupes of the Kremlin – empty-headed pawns in a game that goes on entirely above their heads:

Yes, the image above is another one lifted from the pages of Avaaz’s report, and as if their message isn’t plain enough, there is a further accompanying statement that clarifies:

This new in-depth study by the global citizens’ movement Avaaz shows for the first time the unprecedented scale at which the Yellow Vest movement has been impacted by disinformation. According to its findings, fake news surrounding the French Yellow Vest movement has reached an estimated 105 million views on Facebook alone, in a country with just over 35 million Facebook monthly active users. 12

The report then highlights three prime examples of the kinds of disinformation inflaming the French protests:

• a post with images including bleeding ‘Yellow Vest protesters,’ which media and government allegedly hid from the public – when some of the photos were actually taken at different protests near Madrid or in Catalonia (136,818 shares, 3,511,456 est. views)

• a video of French President Macron dancing in the Middle East “while France suffers,” when the video was actually taken over a month before, during the Summit for the Francophonie in Armenia (183,390 shares, 5,700,000 views)

• an image of a Yellow Vest protest in Paris, with a caption alleging that the image had been censored on Facebook or elsewhere; Le Monde fact-checkers debunked the claim that the photo or the caption were deleted (349,403 shares, 8,967,432 est. Views 13

I wish to consider each of these items in turn, starting with the photo of an injured protester who is mistakenly identified as a victim of the recent violence in France when in fact she was a previous victim of police brutality in Madrid. It was late February when Avaaz launched their initial campaign on the back of this deception. The email they sent reads (and bold highlights are preserved from the original):

“This shocking photo of a young woman, left beaten and bleeding by police at a protest, went viral on social media in France.

It’s the sort of thing Avaaz might launch an urgent campaign on.

So let’s pause there, if only to bookmark this first claim before continuing…

“But there’s just one problem – the image has nothing to do with France. It was taken in Madrid, years ago. It’s fake. Untrue. A lie.

And it’s dangerous.

Where to begin? Well surely the first point is that the image is not in any literal sense fake at all. Indeed, no-one is actually claiming that the image has been photoshopped. All that is ‘fake’ is that it happened in a different place and another time when evidently – and in spite of all their frantic virtue signalling – Avaaz did not bother to launch a campaign in response to it. No, they waited. And it was not until they could reuse the image to push a new agenda when they finally decided to direct the world’s attention to it.

Now it might be the case that they simply hadn’t seen this image before, although if so, then one wonders how they so promptly identified it as “fake” upon its re-emergence. Although none of this really matters. The fact is, as Avaaz know full well, the Gilet’s Jaunes protesters have also been repeatedly “beaten, bloody and terrified” in staggering numbers by French police; many left permanently blinded or as amputees. I have covered this above, however, the following extract is taken from a mainstream article that published by the New Statesman as early as January 30th, and thus a whole month prior to the Avaaz email:

In the video that has stunned France, Paris’s Place de la Bastille is relatively calm, with gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters scattered around the square. Jérôme Rodrigues, a pacifist yellow vest figure, is filming 26 January’s “Act XI” on Facebook Live, greeting fellow yellow vests as his “family”, reminding them that they are “authorised” to be there (unlike previous ones, this march had been declared to the authorities) and regretting reports of violence elsewhere. At the nine-minute mark, police start closing in. An explosion goes off. Seconds later, Rodrigues falls to the ground, badly hurt in the eye as his friends call for help. The video has been watched more than 2.2 million times in less than a week.

Rodrigues, who may remain blind in one eye, is among dozens of protesters who have been severely injured by the French police since the start of the yellow vests movement last autumn. Unlike violence against the police, which has been sharply condemned by the government in several speeches — including president Emmanuel Macron’s new year’s address, in which he described protesters as a “hateful crowd” — police brutality against protesters went largely ignored by the authorities for months. Rodrigues’s footage, and his prominent standing within the movement, has shone a light on police violence and the horrific injuries their weapons have caused since the first protests in November. 14

Click here to read the full article entitled “The French police’s brutality against the gilets jaunes can no longer be denied”.

A similar report entitled “Police violence against gilets jaunes sparks broad backlash” was published by the New Internationalist literally one day before the Avaaz email arrived. It begins:

Since that now infamous Act 2 protest in Paris on the 24th of November in which the first riots erupted on the Champs Elysee, the gilets jaunes, or ‘yellow vests’, have been met by an increasingly heavy handed police response. The 15th of December in Paris saw this reach an absurd peak when there were 2,200 protestors on the streets and over 8,000 police. They were ubiquitous. On the 15th they were so numerous that they could consistently split groups of gilets jaunes from merging to form a bigger mass. Ironically, this was one of the calmer weekends in terms of crowd numbers, police violence and casseur presence. Other times though the police response was devastating.

Jacques Pezet, fact-checking Journalist for the CheckNews division of Liberation had, as of the 30th of January counted 144 verifiable cases of gilets jaunes and journalists severely injured by the riot police. At least 14 victims have lost an eye and 92 of the 144 have been shot by flashballs. Flashballs are rubber bullets fired from a tube like weapon with the stopping power of a .38 calibre handgun. At close range, as the French CRS (riot police) have used them, they can be particularly damaging. This violent misconduct by the CRS has sparked a wave of activism and created a new movement against police brutality within the gilets jaunes. 15

Click here to read the full New Internationalist article.

So when Christoph Schott at Avaaz warns us that “Disinformation like this has the power to turn protest violent…” I know that he is being duplicitous. That what he is saying is fake, untrue, a lie… and that it’s dangerous. Because that genuinely “shocking photo of a young woman” in Madrid was really nothing more than a decoy to draw attention from the horrific violence of the French police and the hundreds of victims like these:

Record of injuries from police use of disproportionate force against unarmed civilians during GJ protests. (Photo: Desarmons.net)

Now let us turn to Avaaz’s second example of “dangerous” disinformation: a video which purportedly shows Macron dancing “while France suffers”, but as Avaaz rightly contends, was in fact filmed during an event which took place on October 11th, and so roughly one month prior to the GJ protests. Here’s an upload for anyone who’s remotely interested in watching Macron strut his stuff:

The implication Avaaz makes here is that news of Macron’s detachment from the plight of the ordinary French citizen has been at best exaggerated and at worst fabricated. Yet once again this seriously and knowingly misses the essential point. So try this instead. Type into Google the words, “Macron let them eat cake” and then count the hits yourself. I will merely present a sample of the various tweets and articles you will instantly be linked to:

Instead of the confident leader, lecturing and preening on the global stage, he is barricaded in his palace, a sort of latter-day Marie Antoinette. French people can’t afford diesel? Let them buy Teslas. Others might compare him to Nero, fiddling with emission targets while Paris burns. 16

From an article published by The Spectator in December appropriately entitled “Let them buy Teslas! How Macron provoked an uprising”.

Also back in December, The Economist weighed in with this tweet:

And meanwhile the Guardian published:

It is feasible – indeed, desirable – to use the tax system to tackle climate change, but only if the hit to living standards is fully offset by cuts in other taxes. Otherwise it is simply more of the austerity that voters everywhere are rejecting. And it is politically suicidal to be known as the president of the wealthy and then tell voters angry about rising fuel prices to car share or take public transport. That’s not De Gaulle, that’s Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake”.17

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “Macron’s politics look to Blair and Clinton. The backlash was inevitable.”

The backlash was indeed inevitable, and is nothing to do with the sorts of shadowy puppetry that are alluded to by Avaaz. Furthermore, Macron may or may not have been dancing during the protest, however, as Paris burned last weekend, he was most definitely in the Alps skiing:

Mr Macron was forced to cut short a skiing holiday and return to the capital as an 18th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations by the gilets jaunes or yellow vests turned into a riot on the Champs-Elysées. 18

Let them eat, drink and après-ski!

*

Macron

Nominally anti-fascist, in reality, Avaaz is more straightforwardly pro-establishment globalist. While on the one hand it actively manufactures consent for pro-western regime change operations, on the other, it quietly supports neoliberal “centrism”. As its co-founding President and Executive Director, Ricken Patel, told the euobserver in an interview given last July:

“I think the people of Europe stand with Merkel. That doesn’t mean that every right-wing voter in Bavaria stands with Merkel’s positions, but the majority of people in Germany, and the majority people in Europe, stand behind her and she needs to lead with confidence, and with boldness, and with creativity to execute the solutions she is offering, because the other side is not offering any solutions.”

“They are offering fantasies and unworkable solutions and things that would destroy the laws and the values of the European project and liberal democracy. And I think she should continue to lead boldly.” 19

As with Merkel, so with Emmanuel Macron. Indeed, here is a campaign Avaaz ran in the lead up to the French presidential elections in 2017:

In less than 4 weeks, France will have a new President, and he or she will have an immense impact on how we work together to build the world most of us want to see.

We’re figuring out our next steps for engaging the 4 million-strong Avaaz community across France, and we need your help. If the election was held tomorrow, would you vote for Emmanuel Macron? If yes, sign the form!

Avaaz then released this video on its facebook page:

But the meddling in foreign elections doesn’t end here, because there is also Avaaz’s army of ‘elves’, who, as I discussed in a previous post, are in reality simply Cass Sunstein’s unwitting little helpers:

*

Facebook

This brings me to Avaaz’s third and final highlighted instance of “disinformation” that is purportedly fuelling the current outrage in France. It takes the form of “an image of a Yellow Vest protest in Paris, with a caption alleging that the image had been censored on Facebook or elsewhere”. According to Avaaz, “Le Monde fact-checkers debunked the claim that the photo or the caption were deleted”. Now, rather than delving into this specific allegation which I see little reason to doubt, it is more worthwhile to consider this allegation in fuller context.

Firstly it is vital to understand how this entire Avaaz campaign is absolutely intent on lessening the impact of political content distributed on Facebook, and thus rather blatantly guilty of the kind of censorship it here alleges didn’t happen. It is important to stress therefore that Facebook is already charged with helping to silence political dissent, and that there is an abundance of available evidence to find the company fully guilty on that count.

In fact, it is nearly a year since Facebook first revealed its previously secret rules for censoring posts. As Forbes reported:

The company has come in for a fair amount of criticism over the years for taking down perfectly innocuous content – everything from photos of classical statues to the famous picture of a napalmed child in Vietnam.

Now, users whose content has been taken down will be notified and given the chance to ask for a review; reviews will normally be carried out within 24 hours.

The policy will initially apply only to nudity or sexual activity, hate speech and graphic violence, says [VP of global product management Monika] Bickert.

But, she adds, “We are working to extend this process further, by supporting more violation types, giving people the opportunity to provide more context that could help us make the right decision, and making appeals available not just for content that was taken down, but also for content that was reported and left up.” 20

In response to Facebook’s announcement of its censorship policy, the ACLU cautioned against what it saw as a clampdown on free speech:

If Facebook gives itself broader censorship powers, it will inevitably take down important speech and silence already marginalized voices. We’ve seen this before. Last year, when activists of color and white people posted the exact same content, Facebook moderators censored only the activists of color. When Black women posted screenshots and descriptions of racist abuse, Facebook moderators suspended their accounts or deleted their posts. And when people used Facebook as a tool to document their experiences of police violence, Facebook chose to shut down their livestreams. The ACLU’s own Facebook post about censorship of a public statue was also inappropriately censored by Facebook.

Facebook has shown us that it does a bad job of moderating “hateful” or “offensive” posts, even when its intentions are good. Facebook will do no better at serving as the arbiter of truth versus misinformation, and we should remain wary of its power to deprioritize certain posts or to moderate content in other ways that fall short of censorship. 21

Click here to read the ACLU statement in full.

More recently, and as it transpires immediately prior to the Gilets Jaunes protests, Facebook then announced a fresh censorship drive:

People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook. It’s why we have a policy banning coordinated inauthentic behavior — networks of accounts or Pages working to mislead others about who they are, and what they are doing. This year, we’ve enforced this policy against many Pages, Groups and accounts created to stir up political debate, including in the US, the Middle East, Russia and the UK. But the bulk of the inauthentic activity we see on Facebook is spam that’s typically motivated by money, not politics. And the people behind it are adapting their behavior as our enforcement improves.

The statement was made last October and continues:

Topics like natural disasters or celebrity gossip have been popular ways to generate clickbait. But today, these networks increasingly use sensational political content – regardless of its political slant – to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site. And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the “news” stories or opinions these accounts and Pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate. This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior – such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam – rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove.

Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. 22

Click here to read the Facebook statement in full.

As the Guardian reported at the time:

As a private entity, Facebook can enforce its terms however it sees fit, says the ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman. But this can have serious free speech consequences, especially if the social network is selectively enforcing its terms based on the content of the pages.

“Drawing the line between ‘real’ and ‘inauthentic’ views is a difficult enterprise that could put everything from important political parody to genuine but outlandish views on the chopping block,” says Eidelman. “It could also chill individuals who only feel safe speaking out anonymously or pseudonymously.” 23

The same article, which entitled “Facebook accused of censorship after hundreds of US political pages purged” , interviewed Matt Mountain, the pseudonym of a disabled veteran who operated six leftwing pages subsequently purged, and Brian Kolfage, another disabled veteran who administered the Right Wing News page as well as three other conservative pages that were also removed. Kolfage said:

“I’ve talked with Facebook maybe 50 times in the last few months… Not once did they ever say we broke any rules or did something wrong. If they had an issue, they could have brought it up. We had a really close working relationship. That’s why this whole thing is a complete shock.”

‘Mountain’ told the Guardian:

“I don’t think Facebook wants to fix this… I think they just want politics out, unless it’s coming from the mainstream media.”

Predictably, the piece ends:

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full Guardian article

*

Real ‘fake news’

Every major U.S. war of the last several decades has begun the same way: the U.S. government fabricates an inflammatory, emotionally provocative lie which large U.S. media outlets uncritically treat as truth while refusing at air questioning or dissent, thus inflaming primal anger against the country the U.S. wants to attack. That’s how we got the Vietnam War (North Vietnam attacks U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin); the Gulf War (Saddam ripped babies from incubators); and, of course, the war in Iraq (Saddam had WMDs and formed an alliance with Al Qaeda).

This was exactly the tactic used on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces.

Writes Glenn Greenwald at the top of a very detailed exposé of the latest US government lies to bring about a regime change. The truth was finally admitted by The New York Times a fortnight later – by which time the official story was deeply lodged in people’s minds – and you will find a video and accompanying article about it behind their paywall. Here is their belated headline:

The NYT piece gives proof that the convoys were in fact torched by anti-Maduro protesters, exactly as many independent reporters including Max Blumenthal were reporting on the day, however, as with the disclosure of other fake news stories perpetuated in the mainstream media, and unlike the original lies, the NYT retraction did not grab the wider headlines.  Although CNN, The Telegraph and the BBC all ran the original fake news story, they left NYT alone to publicly retract it.

As Greenwald points out in reference to the evidence for what really happened:

Those last two tweets [embedded below] – using video footage to debunk the lies spread by Marco Rubio, CNN and the U.S. Government – happen to be from a correspondent with RT America. Please tell me: who was acting here as lying propagandists and agents of State TV, and who was acting like a journalist trying to understand and report the truth?

So everything the New York Times so proudly reported last night has been known for weeks, and was already reported in great detail, using extensive evidence, by a large number of people. But because those people are generally skeptical of the U.S. Government’s claims and critical of its foreign policy, they were ignored and mocked and are generally barred from appearing on television, while the liars from the U.S. Government and their allies in the corporate media were, as usual, given a platform to spread their lies without any challenge or dissent, just like the manual for how to maintain State TV instructs. 24

Click here to read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent article entitled “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda”.

*

Final thoughts

Barring the singular exception of the West’s most unconscionable war, the Saudi-led genocide of Yemen, Avaaz has never seen an imperialist intervention, ‘colour revolution’, or other regime change operation it didn’t approve of. It campaigned vigorously for the ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya – this, the weasel word euphemism for airstrikes – and soon after Libya was bombed backed into the dark ages, demanded a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria (read more here and here).

Less well-advertised, Avaaz was also deeply involved in Iran’s failed ‘Green Revolution’:

During the 2009 Green Movement uprising in Iran, for example, Avaaz set up a network of proxy servers to allow protesters to post videos from the streets. 25

Then in 2017, Avaaz went a step further when it financially backed its own candidate in the race for Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia. The candidate in question happened to be none other than former congressman Tom Perriello, one of Avaaz’s original founders, who, it was divulged, received a donation from Avaaz of $230,000. As the Washington Post reported:

As a 501(c)(4) charity, Avaaz is not required to disclose its individual donors, which it says come from among nearly 45 million members in 194 countries. The organization says it accepts no money from governments or corporations and itemizes any donations greater than $5,000 on its tax filing; in 2016, 26 such donations were reported, representing 0.7 percent of Avaaz’s total revenue.

Perriello co-founded Avaaz with two colleagues who had helped him start an earlier nonprofit called Res Publica, which was aimed at promoting international justice on behalf of the religious left, as Perriello told the National Catholic Reporter in 2004. One of those colleagues, Ricken Patel, a Canadian, is now Avaaz’s executive director. The organization was formed in collaboration with MoveOn.org, the Democratic online activist group that has received funding from billionaire George Soros — who also is a major Perriello campaign contributor. 26

Click here to read the full article published by the Washington Post.

Today Avaaz is fully in league with Bush-era hawk John Bolton, the unapologetic cheerleader for the Iraq War, and Elliot Abrahams, who aided death squads throughout Latin America and was afterwards convicted following his involvement in the Iran-Contra Scandal. In unison with “like-minded leaders” (in the words of John Bolton 27), President Ivan Duque of Colombia, and Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, Avaaz is assisting in the attempted overthrow of the elected government of Venezuela. The empire has seldom been more brazen when it comes to singling out its latest “axis of evil” (i.e., Bolton’s “troika of tyranny”: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua), yet this self-proclaimed non-partisan people’s movement is eager to lend support in the guise of faux-humanitarianism that distracts from US imperialism and bolsters the neo-con cause:

The image is captured from a translation of its Spanish campaign but you can also find the same campaign in English here:

It is also backing baseless claims that last year’s presidential elections were invalid.

Meanwhile, Avaaz is once again meddling closer to home. In the name of stemming the tide of ‘fake news’ it is preparing the way for greater internet censorship. As they concede in the report:

RT France has massively invested in coverage of the Yellow Vest protests, including hour-long live coverage videos, and as a result, dominated the debate about Yellow Vests on YouTube in France more than any other YouTube channel, let alone mainstream media.

If you imagined that “a global citizens movement” (as Avaaz markets itself) would be in favour of more rather than less coverage of the mass demonstrations across France and so would applaud RT or any other media outlet for providing it, you would be wrong. The fact is that they wish to bury any news of a popular uprising, smothering the truth with overblown allegations of ‘fake news’. So if you still haven’t figured it out, then allow me to spell it out instead: in contrast to the Gilets Jaunes themselves, Avaaz is not and never has been a grassroots movement. It was astroturfed from the get-go to provide controlled opposition, whilst its newest departure into ‘fake news’ surveillance represents a more sinister turn. Once again, I encourage every person of goodwill to unsubscribe from the Avaaz mailing list. I shall remain nominally affiliated just to keep an eye on future machinations – just so that you won’t have to.

*

1

France’s gilets jaunes (yellow vests) have vowed to continue their high-profile protest campaign after forcing the French government into a U-turn on a controversial rise in fuel tax.

The movement behind three weeks of increasingly violent protests across the country declared it wanted more concessions from France’s leaders and would not accept “crumbs”.

From an article entitled “Gilets Jaunes protests in France to continue despite fuel tax U-turn” written by Kim Willsher, published in the Guardian on December 4, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/04/french-government-to-suspend-fuel-tax-increase-say-reports 

2 From an article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron” written by Diana Johnstone, published in Consortium News on December 5, 2018. https://consortiumnews.com/2018/12/05/yellow-vests-rise-against-neo-liberal-king-macron/ 

3 From an article entitled “Dr. Jean Bricmont: ‘Yellow Vests Ask Such Fundamental Questions that No European Government Could Answer Them” written by Mohsen Abdelmoumen, published in American Herald Tribune on February 22, 2019. https://ahtribune.com/interview/2903-jean-bricmont.html

4 From an article entitled “Forgotten France Rises Up” written by Serge Halimi, translated by George Miller, published in Counterpunch on January 8, 2019.. https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/01/08/forgotten-france-rises-up/  

5 From an article entitled “Why France’s Yellow Vest Protests Are Ignored by ‘The Resistance’ in the U.S.” written by Max Parry, published in Counterpunch on January 4, 2019.  https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/01/04/why-frances-yellow-vest-protests-are-ignored-by-the-resistance-in-the-u-s/

6 Although in fact like so many of the best known quotes it is probably misattributed.

7

During her visit the Commissioner noted in particular that the validity of the use of rubber bullet launchers (LBDs) during demonstrations was contested by most of the people she met, who highlighted their unsuitability for the purposes of maintaining public order and the danger they posed in such contexts. In his report of December 2017 on maintaining public order with due regard for professional rules of conduct, the Defender of Rights recommended that a multidisciplinary study be carried out on the use of intermediate weapons and that LBDs should be removed from the range of equipment available to law enforcement agencies. The Commissioner notes that the Defender of Rights reiterated his recommendation for LBDs to be withdrawn in January 2019 and that many health professionals support him because of the sometimes irreversible injuries that can be caused by these weapons. Laurent Thines, Head of Neurosurgery at the University Hospital of Besançon, has even talked of the “extreme danger” of these launchers which he considers to have “all the features of weapons of war”. […]

The Commissioner notes that according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior 12 122 LBD rounds, 1428 instant tear gas grenades and 4942 hand-held sting grenades were fired or thrown between the beginning of the yellow vest movement and 4 February 2019. She is concerned at the high level of use of these so-called intermediate weapons despite the fact that their deployment is restricted and they can cause serious injury. The Commissioner notes that according to a count carried out by an independent journalist, at the time of writing, the three types of intermediate weapon referred to above had been involved in 253 of 428 reports made to him by persons claiming to be victims of police violence, which he himself had documented and cross-checked, confirming a high prevalence of LBDs, accounting for 193 of these cases. The count highlighted 38 wounds to upper limbs including 5 lost hands, 52 wounds to lower limbs, 3 wounds to the genitals and 189 head wounds including 20 people who have lost an eye. The Commissioner notes that many head wound victims attribute their injuries to intermediate weapons, particularly LBDs, whereas according to instructions reiterated by the Director General of the national police force on 16 January 2019, the use of LBDs must be “targeted”, with users aiming “only at the torso or the lower or upper limbs”. […]

[T]he Commissioner is concerned about the allegations of police violence targeting journalists which have been brought to her attention by professional journalists’ organisations and human rights groups and which are echoed by those of three photographers who claim that they were “deliberately” targeted by the police in Toulouse at a demonstration on 9 February 2019.

From a report by the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe published on February 26, 2019. https://rm.coe.int/commdh-2019-8-memorandum-france-en/1680932f57

8 From an article entitled “French police accused of stealing PSG jerseys during Yellow Vest lootings”, written by Pierre Hamdi, published in France 24: The Observers on March 19. 2019. https://observers.france24.com/en/20190319-france-social-media-accuse-police-stealing-psg-jerseys-yellow-vests

9 From an article entitled “Unanswered questions on French police role in Saturday’s ‘yellow vest’ clashes” written by Anthony Torres and Alex Lantier, published in wsws.org on March 21, 2019. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/03/21/fran-m21.html

10 From an article entitled “France’s Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism” written by Jonathan Cook, published in Mondoweiss on February 27, 2019. https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2019-02-27/france-macron-zionism-antisemitism/

11 From an article entitled “Anti-Semitism Pandemic!” written by CJ Hopkins, reprinted in OffGuardian on March 12, 2019. https://off-guardian.org/2019/03/12/anti-semitism-pandemic/

12 From an Avaaz report entitled “Yellow Vest Flooded By Fake News” published on March 12, 2019. https://g8fip1kplyr33r3krz5b97d1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/AVAAZ_YellowVests_100miofake.pdf.pdf.pdf

13 Ibid.

14 From an article entitled “The French police’s brutality against the gilets jaunes can no longer be denied” written by Pauline Bock, published in the New Statesman on January 30, 2019. https://www.newstatesman.com/world/europe/2019/01/french-police-s-brutality-against-gilets-jaunes-can-no-longer-be-denied

15 From an article entitled “Police violence against gilets jaunes sparks broad backlash” written by Oliver Haynes, published in the New Internationalist on February 27, 2019. https://newint.org/features/2019/02/27/police-violence-against-gilets-jaunes-sparks-broad-backlash

16 From an article published entitled “Let them buy Teslas! How Macron provoked an uprising” written by Jonathan Miller, published in The Spectator on December 8, 2018. https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/12/let-them-buy-teslas-how-macron-became-the-enemy-of-the-french/ 

17 From an article entitled “Macron’s politics look to Blair and Clinton. The backlash was inevitable” written by Larry Elliott, published in the Guardian on Decmeber 6, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/06/macron-clinton-blair-backlash

18 From an article entitled “Macron under renewed pressure after another weekend of violence” written by Harriet Agnew, published in the Financial Times on March 17, 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/b774a756-48a7-11e9-8b7f-d49067e0f50d

19 From an article entitled “EU populists not actually that ‘popular’, says global activist” written by Lisbeth Kirk, published in the euobserver on July 3, 2018. https://euobserver.com/political/142242

20 From an article entitled “Facebook Reveals Its Secret Rules For Censoring Posts” written by Emma Woollacott, published in Forbes magazine on April 24, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2018/04/24/facebook-reveals-its-secret-rules-for-censoring-posts/#40a453b56da4

21 From an article entitled “Facebook Shouldn’t Censor Offensive Speech” written by Vera Eidelman, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, published by ACLU on July 20, 2018. https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/internet-speech/facebook-shouldnt-censor-offensive-speech

22 From a Facebook announcement entitled “Removing Additional Inauthentic Activity from Facebook” written by Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy and Oscar Rodriguez, Product Manager, posted by Facebook on October 11, 2018. https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/10/removing-inauthentic-activity/

23 From an article entitled “Facebook accused of censorship after hundreds of US political pages purged” written by Dan Tynan, published in the Guardian on October 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/16/facebook-political-activism-pages-inauthentic-behavior-censorship

24 From an article entitled “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda” written by Glenn Greenwald, published in The Intercept on March 10, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/03/10/nyts-expose-on-the-lies-about-burning-humanitarian-trucks-in-venezuela-shows-how-us-govt-and-media-spread-fake-news/

25 From an article entitled “How a New York City-Based Activist Group Became a Player in Syria”, written by Vivienne Walt, published in Time magazine on March 15, 2012. http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2109212,00.html

26 From an article entitled “‘Dark money’ vs. Corporate cash: Virginia Democratic rivals clash over funding” written by Gregory S. Schneider, published in the Washington Post on April 22, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/dark-money-vs-corporate-cash-democratic-rivals-clash-over-funding/2017/04/21/cc91253c-25d7-11e7-a1b3-faff0034e2de_story.html?utm_term=.6d47c0cae4ab

27

“The recent elections of like-minded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable governance,” Bolton said in his speech at Miami-Dade College.

From an article entitled “Bolton praises Bolsonaro while declaring ‘troika of tyranny’ in Latin America” written by Julian Borger, published in the Guardian on November 1, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/01/trump-admin-bolsonaro-praise-john-bolton-troika-tyranny-latin-america

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from los indignados to Podemos: Esther Vivas reflects on half a decade of public outrage in Spain

What remains of all our outrage?

Esther Vivas | Público

It’s been five years since the massive occupation of May 15, 2011 that gave birth to the movement of los indignados, 15M. Five years of faltering progress with many advances and set-backs along the way. Five years of a tremendous crisis, civil unrest and mass protest. So, what remains today after such a sustained period of outrage?

15M has changed the way we read and interpret the crisis we are facing. We were all told in 2008 that “we live beyond our means”, and blamed for the present situation, but the movement of los indignados has enabled us to change the story. One of its principle slogans, “no somos mercancías en manos de políticos ni banqueros” (we are not mere things to be manipulated by politicians and bankers), pointed in this direction. 15M said that the banks were the authors of economic collapse, and that most of the political class was also complicit. Los indignados imposed a counter-narrative that challenged the official lie: neither guilty nor responsible, it said, we are victims of an age of corruption.

What began as an economic crisis, soon led to a social crisis and finally, under the impact of 15M and the independence movement in Catalonia, to a crisis of the political system per se, which led people to question the founding principles of the (post-Franco) Spanish Constitution of 1978  and each of its pillars, monarchy, two-party system and our state model. This would have been unthinkable not long ago.

15M connected with the seething social discontent and helped to propel it into the form of collective mobilisation, legitimising protest and nonviolent direct actions, such as camping in public places, or occupations of empty houses owned by banks, like the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (or PAH – literally: Platform of People Affected by the Mortgage). Potentially illegal actions were now considered legitimate by a significant portion of public opinion. According to several polls, up to 80% of the public considered that los indignados were right and supported us, despite criminalisation and stigmatisation by those in power.

Two years after Mareas ciudadanas (the citizens’ Tide), the spirit of 15M finally made the jump to policymaking: moving from “no nos representan” to “Podemos” and the claims of “los comunes” , having overcome the difficulty of gaining political traction. Even after pundits had accused the movement of being unable to present a serious political alternative and said that the management of our political institutions must be left to professionals.

The emergence of Podemos came with the victory of five MEPs in the European Parliament in May 2014, which marked the beginning of a new political/electoral cycle; one that has not yet been closed, and that was further crystallized in municipal elections of May 2015 with victories against all odds, of alternative candidates in local government capitals of Barcelona, Madrid, Zaragoza, Santiago de Compostela, Cádiz… followed by the breakdown of two-party politics (in the General election) on December 20th. This political translation of outraged social unrest simply needed two things: time and strategic boldness. These successes had not been anticipated, and without the 15M movement would not have been possible.

Those stuck in “old politics” have been forced to rethink their modes of communication. Some have abandoned ties and put on more fashionable shirts, as step-by-step all kinds of shifts became imperative and the word “change” became ubiquitous in the electoral scene. As if that was not enough, a new party, Ciudadanos (Citizens) was launched, with the aim that social unrest might be railroaded into more harmless channels.

Maybe on today’s upset political chessboard the weakest side is the social mobilisation necessary to any process of change. The bid for institutional participation, the setting up of new political instruments and the sudden and unexpected victories in various city councils took place in a climate of social passivity. However, real change does not come about only through conquering institutions, but through gaining support from a mobilised society. If society does not exert pressure on governments for change, it is the powers-that-be that will, and we know whose interests they serve.

What remains of all our outrage? A regime in crisis, not ready yet to fall but ready to be reconfigured. As the French philosopher Daniel Bensaïd said: “Indignation is a start. A way of standing up and beginning to walk. One becomes indignant, rebels, and then thinks what next.” This is where we are now.

* Article in Publico.es, 15.05.2016.

 This is the name used by the candidacy of Ada Colau, elected mayor of Barcelona on May 2015.

Follow the link below to read the original article in Spanish:

https://esthervivas.com/2016/05/15/que-queda-de-tanta-indignacion/

Esther Vivas is an activist, journalist and the author of several books on food and agricultural policies and social movements; her latest work is The food business: Who controls our food? ( Icaria ed., 2014)

@esthervivas | facebook.com/esthervivas | www.esthervivas.com

**Translation is my own — approved by Esther Vivas

+info: http://esthervivas.com/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily ones shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Spain: popular resistance delivers results

Victory against Madrid’s hospital privatisation – and other recent struggles in Spain – shows popular resistance delivers results.

“Resisting is pointless,” we hear endlessly repeated. “So many years of protest but the crisis continues, why bother?” insist others, inoculating us with apathy and resignation. “Protests could lead to something that’s even worse,” whispers the machinery of fear. They want us submissive, heads bowed. Dreams of change are forbidden. However, history rebels, it is indomitable. And it shows us, despite the naysayers, that struggle is worth it. The victories against the privatisation of the Madrid’s public health system, of the Gamonal neighbourhood standing up to speculators and the corrupt, of the cleaners in their battle for jobs in the capital and the struggle against evictions and the banks, are good examples.

It is not easy to achieve concrete victories when the political class betray our rights and sell out to capital. It’s hard to win when the state apparatus defends the haves, and rolls back our democratic rights and freedoms. The task of change is arduous, when the media are hijacked by private interests. Still, there are victories, big and small, showing us the way.

The Madrid government’s u-turn on its plans to privatise six public hospitals is one of them. The [Popular Party-run] adminstration in the capital has been forced to revoke the “outsourcing” plan after fifteen months of protest and the announcement of the High Court of Justice of Madrid to provisionally suspend the privatization process on the grounds it could pose “serious and irreparable damage.” There have been months of demonstrations, strikes, a referendum with nearly one million votes against such measures, hospital occupations, lawsuits. The triumph swept away its leading promoter, regional health commissioner Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, who has been forced to resign. It’s worth the fight.

Gamonal, another great victory. After little more than a week of intense protests, from 10 to 17 January in Burgos, against the construction of a boulevard in the neighbourhood of Gamonal, mayor Javier Lacalle had no choice but to halt construction indefinitely. The conflict, however, came from afar. A multi-million euro project, with huge profits for firms and politicians of the day, in a working class neighbourhood lacking investment and amenities. The “urban” conflict in Gamonal became the spearhead of the fight against corruption, land speculation and crisis. Demonstrations were held across Spain in solidarity with the community. And the attempts to criminalise and spread misinformation failed. It’s worth the fight.

13 days of strike and tons of debris around Madrid were necessary to avoid 1,134 layoffs of street cleaners and gardeners of the City of Madrid. It took an indefinite strike to paint into a corner private contractors that not only wanted to have hundreds of workers, but to carry out pay cuts of up to 43%. The victory was partial because the staff had to each accept 45 days temporary furloughs (unpaid lay offs) annually over the next four years, and a wage freeze until 2017. Still, this does not detract from an indefinite strike , unprecedented sadly in this day and age, succeeding in protecting every single job. It’s worth the fight.

The fight against evictions has been, without a doubt, the ultimate expression of a collective rebellion against this con-trick of a crisis. In response to the unlimited usury of the banks, people organized at the grassroots. Over a period of more than four years, the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) has managed to stop 936 evictions, rehouse 712 persons in empty properties owned by financial institutions and today occupied under the Obra Social campaign of the PAH. And it has forced many banks to negotiate hundreds of repossessions and social rent. Some will say that is very small progress compared to the overall offensive. That’s true. However, I would put that to all those who thanks to the PAH have a roof over their heads. It’s worth the fight.

Since the emergence of the indignados, or 15M movement, we have gone from “They do not represent us” to “Yes we can”. We have regained confidence in ourselves. The offensive by capital continues, but our indignation and disobedience increases. Victories today are catalysts of the victories of tomorrow. Struggle is imperative to change things. We must take note. And if we do, we can win.

* Article published in Público.es, 30/01/2014. Translation by Revolting Europe.

* Esther Vivas is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She is author of the book in Spanish “Stand Up against external debt” and co-coordinator of the books also in Spanish “Supermarkets, No Thanks” and “Where is Fair Trade headed?”. She is also a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur.

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english/

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Remember, remember… the Occupy movement

Tonight is November 5th and in Britain that means it’s “bonfire night”, or “fireworks night”, or, perhaps more properly, “Guy Fawkes Night”. Fireworks are exploding all around me as I write, and yet strangely most people in Britain have very little idea who Guy Fawkes was, or what the so-called “Gunpowder Plot” was really all about. And I must confess that I am similarly ignorant when it comes to the important details of the case.

When younger, I even believed that Guy Fawkes was being celebrated on November 5th; the British being a people renowned (or at least believing themselves renowned) for cheering on the valiant underdog who presses forward in spite of the incredible odds stacked against them – Scott of the Antarctic’s misguided adventures making him the very model of a modern British hero – and what better underdog than Fawkes himself, taking it to the entire British establishment with just a few barrels of gunpowder and a damp tinderbox? Attempting the impossible with only the covert support of a merry band of trusty but evidently suicidal comrades!

So fireworks night, when I was a child, had naïvely appeared like a tribute to Fawkes’ audacious and so nearly successful (if we accept the propaganda) overthrow of the ruling authorities, that ended in his martyrdom. Fawkes being sentenced to be publicly hanged, drawn and quartered – which happens to be the other part of the story that just about everyone in Britain still knows. For some reason it simply didn’t occur to me that the burning of his effigy on bonfires throughout the land was actually a celebration, not of his doomed but gallant attempt, but of his capture (along with his fellow co-conspirators) just in the nick of time – the fireworks bursting not in mimicry of the gunpowder in the plot, but in mockery of Fawkes’ failure to ignite it.

Had I been born and raised in Northern Ireland, where sectarian tensions between Protestants and Catholics still persist – instead of in a sleepy Shropshire village close to the Welsh border – I would undoubtedly have understood the real significance of November 5th a good deal better and much earlier than I did. A very close friend who had lived in the province later pointing out to me that “Burning the Catholic Night”, as he preferred to call it, was something perfectly well understood by those on both sides of the religious divide.

And then there is the famous rhyme:

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

This was something I, like most Britons of my age, had once committed to memory. Learning the lines in school whilst also hearing them so often repeated outside of school. And since we are free from committing ourselves to any daily pledge of allegiance in Britain, this is just about as close as we ever collectively came to swearing any kind of national oath. A verse with an underlying message that is both stark and abundantly clear, at least when you stop to think about it: reminding us all that once upon a time, long, long ago, a few desperados attempted to overthrow the government and look where it got them.

So why mention any of this? Well, exactly twelve months ago to the day, something remarkable was happening in my home city of Sheffield. A small band of disillusioned strangers were getting ready to set up a makeshift protest camp outside the cathedral. Thus the Occupy movement that first sprang into being with the Spanish Los Indignados in Spring, re-emerging in Wall Street in mid-September, before spreading so rapidly from city to city and state to state, had suddenly sparked a response across the pond in Britain. A global protest movement was beginning to take shape, and not before time.

For some weeks, I deliberated. Keen to support those taking to the streets, but reluctant to camp down in the bitter cold and join in the overnight vigils. Instead, I visited the camp on a number of occasions, especially in the early stages, although as the weeks wore on, began to feel that my visits were more like intrusions. My lack of all-out commitment turning me into an outsider, whilst inside the canvass enclave, a shared hardihood was quickly bonding the 24/7 occupiers into what increasingly felt like a clique. Not that I blame the people living on the camp for this, since it must have been extremely hard for them dealing with the cold and discomfort whilst others like myself occasionally came by and then, just as quickly, departed again. Rushing back to the warmth and security of our homes.

But as time passed, I also wondered what it was that the mainstay of the Occupy Sheffield camp thought their continued presence on the city streets would ultimately achieve. Certainly, it showed that they had tremendous conviction and were deeply committed to the cause, proving their mettle by battling against the worsening elements day and night, but in the face of mixed public opinion was this really the best way to spread the bigger message and bring others on-board. I never really thought so.

And the message exactly? Everyone understood very well that the demand was for ‘change’ – and so probably the majority in Sheffield were already broadly sympathetic to that stated aim. Change has rarely been so urgently required and for this reason there are a great many people, especially as you move North in this country, who have long been crying out for a more radical change in political direction – but precisely what kind of change were those in the Occupy protests calling for? This was simply never made clear enough, as it so easily could have been, with no programme outlined nor strategy agreed. All of these important details being considered too much of a straight-jacket apparently. But then, as I wrote at the time, there were many problems with the whole approach taken by the Occupy movement.

The Occupy Sheffield encampment lasted little more than a couple of months, snuffed out by cold weather and, I think it is fair to conclude, a disappointing lack of progress. Which was really the way with the Occupy movement more widely: starting off as a genuine grassroots uprising, it would soon become partially co-opted (certainly this was attempted in America) but mostly, was either crushed by police assaults (again this was very evidently the case in America) or else it simply fizzled out due of its inherent looseness of structure and lack of obvious, purposeful direction. So the steady demise of Occupy has been saddening, but only what we all should have expected.

If, in future years, the Occupy movement is remembered in any popular historical context, it will only be because a far stronger movement arose from its ashes. In such an event, one feature of those future accounts, aside from descriptions of the tent cities themselves, will probably include mention of the Guy Fawkes masks. And it’s strange to think that such a quintessentially British anti-hero somehow became imported back to us from America, albeit radically shape-shifted after his silver-screen renaissance in the film “V for Vendetta”.

Already used as a disguise by hackers in the group Anonymous, the Fawkes mask was quickly adopted as representing the anonymous 99% percent and worn by many on the streets in the Occupy protests. And it lent the movement a somewhat more subversive air than it truly warranted; Fawkes, in the film, having been recast as the faceless man in the mask who, though righteous, is more or less entirely nihilistic in his comic book rampage against a despotic future government. His first act being to blow up the Old Bailey, and his last (here comes a major plot spoiler – so be warned… because you’d probably never guess!) to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Two well-aimed strikes that entirely obliterated our national emblems of Justice and Democracy, which are, after all, still the only places where those of us in the 99% get any representation at all.

Was this the kind of revolution those within Occupy were really seeking… no, of course it wasn’t! But, if not, then why adopt the masks? Symbols being of utmost importance, as those with real power understand very well – and the reason our culture is altogether saturated with flags, banners and logos of every description.

So although powerfully evocative, I regard the adoption of the Fawkes mask as a mistake, and as a mistake, one that accidentally revealed a deeper truth about the movement itself: that from the outset the Occupy movement was, like the man in the mask, suffering from an excess of anarchism. Seeking to rebuild the whole of society from the ground upwards, and yet without offering any real alternatives. That like Fawkes and his rag-tag gang of four hundred years earlier, Occupy hadn’t stood the ghost of a chance in any case. In its methods, rather than in its aims, Occupy having been poisoned by a terminal dose of utopianism. And that unlike Fawkes, the Occupy protests never properly got beyond the stage of wishful thinking.

Not that I am advocating violence of any kind, because I certainly do not – believing for both moral and also more pragmatic reasons that violence should only ever be a last resort in any situation, political or otherwise. Indeed, violence of different forms is what we are all confronted by – the direct violence of pepper spray and taser, or the more insidious violent assaults against our hard-won economic rights and individual freedoms. Our adversary (the same one that Eisenhower famously referred to as the military-industrial complex, although perhaps better renamed the financial-military-industrial complex) having armed itself to the teeth and constantly ready to resort to violence at the first hint of any trouble. So the struggle we face will become near impossible to win if it ever means trying to fight fire only with fire. Fire being the element ‘the powers that be’ always understand best.

It is, however, imperative that we directly confront the corruption we increasingly find all around us. So Occupy was important and if only because it first galvanised and then channelled our growing dissent – aiming it more precisely at the unfettered power brokers in Wall Street and the City of London. It was mistaken, however, in imagining that such widespread public outcry alone might somehow be enough. This was always the biggest fault with the original Occupy movement, and the reason I think that it never grew above a certain size, and will never, in its current form (since pockets of the movement still exist), develop into the full-blown mass movement that is required.

This November 5th happens to fall on the eve of the US elections, elections that amply illustrate not only how desperate the immediate situation is becoming, but also how badly the Occupy protests (not to mention the thoroughly co-opted Tea Party protests) have failed in the longer term. Now you may say, as many in Britain do say to me, that we should leave it to the Americans to worry about America, and trouble ourselves with what’s happening closer to home. My primary objection to such a disinterested position being straightforward: that whatever is happening today in America will come home soon enough. Britain more than any other country (Israel excepted) marching to the beat of the American drum – or more correctly the Anglo-American (aka Wall Street and the City of London) drum. Full-steam ahead and with the rest of the western world expected to follow – and destined to follow, if we all continue to allow our destiny to be decided for us.

So what can we expect this time around in the US election pageant? Well, neither Obama nor Romney are about to change anything of significance, or at least not in any helpful way. They are both well known sell-outs to the same special interest groups that have taken control our societies, and for this reason their stated policies are so inherently similar that there has been little worth debating at all – the presidential debates serving mostly to debase the proper meaning of the word ‘debate’.

Whatever happens in tomorrow’s election, those in Wall Street and the City of London will continue to be very well served because, as Nomi Prins wrote recently, “Before the Election was Over, Wall Street won”:

Before the campaign contributors lavished billions of dollars on their favorite candidate; and long after they toast their winner or drink to forget their loser, Wall Street was already primed to continue its reign over the economy.

For, after three debates (well, four), when it comes to banking, finance, and the ongoing subsidization of Wall Street, both presidential candidates and their parties’ attitudes toward the banking sector is similar – i.e. it must be preserved – as is – at all costs, rhetoric to the contrary, aside.

Obama hasn’t brought ‘sweeping reform’ upon the Establishment Banks, nor does Romney need to exude deregulatory babble, because nothing structurally substantive has been done to harness the biggest banks of the financial sector, enabled, as they are, by entities from the SEC to the Fed to the Treasury Department to the White House.1

Click here to read more of Nomi Prins thorough-going analysis.

That said, I don’t doubt that Romney, if elected, will be more dangerous than Obama, since Romney has candidly told us as much. Intent to push harder and faster in the same old directions, Romney becoming president will be much like a return to Bush, but this will be like Bush after a decade of Bush.

Coming in as a fresh face and determined to push on again with a freshly laundered neo-con offensive of more wars and less freedom. And whereas Obama was bad in pretending to be different from Bush, Romney will be worse again, and if only because he won’t be burdened by having to pretend so much: “hope and change” having ceased to be any part of the mainstream political discussion now taking place in America.

Of course, the ballot box has ultimately failed in America largely because the political system is stitched up between two parties. Third candidates being almost totally excluded from entering the debate, and not just because of the relative lack of financial backing (the big money having already been spent on the Obama–Romney spectacular), but also more directly in that access to the televised debates is tightly controlled by a non-profit organisation called the Commission on Presidential Debates:

To qualify for the debates, candidates must “have demonstrated a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate, as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly-reported results [as of September 21].” Of course it’s almost impossible to earn the support of 15% of the electorate if you don’t have regular access to network television or to the debates themselves.2

Click here to read more about why you probably didn’t hear anything from Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, or Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. All three had qualified for the ballot in enough states that they could, at least technically, have won the election, but whatever alternative they may have been offering was easily suppressed by other means. And when the ordinary course of democracy has been captured so completely in this way, then mass dissent becomes the only answer.

But if we, the 99%, are to successfully resist what is happening to us then we must learn very quickly from the failures of Occupy to help us move forward to the next stage. And we have to recognise that up to now all of the major protest movements have failed, or at least stalled (I gather that Syriza may still offer some small hope of a rescue of Greece).

Iceland stands out as the only exception to the rule. In Iceland the people won the day and the banks were prosecuted, but then Iceland is such a tiny place that, at least in terms of setting any precedent, it may very easily be disregarded as a uniquely special case. We ought nonetheless to applaud their victory, rather than (as I sometimes hear) deriding their people for not settling up on their debts – the debts were never theirs in the first place – which is perhaps the most important point that many still fail to appreciate about this crisis we face.

We must endeavour to turn this tide quickly, or we will soon lose everything that we still hold precious. The screws are about to be seriously tightened, and not just economically, since the ongoing economic collapse marks (and to some extent masks) what is really the trigger for the greater oppression to come – and if you still doubt this, then please take a moment to meditate on the implications of the NDAA indefinite detention bill that Obama so deceitfully passed into law late last December.

As the people are forced ever deeper into debt by banker bailouts and QE-infinity (as QE3 is also known), we will, by degrees, also be forced into servitude by other means. Compelled in the name of national security to give up on the rest of our inalienable rights and freedoms. And if we fail to resist by peaceful means, then eventually we will be left with only gunpowder and plot (and both in rather short supply I imagine) – a very messy and unreliable means for the re-establishment of any system of fair democracy and true justice.

*

Additional:

On August 25th, James Green, a community producer for Occupy Brooklyn TV, interviewed Norman Finkelstein, political dissident and world renowned scholar on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. They discussed his new book about Gandhi, which he has dedicated to the Occupy movement, and also talked about the Occupy movement more broadly. Here is an extract from the interview as transcribed in the late September edition of CounterPunch:

Like any good movement, the Occupy movement has to conduct a serious self criticism and look at what it did right and what it did wrong. At this point it’s pretty much disappeared. And that’s just a fact. I pass Union Square nearly every day and it’s a very sad sight now. When I go to Union Square the main occupants of the square now are the Hare Krishnas again. Well with all due respect to Hare Krishnas it was much more inspiring when the center stage was occupied by the Occupy movement. And that’s no longer the case. Last night when I passed it was the Hare Krishnas on one side and it was the young fellows doing their gymnastics to music on the other side surrounded by crowds of people. Well the Occupy movement is gone. And there has to be some serious reflection on what went wrong. Serious self criticism.

I think that people like Bloomberg, they’re complete thugs. No question about it. But on the other hand it must be said that they are politically savvy. They don’t get into those positions of power, in the case of Bloomberg both economic and political power, by being anybody’s fool. And they recognized that the Occupy movement had reached a point of extreme fragility. And that you can go in with the bulldozers, knock out the whole thing, and effectively eliminate it. They recognized, which I have to say I did not, that the fruit was ripe for the picking. They could get away with it at that point. And then the question is why. What happened? What went wrong? And I think there are two things, speaking as a strict outsider – and I always have to enter that caveat, two things which seemed to be wrong.

Number one, Gandhi’s great skill was as an organizer. He dug very deep roots in the Indian masses. He was not speaking from the outside. He was among them. He lived like them. He dug deep roots and he was careful, methodical, to the point of tedium, organizer of every detail of his movement. Most of his collected works consist overwhelmingly of letters. And he’s watching where every nickel and dime goes. This is the people’s money. Nothing is going to be wasted. Nothing is going to be squandered, let alone no one is going to be cheated. No one is going to get away with thievery. So the first rule is you have to dig very deep roots in your constituency. I’m not sure how successful the Occupy movement even initially was at that. I got the impression – it’s a superficial impression but nonetheless even surfaces tell something about reality – let’s say when you were in the Boston Occupy. There seemed to be a sense of “We the encampment.” Us versus them. Namely the world outside. We were the enlightened ones and surrounded by the corrupt society. That’s not how you build a movement. It has to be among the people. The moment it becomes us versus them you then become an easy target for the bulldozers because nobody cares.

The second thing which everybody said, [former editor of CounterPunch, Alexander] Cockburn put it as the – I don’t remember the exact adjective he used – something like the incessant speechifying. That the Occupy movement never got beyond the speechifying to Where’s the Beef? The ability to not just synthesize a slogan [i.e., “We are the 99%”], which was brilliantly done. But then we have to move from synthesizing a slogan to synthesizing a demand or a series of demands with the same criteria. Where is the consciousness of people? What’s the furthest you can reach them with, or their incipient consciousness? What are their demands. Obviously a demand like, nationalize the banks, no – people were no where near there. But demands like, if you had four demands. One, a moratorium on student loans. Two, a public works program. Three, a major increase in taxes for the rich. And four, something on the mortgage crisis which is hitting so many people badly.

If they had synthesized four simple demands and worked from there I think there were prospects. But they never made the transition from the slogan, which was excellent, to the demands. OK, what do you want? And it felt like we were stalling there. Exactly why it didn’t happen I don’t know. I’m not on the inside. Exactly why it didn’t happen, I can’t say. But I think personally the least significant factor by a wide margin was the police repression. The police repression was relatively minimal. And it didn’t require more than minimal. Because they wisely assessed that now was the moment to strike. It would work, and it did. The movement vanished. It is a source of wonder how it so quickly disappeared from sight.

Click here to read the full article in CounterPunch.

1From an article entitled “Before the Election was Over, Wall Street won” written by Nomi Prins, published on her own website on October 23, 2012. http://www.nomiprins.com/thoughts/2012/10/23/before-the-election-was-over-wall-street-won.html

2From an article entitled “Why are there only 2 Candidates in the Presidential Debates?” posted on October 3, 2012 by allgov.com http://www.allgov.com/news/top-stories/why-are-there-only-2-candidates-in-the-presidential-debates-121003?news=845846

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25S: the salvaging of democracy

Spanish state. 25S: the salvaging of democracy
Esther Vivas

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Madrid on Tuesday September 25, 2012 to protest against the sequestration of popular sovereignty by the banks and “markets”. Repression was once again brutal, leaving dozens of people wounded, and there were numerous arrests.

In this article, Esther Vivas reviews the motivations for this mobilisation and the causes of an ever more brutal police repression.

“They call it democracy but this isn’t one” was the cry repeated in the squares and on the demonstrations. And as time went by, this slogan took on still more meaning. The stigmatisation and repression against those who struggle in the street for their rights has only intensified in recent times. The worse the crisis gets, the more popular support broadens for those who protest and the more the brutal repression increase. The thirst for liberty is being smothered along with the current “democracy”.

Recent days provide a good illustration of this. On Saturday, September 15, 2012, when activists were detained during the demonstration against austerity in Madrid, what was their crime? Carrying a placard with the slogan: “25S: Encircle Parliament”. The next day, two wagon loads of police carried out identity checks on dozens of people in the park at Retiro. The motive? Participating in a preparatory meeting for the said action. Five days later, several of these activists were charged with offences to the highest institutions of the nation and they could be jailed for up to one year.

What were the objectives of the “25S: Encircle Parliament” action? Its appeal expresses them clearly: “Next September 25, we will encircle Parliament to save it from a kidnapping which has transformed this institution into a superfluous body. A kidnapping of popular sovereignty carried out by the Troika and the financial markets and executed with the consent and collaboration of the majority of the political parties”. What will be the form of this action? Its organisers have said and said again: “non-violent”. What kind of fear is it that dictates all these police measures? Fear of violence, or of freedom of expression?

As I said a few months ago at a social centre: “When those at the bottom move, those at the top tremble”. That is the truth. Fear has begun to change sides, even if only partially. The repressive measures, like those we have mentioned, show the fear of those who exert power. The fear that the people rise up, organise, express themselves freely against injustice. The fear of a handful faced with the multitude.

Coup d’état?

The criminalisation of “25S: Encircle Parliament” practically began a month ago when the government representative in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, characterised this initiative as a “disguised coup d’état”. The former minister and PSOE deputy José Martínez de Olmos compared the action to the attempted neo-Francoist coup by Tejero in 1981: “Occupying Parliament from the inside as Tejero did or from the outside as some wish on September 25 has the same goal: the sequestration of sovereignty”. Words repeated yesterday by the PP secretary general, Dolores de Cospedal.

Coup d’état? The only putschists here are the financial powers who overthrow governments as they wish and replace them by their trusted henchmen. In Italy they have sidelined Silvio Berlusconi in favour of Mario Monti, a former consultant for the Goldman Sachs bank. In Greece, they have replaced Giorgios Papandreou with Lucas Papadémos, ex-vice president of the European Central Bank. Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos is a former employee of Lehman Brothers. As the journalist Robert Fisk puts it: “The banks and the ratings agencies have become the dictators of the West”. And when the “markets” come in by the door, democracy goes out the window.

It is difficult to believe today that Parliament “represents the popular will”. A good number of ministers and deputies come from private enterprises, others return there as soon as their political careers end. The companies reward them generously for services rendered. Do you remember Eduardo Zaplana? First Minister of Employment, then consultant to Telefonica. Elena Salgado? Vice minister of the Economy, she became a consultant for Abertis. Not to mention Rodrigo Rato, former Economy minister, then director of the International Monetary Fund and finally president of Bankia. His adventures as head of the bank have cost us dear. Without forgetting former prime ministers Felipe Gonzalez and José Maria Aznar, the first becoming a consultant for Gas Natural and the second working for Endesa, News Corporation, Barrick Gold, Doheny Global Group and so on. So it goes.

More democracy

But democracy is, precisely, what the movement of the indignant is demanding, a real democracy in the service of the people and incompatible with the sequestration of politics by the business world or with the Spanish centralism which denies the right of people to self-determination. Paradoxically, it is the protestors who have been deemed to be “anti-democrats”. Anti-democrats for symbolically “besieging” the Catalan parliament on June 15, 2011, during the budget debates which involved austerity measures which had not appeared in any electoral manifesto. Anti-democrats for organising meetings in the squares and stimulating public debate. Anti-democrats for occupying empty housing and putting it to social use. Anti-democrats, definitively, for combating unjust laws and practices.

And when there is more democracy in the street, there is more repression. Fines of 133,000 Euros are demanded by the Ministry of the Interior against 446 activists of 15M in Madrid; 6,000 Euros against 250 students involved in the “Valencia Spring”; hundreds of Euros against activists in Galicia, to mention only a few examples. Along with that, more than a hundred arrests in Catalonia since the general strike on May 29 and a modification of the Criminal Code to criminalise the new forms of protest.

The other face of austerity is the politics of fear and repression. Not so much a social state, as a penal state. Democracy is not on the side of those who claim to exercise it, but rather on the side of those who fight for it. History is full of examples of this, and “25S” will be one of them.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

*

On Wednesday [Sept 26th], Democracy Now! also reported on the 25S “Occupy Congress” protests which they say led to at least 60 people being injured after police in riot gear had charged against demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets.

They spoke with independent journalist Maria Carrion who told them:

Well, as you, as your viewers and listeners have been able to see, it’s a very serious situation here in Spain. This is just the latest of many, many protests that we have been having here in Spain, in the last year, especially, and there will be many more coming. People have lost faith in government. People have lost faith in the main institutions. And we are facing 27 billion euros in social spending cuts.

Every week, the government unveils a series of new measures that affect primarily education and health and salaries and the welfare of Spanish people. And as we saw at the top of the hour, Greece is really an example of what’s coming our way, and that’s why I think people are so enraged and so worried, because they see that none of the measures imposed on Greece on in Portugal or in Ireland are having any sort of effect on the economy, on people’s welfare, on employment. And so, I think people are saying we do not want to head in that same direction.

Well, the PP, the conservative government in power, even before the protests took place, they were already equating them to the 1981 coup d’état here, the military coup d’état that tried to return Spain to a dictatorship. And they, you know, posted 1,400 police in riot gear and even sharpshooters around Congress. So, the disposition—disposition was already there to criminalize protesters. And now what has happened is that those who have been arrested are being charged with crimes against the nation for trying to, what they say, occupy Parliament while in session, which is a crime. They—the, you know, protesters always said, “We’re not occupying. We’re just surrounding Parliament.” But in any case, they are being charged with crimes against the nation, and they will go before a judge, a justice, at Spain’s National Court, which is the court that’s reserved for trying high crimes such as terrorism.

Click here to watch the report or read a full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

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Filed under austerity measures, campaigns & events, Esther Vivas, Greece, police state, Spain

one year of protests in Spain: Esther Vivas marks the anniversary

15M: A look toward the future
Esther Vivas

Untimely and unexpected. That’s what the emergence of this movement of collective outrage at the Spanish state was. If we had been told on 14M (May 14th, 2011) the next day thousands of people would start  taking to the streets week by week and occupy squares, organized meetings, challenge the power with massive civil disobedience while staying in the streets… we would never have imagined it possible. But that’s what happened. People, two and a half years after the outbreak of the “great crisis,” said “Enough.”In the countries of Europe’s periphery, emulating the popular uprisings in the Arab world, drawing warmth from Tunis’s Qasbah and Cairo’s Tahrir Square, people took back and took over the public space. The Arab Spring gave us confidence in “ourselves” and our collective ability to change the existing order. And looking also at Iceland and Greece, the 15M movement broke with the prevailing skepticism, resignation and climate of apathy. But a year after popping up, what remains of it? What has been achieved? What challenges and prospects lie ahead?

The movement of collective outrage heated up fast. Beyond the thousands who occupied the squares, attended meetings, marched in the streets… many others, from their homes, identified with this angry tide that “represented” them. And with 23% unemployment, 175 evictions per day and one in five households living below the poverty line in the Spanish State, how could anyone resist growing indignant, rebelling and disobeying?

The 15M has been able to go beyond the activist core of protesters, awakening a new militant generation and lifting many people out of their easy chairs. These are young people, environmentalists, women, the elderly …, who made up the “people of the Plaza del Sol” in Madrid and “Plaza de Catalunya” in Barcelona. A year after 15M we see how the movement has charged both those holding economic power and those holding political power with social responsibility for the current crisis, highlighting the close links and collusion between them. 15M has unmasked a low-intensity democracy, held hostage by financial power; those who govern serve the 1% not the 99%. It has succeeded in altering the collective imaginary and the political atmosphere to its roots. The crisis has provoked a social, political and economic earthquake, but the emergence of 15M has also, conversely, generated a process of re-politicization of society.

The deepening crisis and the emergence of the movement has allowed people to “think big” and “act big.” Today, there are not only calls demanding reform of the banking system but promoting the expropriation and nationalization of banks and for “nonpayment” of unjust, illegitimate and illegal debts. The action agenda has expanded and radicalized; it is no longer enough to simply demonstrate and take to the streets, now we occupy plazas, block traffic, stop evictions…  The crisis exposes how often what is “illegal” is legitimate and what is illegitimate is precisely what is “legal.” To occupy houses or banks can be punished, while evicting families or swindling with “preferentes” (complex bonds of ownership) by the banks is perfectly legal. Facing a reality so unfair, why not disobey the law or support those who do? This is one of the great victories of 15M: to make these forms of struggle normal and socially acceptable.

And what challenges and prospects do we face? Changing the world from bottom up is neither easy nor quick, and for this, as the philosopher Daniel Bensaïd pointed out, you must arm themselves with “a slow impatience”. We must rebuild another correlation of forces between those in power and the vast majority of society, and this requires a long march, which does not always follow a predictable or straight path. And 15M is just the prologue of this cycle of struggles that has begun. At the same time, to win concrete victories beyond some defensive ones is extremely difficult. Despite the anger and social unrest, the cutback policies are intensifying.

To combat slander, criminalization and repression is another key task in the coming period. The erosion of the rule of law is accompanied by the emergence of the state of emergency. This we have already seen. The more the welfare state withers, the more the police state grows. It begins by slandering those who are mobilized by dubbing them “perroflautas” (street musicians), then goes on to criminalize them by calling them “anti-system thugs,” and steps up repression using preventive detention, websites that insult, etc. What’s involved is creating “an enemy,” to justify repressing it.

The politics of fear and intimidation is the other face of the policy of cutbacks. But the best antidote to such measures is the massive size of the protest. How can you slander the elderly of a town who defend a clinic from being closed down? How can you smash down those who defend themselves with their books in their hands? It can be done, and has been done, but not without paying a high price in public opinion. So far, repression has boomeranged, striking back against the power.

It has often been said that with 15M “fear has disappeared”, but “fear” continues to be very present in the workplace, where capital dominates with hardly any bumps. That the leadership of the major trade unions submitted to the government and the employers, weighs heavily on all social movements. We need a militant trade unionism, which has its center of gravity not in negotiations from above but the struggle from below and that defends a culture of mobilization and solidarity.

And if the movement plans a radical shift in the paradigm, we cannot forget other key aspects of the crisis, beyond the economic ones and the fight against cutbacks, debt and privatization. The ecological and climatic aspect of the crisis is a central element. It is impossible to believe in “another world” without fighting the logic of a system of that prioritizes production but ignores the limits of the earth. Economic and ecological crises are intimately intertwined. Nor is an alternative possible unless it also seeks to end a patriarchal system that refuses to recognize women’s work, making it invisible. We can say the current economic crisis clearly has a feminine face.

International coordination is another major challenge we must resolve. Although the movement has had successful days of global mobilization, like that of last October 15th, 2011, and now the 12M and 15M, its international coordination is still weak. Capitalism is global and, consequently, resistance to it must be equally global, internationalist and built on solidarity. From the public squares to global outrage there is a road of comings and goings we will have to travel more each time.

Looking backwards a year, few would have foreseen the magnitude of the cuts in the Spanish State (which reached making Constitutional Amendments to put a ceiling on public deficits) or repression (threatening changes to the Penal Code to severely punish non-violent direct action), but neither would anyone have imagined this angry tidal wave that has smashed on the political and social panorama. In troubled times, certainties tend to be false and we have but one that isn’t: those in power will not give up their privileges without a fight. We do not know the outcome of this “battle” between “those at the top” and “those on the bottom,” but if we do not struggle, the game is already lost.

*Esther Vivas has published recently, with Josep Maria Antentas, “Planeta indignado. Ocupando el futuro” (Ed. Sequitur).

**This article has published originally at Público.es. Translated by John Catalinotto

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english

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so you say you want an evolution…? Vlad Teichberg talks about Occupy Wall Street on BBC news

HARDtalk: Vlad Teichberg, Occupy Wall Street

First broadcast on BBC News at 12:30 am–1:00 am on Friday 9th December.

Available until 4:59 am on Saturday 8th December 2012.

Click here for link to BBC iplayer.

Stephen Sackur recently spoke with Vlad Teichberg, a prominent member of the Occupy movement and a co-founder of Global Revolution TV, on the BBC news HARDtalk show.

Sackur immediately put it to Teichberg that the Occupy movement was “running out of steam”, and in response, Teichberg told Sackur that although the movement has been forced to change, it is also virally spreading.

Here are a few of the opening salvos in what turned out to be a lively discussion:

Sackur: It seems to me that you do need a symbolic focus, I mean you know, ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is the phrase known around the world but you’re no longer occupying Wall Street, or that part very close to Wall Street where you were. And it seems to me, numbers generally in most of the camps that remain are tiny now. So this claim that, you know, ‘we are the 99%’ is beginning to look a bit ridiculous.

Teichberg: Well, I mean let’s look at how that happened. It’s not like people packed up, and said, you know, problems are solved, I’m going home. You had, you know, jackboots on the ground. You had violent evictions of these camps. And then you have the government go in and build fences around all of those squares to stop people from having the conversation. Does it mean that the conversation is over? Probably not. As we’ve seen time and time again, violence does not solve these problems…

There seems to be a dual standard in the western press. When these kinds of protesters are repressed in Russia, or in China or in Iran, you know, it’s a crime against democracy. When you have this in your backyard, it’s a threat to public order.

Sackur: You began this movement in the late summer and it appeared to be gathering some sort of momentum. And people were expressing support for the Occupy Movement. But you never actually got mass numbers out on the streets, did you? And when you claim that you are representing the vast majority of the people, in a campaign of protest against capitalist greed and corporate greed, it’s a bit of a problem when you don’t build up mass numbers.

Teichberg: First of all, the movement did not start in September in New York. This movement has been going on for quite a while. We think in some ways it started in Tahrir in January of this year, with the Arab Spring. It was jumped upon, it moved to Spain, and you had the 15-M revolution in Spain, which was very similar to what happened in the United States in September…

There are a few unifying themes between what these movements are fighting for. And these are actually positive – it’s not actually a rebellion against capitalism, or against institutions of some sort, just like for the sake of rebellion. It’s actually an idea that society should be based on some fundamental humanistic principles, like equality. I mean it sounds like a radical concept but it’s actually very, very basic and human.

Sackur: Well never mind that it sounds like a radical concept; it sounds like a very vague concept. And a lot of people have said… that the problem here is the message you’re delivering isn’t very clear. It’s clear what you’re against. You don’t like the modern form of US-based and western-based capitalism. But it isn’t actually clear what you want. What are your actual specific demands and proposals?

Teichberg: Well, the main thing that we wanted – and I think that we achieved that to a large degree – was, when we first went into Zucotti [Park] was that we wanted to start like an international conversation about the future of our planet. And when all these other camps sprang up, and started doing similar general assembly processes and so on, we basically set up a structure for this public debate about our future. Unfortunately, ‘the powers that be’ decided that this debate should not continue, and they deployed riot police to stop the demonstration from happening… But you can’t stop this idea from happening. It’s something that’s spreading like a tsunami…

Sackur: You can’t have a long-lasting and significant political movement, can you, just based on the idea that ‘people need to have a conversation’?

Teichberg: But there’s much more than that – I mean I’m sorry but you sound a little ignorant. The reality is that the things that are happening at these camps in terms of processes – the idea of the general assembly – that every citizen should have an equal voice. Designing structures around that actually allow us to have a consensus-based decision-making process that pushes forward. The idea of a non-hierarchical organisation – a society that would not have any implicit hierarchy in it. It’s maybe an idea whose time has come.

Sackur: You’ve made a very important point, I just want to know if that’s a model that you see being applied to the governance of cities, states, nations?

Teichberg: Not necessarily. No-one said that. But it’s a model for having a discussion about our future. You see this is the thing. All we wanted to do was have a debate. We didn’t come into these camps and start setting up armies to overthrow the government. It’s a peaceful revolution of citizens. But we do want to have a conversation about the fact that the privileged class is skewing the system, skewing the rules in such a way that they always have the advantage. And the gap between the richest and the poorest is widening. And as we are having this conversation, certain things are coming to light – as the population is becoming more and more educated, of course the people who are in power are becoming more and more threatened and so now they are dispatching their armed forces to stop the debate.

Sackur: Would you call yourself a revolutionary?

Teichberg: No, I’m a citizen.

Sackur: No, I understand that, but I say revolutionary because is what you want to see a revolutionary transformation of the society in which you live?

Teichberg: I want an evolution. Revolution is a very big term: it can mean many things. What I want is evolution. I want a society that is much more fair, yes.

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the 99% of Britain: it’s time to turn on, tune in and stand up!

Populist movements are gathering around the world. People from different generations, ethnicities, and multifarious backgrounds taking to the streets and public spaces to express collective outrage at what is happening to them. Thus the rumour of a ‘global revolution’ is spreading. So these are exciting times, though also perilous times. Revolutions have a habit of being derailed and going bad; that’s history. But I admire the optimism, the enthusiasm, and the courage of all those now actively resisting the increasingly apparent slide into outright economic and social breakdown.

A week last Saturday [Oct 15th] signified the first day of truly international dissent. 15-O, which had been called for by los indignados, was marked not only by huge protests in Spain (half a million in both Barcelona and Madrid), as well as Greece and the other “PIGS” (to use the vile and frankly racist acronym so freely attached in the press), but by many in other European countries, as well as throughout the United States, and as far afield as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai, Canada, parts of South America and Africa. Click here to read a list of the 15-O “occupy” protests around the world.

Media attention inevitably focused on the rioting mobs in Italy, where the protests had been infiltrated by a substantial element of anarchist hooligans, rather than on the relatively peaceful protests elsewhere; in some cases remaining non-violent in the face of rather extreme police provocation. And the widespread police tactic known as ‘kettling’ is inherently provocative; a kettle, of course, being an object that has a singular purpose of bringing a substance to boiling point, which is precisely what confining any crowd of people in a tight area is likely to do to them. But as Democracy Now! reported, the New York police went further still, sending mounted officers into already ‘kettled’ crowds. That no-one was actually trampled to death during this incident was simply due to the self-restraint of the crowd and pure good fortune:

Mass strikes, marches and demonstrations can, of course, only take any movement so far. For real victories, a more cutting political edge is required; clear demands for a realistic and realisable alternative. Only then can any movement either steer the policies of established parties, or else, and given that almost all current political parties seem to be sold-out to identical interests, begin to build new political parties that offer genuine and viable change for the better. The simple fact is that to change the course of a country, let alone the whole world, means sooner or later picking up the reins of power. You have to get your hands dirty in the end.

But when I come to Britain, I am puzzled. My home city of Sheffield, the once proud ‘Steel City’, its name engraved on cutlery throughout the world, was also renowned for being a hot-bed of ‘Old Labour’ socialism, and yet after more than a year of deeply unpopular government ‘austerity measures’, there have been just two significant protests. One when the Lib-Dem Spring conference showed up in town, and the other, a trade union march and rally against the cuts. When the Jarrow March came through the city a fortnight ago, it was welcomed by less than a hundred people. We were there to applaud them:

The Jarrow March in Sheffield

Whilst on 15-O there was no protest at all in Sheffield, and Sheffield was far from alone – did you hear of any action that took place in Birmingham, or Newcastle, or even Liverpool?

Last Wednesday [Oct 19th], I attended a public meeting with a friend. It had been organised by Britain’s largest civil service trades-union, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and was also supported by the Sheffield Anti Cuts Alliance. We were two newcomers of the around thirty people who turned up; the great majority being experienced and committed activists, and about a half of those attending being on first name terms with one another.

At the meeting, all opinions were welcomed and respectfully listened to, and overall the meeting was frank and informative. Having said this, however, and after more than two hours of discussion, the only decision made was that we needed another meeting…

But a meeting about what exactly? That was what my friend and I couldn’t actually fathom. Although there was a clue in the title of the leaflet promoting the event. WELFARE, it read in large friendly letters, and beneath: “a campaigning and organising meeting for workers and unemployed people”. But campaigning and organising to what precise ends? A simple enough question, and one raised during the meeting, with someone respectfully asking what other speakers precisely meant by saying “we” all the time. It was a question that went all but unheard by most in the room.

And why was the meeting only called “for workers and unemployed people”? Workers and unemployed people as opposed to who exactly?

There is a sense that the anti-cuts movement in Britain is about to repeat the mistakes of 1980s all over again. The traps are set, the population having been so effectively divided against itself thanks to the policies of Thatcher and Blair. For if opposition to the ‘austerity’ programme is to be successful, then it needs to be engaging with more than just the ‘Old Labour’ old guard; we really need to find support within the other sections of the 99%.

So what exactly am I saying here? That in Britain, the left is too wrapped up in itself. That it talks to itself all the time, sometimes with good intention, other times wistfully reminiscing, and still with a significant minority fixated on the Marxist dialectic. On this occasion the only Marxist to speak up, explained very eloquently how the welfare system was just another symptom of the sickness of Capitalism, which was perhaps not the most helpful contribution under the circumstances. But, in any case, what leads some on the left to suppose that the masses of unemployed and workers are about to be won over by oblique and antique instructions laid down in Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto? Writings from the nineteenth century that most people never read and never will. I increasingly fail to understand why the left feels this need for philosophic validation to justify or promote their own visions of social justice. As Orwell pointed out, the notion that society should be fairer is really just a matter of commonsense. And Marx sort of said the same, albeit in a more roundabout and convoluted fashion, which is presumably why so many academics love him so much.

Meanwhile, many of the ‘Old Conservative’ right are also disaffected, but those of the disaffected right form into different groups like UKIP and talk to themselves about how the country is being sold down the river by Eurocrats. In this they are correct, the Eurocrats being another big part of our problem. Membership of the EU is costing the nation £45 million each and every day, and for what?

Others on the right try to make their opinions heard via groups like The Taxpayers’ Alliance, complaining about the increasing rates of personal taxation and how their standard of living is dropping. And in this they are correct too, but instead of seeing that their money is being stolen by the super-rich, they wrongly point the finger of blame downwards to those scraping a living at the bottom of the social heap; the irony being that they are suckered into the same phoney class war as many on the left.

And here, we ought not to forget the Greens, who talk to themselves about saving the planet. And good for them, because it’s only the insane who willingly destroy their own world. But do they really think they can halt the devastation by tinkering with a corporate system as corrupt as ours? Right now by far the most important thing being to reverse the escalating economic crisis before our society breaks down entirely (as appears to be happening in Greece). This should be the immediate goal for all of the disaffected and since this requires a mass resistance to the social and economic measures being imposed, the disaffected on all sides must urgently establish some common ground. For once there is much to agree about.

I might have said some of this at the meeting last week. It might even have been politely applauded, as many of the contributions were. Although I never quite understood exactly what we were meant to be talking about, and so I kept my thoughts to myself. I suppose what I was really burning to say was something like this: you cannot stop the cuts to welfare until you take on the hedge funds and the bankers. But I also wanted to say please, please, please look beyond the local issues – the fine details – we need to understand the bigger picture to get a proper perspective on what’s going on right now.

And we need to learn from the many ‘occupy’ movements, which though to some extent crossing the traditional party political allegiances are stuck in another way. They have trapped themselves in a strait-jacket of the “consensus model”, which means, at best, wasting precious hours deliberating over details of where to go and what to eat, and at worst, letting the voice of a few dissenters call the tune. The simple and expedient truth being that every democratic movement needs to accept some kind of majority rules and decision-making. That said, the gathering thousands who are now camping out in Wall Street and elsewhere have set their sights on the real enemy; and in this respect, at least, the protests abroad are well ahead of ours in Britain.

On 15-O, there were indeed some brave souls who made the decision to pitch camp in London, and good luck to them, though camping is perhaps an unlikely method for gathering popular support in Britain, especially now that it’s almost November. Quite frankly, I think we may need a somewhat different strategy to one adopted during a Mediterranean Spring, which in any case hasn’t as yet forced any significant concessions from their own government’s brutal austerity programmes. The important thing is not to automatically copy the action of others, but that in some way we begin taking a more visible and collective stand. We need people speaking up and joining in.

Here’s a great example from Real Democracy Now Berlin/GR, with protesters directly confronting and challenging President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet:

This moment in history is an extraordinary one. A dire time that is also an opportunity for the most extraordinary transformation of our society since the war. I believe that such a transformation is coming whether we choose it or not. If we do nothing then our nation will undoubtedly be torn apart, sold off and slowly taken over by a small criminal syndicate – the tiny banking and corporate elite who caused this economic crisis and now sneer over us as masters might their slaves – a ruling elite that probably doesn’t even amount 1%.

I’d wanted to say some of this at the meeting. How we shouldn’t only be talking about jobs and welfare, as vitally important as such issues are, because the situation we face is much worse than most can yet imagine. The rescue of our nations requiring nothing less than a sweeping overhaul of our venal and oppressive political and economic systems. An end to globalised systems in which usefulness is all that counts, and after that we can all go to hell. We, the 99%, need acknowledge our common grievances, to pool our dissent, to think bigger, and we need to act urgently… so how about another meeting next week, anyone?

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Jarrow March reaches Sheffield on Wednesday 12th October

With the Spanish los indignados having finally reached Brussels at the end of their extraordinary march from Madrid, so on October 1st, a group of young British protesters, which calls itself Youth Fight for Jobs, set off from Jarrow on a march to London, aiming to arrive at Temple Embankment in London, 12 noon on November 5th.

The protest, which is supported by a number of trade unions 1, will follow in the footsteps of the Jarrow Crusade which took place during the Great Depression exactly 75 years ago, when about two hundred unemployed followed a similar route to raise awareness of mass unemployment:

On the Jarrow March we are demanding:
  • A massive government scheme to create jobs which are socially useful and apprenticeships which offer guaranteed jobs at the end – both paying at least the minimum wage, with no youth exemptions.
  • The immediate reinstatement of EMA payments, expanding them to be available to all 16-19 year olds.
  • The immediate re-opening of all youth services that have been closed, including reinstating sacked staff.
  • The scrapping of ‘workfare’ schemes – benefits should be based on need not forced slave labour.
  • A massive building programme of environmentally sound, cheap social housing.

To make the march happen, we are working with the trade union movement and activists to raise £26,000 and organise demonstrations, rallies and protests in every town, city and area that the march visits. We have produced an information pack on the march, click here. Any further queries, get in contact here, or email youthfightforjobs@gmail.com or call 020 8558 7947. For more info on Youth Fight for Jobs, see our website http://www.youthfightforjobs.com

Taken from the official blog for the Jarrow March 2011.

Here is a list of forthcoming stops and rallying points:

Tuesday 11th October

Marching between Wakefield and Barnsley
5pm rally at Peel Square
Evening gig at the Pulse Bar, Wellington Street

Wednesday 12th October

Marching between Barnsley and Sheffield
4pm Protest at Job Centre
5pm rally at the Town Hall
7pm Sheffield Anti-Cuts Alliance meeting with Jarrow marcher speaking, 7pm, Sheffield University.

Click here for more information about events in Sheffield.

Thursday 13th October

Marching between Sheffield and Chesterfield
2:45 rally at Chesterfield Market Place
Evening social event at Chesterfield Labour club
7pm in Lincoln, Lincoln Trades Council meeting with Jarrow marcher speaking

Friday 14th October

Marching between Chesterfield and Nottingham
12:15 rally at Shirebrook Market Place
2:30 rally at Mansfield Market Place

Saturday 15th October

Demonstration through Nottingham
Assemble 1pm at Forest Recreation Ground

Click here to read a complete itinerary.

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Saturday 15th October also sees an international day of action, with calls for people to take to the streets and squares in cities and towns across the world.

The event was originally called for by the Spanish los indignados as part of their Democracia real YA! campaign Toma La Calle (or “Take the Streets”).

Click here for information from the Democracia real YA! official website.

The Nottingham demonstration on the Jarrow March is listed as just one of a number of events taking place around Britain. As yet, no event has been planned in Sheffield.

Click here for a map showing where other events are taking place around the world.

1 The Jarrow March is backed by 8 national tarde unions: RMT, PCS, UNITE, UCU, FBU, BECTU,CWU, TSSA.

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David Graeber on debt and why it must be cancelled

Back on September 10th, David Graeber, a lecturer in anthropology at Goldsmiths College, and the author of several books, including his latest, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (published in July), talked to Max Keiser about the relationship between money and debt, and what he sees as historical shifts from credit systems to cash systems and back again.

Graeber claims that this current “virtual money” credit era, which began about forty years ago, is not radically new, and only different in that during former times there were periodic debt jubilees. That in today’s system, without such regular debt cancellation, there is no safeguard against an otherwise inevitable descent into a debt trap.

And Graeber believes that the banking crash of 2008 has radically altered many people’s perspectives on money. He told Keiser that the world isn’t short of smarter ideas for economic alternatives, which is one of the reasons he remains optimistic about what’s now happening in Europe and elsewhere:

“I mean what we have in Greece, what we have in Spain, and it’s beginning to spread to other countries. The way I like to think of it is – I think in 2008 they kinda let the cat out of the bag. You know, for all these years they’ve been saying that markets run themselves and the people in charge, they know what they’re doing – they might not be very nice people but they’re incredibly competent. In fact they’re the only people who know how to run an economy.

And of course we were also told debts are sacred and have to be repaid. What we learned with the crash was that none of those things were true. People had no idea what they were doing; they did get bailed out; the markets didn’t run themselves.

So once we understand that money is actually a political arrangement – it’s a social set of promises that people make to one another – well, if trillions of dollars worth of debt can be made to disappear, if that’s convenient for the big players, then I think what people are saying is: well, alright fine, if those are the new terms that makes sense, but if democracy is going to mean anything now, it’s means everybody gets to weigh in on how promises are made and how they’re renegotiated. And that’s what people are calling for and demanding and I think it’s very promising for a sort of new political movement.”

Graeber has been personally involved in organising the “Occupy Wall Street” protest, as he explained on yesterday’s Democracy Now!

And with regards to precedents for debt cancellation, Graeber says:

Well, the interesting thing is that most of the developing nations have actually pulled themselves out of the situation. Structural adjustment has come home to Europe and America. I think it would be a great idea. I think it would bring home that we really are in a different age, that money doesn’t mean the same thing as it used to. And there are people who have tried it. Saudi Arabia, actually most dramatically, that was their reaction to the Arab Spring: they declared a debt cancellation. So there are precedents. I mean, they kind of don’t want people to know that they did it, for obvious reasons, but they did.

Click here to read earlier posts on the #occupywallstreet protests.

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Filed under debt cancellation, Europe, Greece, Max Keiser, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Uncategorized