Two Protests: Turkey and Brazil

Most people in North America have become aware of the on-going protest in Turkey, fewer know about the one in Brazil. These two events have some things in common but are being handled in different ways and their respective outcomes may prove important in determining how this kind of protest is handled in the future.

Ankara, June 5 [Reuters]

Ankara, June 5 [Reuters]

In Turkey, authorities decided to take down some trees in a park in order to build something or other. People gathered in the park to protest the removal of the trees and police moved in to break up the protest with overwhelming force. Tear gas and rubber bullets were freely used, violent force all out of proportion to the threat presented by the crowd, composed of ordinary tax-paying folks who just wanted a say in what was going on.

In Brazil, the government announced a sudden 6% increase in bus fares. People gathered to protest and police moved in to break up the protest with overwhelming force. Tear gas and rubber bullets were freely used, violent force all out of proportion to the threat presented by the crowd, composed of ordinary tax-paying folks who just wanted a say in what was going on.

Sao Paulo, June 14 [via  V for Vinegar ]

Sao Paulo, June 14 [via V for Vinegar ]

In both cases, people around the world were shocked by the harsh police response. A protest over trees? Over bus fares? Good people met with the kind of force usually reserved for black anarchist G-8 protestors or the like, unemployed, shiftless, troublemakers who break windows and so on.

Turkey has responded, so far, by increasing the level of force employed against the protestors. Observers wonder why President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is so adamant about cutting down these trees. Perhaps the answer is that this level of force has long been part of Turkish law and order, only now it is nice people being clubbed.

This woman being tear-gassed in Ankara's Gezi Park upset nice people around the world. [Reuters via Huffington Post]

This woman being tear-gassed in Ankara’s Gezi Park upset nice people around the world. [Reuters via Huffington Post]

In Brazil, after the initial violent response, President Dilma Roussef has ordered the police to lighten up and, in a public statement to the nation, congratulated the protestors on demonstrating the strength of democracy and the civility of the people — or something like that. Anyway, bus fares will not be hiked up.

It is clear that the state, in both instances, has the resources and the will to employ a very high level of violence, if necessary. The difference is that Brazil has determined that, this time, it isn’t necessary.  And there is a difference in the leadership: Turkey’s Erdogan has indicated that he will never back down, no matter how silly he looks. When President Roussef (Dilma) was booed at the Confederations Cup soccer match, she was visibly shaken — this was not how she saw her presidency proceeding. Perhaps her background as an anti-government protestor back in Brazil’s bad old days, pre-Lula, has something to do with her response. Or perhaps she is just worried about a possible boycott of the World Cup to be hosted by Brazil next year. Erdogan once served time in prison for anti-government speech but is now associated with military elements of the Turkish establishment. He is a guy used to being obeyed. Or maybe he’s just having a bad moment and will change his mind tomorrow.

Roussef being booed at the Confederations Cup. {YouTube, link in body of post]

Roussef being booed at the Confederations Cup. [YouTube, link in body of post]

Erdogan claims that terrorists and anti-government forces are behind the Turkish protests. It is true that communist parties are very visible in news photos, but they seem to be exploiting the situation rather than creating it. Dilma is one of those Bolivaristo-types, and thus supposed to be a Leftist. Brazilian protestors don’t appear to be Rightists. Demonstrators in both countries are using Facebook and other internet opportunities. The protestors have their own popular hero moments that were met with idiotic police responses: Turkey’s Standing Man and Brazil’s V-for-Vinegar Salad Uprising. The two protests demonstrate crowd control globalism, by the fact that the police in both countries are using tear gas manufactured in Brazil.

Now what happens next? If Brazil protests continue, and they may, will that validate Erdogan’s hard-line stand? If Turkey slides into chaos, after years of peace and prosperity, will that cause other leaders to think twice about subscribing to such violence? There have been an awful lot of citizen protests the last few years — the Occupy events, the California university confrontations, Quebec’s printemps érable, Idle No More, and the establishment favorite: the Arab Spring. There seems a lot of pressure building up and, unless governments figure out how to get a handle on the problem, they might wind up with something serious on their hands.



Printemps Érable

That’s a Québécois pun. It means “Maple Spring” but it sounds like “Printemps Arabe”, “Arab Spring”. Since February, Quebec has been the scene of massive demonstrations similar to the various Occupy movements of last year. These demonstrations have been prompted by the provincial government’s attempt to raise tuition for post-secondary education. Clashes with police are becoming increasingly violent, the government has introduced a draconian anti-assembly law, the minister for education has resigned, and the Spring has only just begun.

Protest march, May 22, Montreal

Reaction to the demonstrations has been remarkably similar to that expressed toward Occupy Wall Street and its cousins. First, serious pundits are asking for the program, the list of demands, and so on. They ask who the leaders are and are they willing to negotiate. Of course, these questions show an absolute misunderstanding of the entire situation: there are no leaders to be co-opted, no official demands that can be bargained into meaninglessness. The protests are a direct expression of discontent on the part of those who can feel themselves slowly being  crushed economically. And there is an immediate issue on the table, that of tuition hikes, though it is only one part of the general discontent with current conditions.

Second, critics have tried to paint the protestors as spoiled, privileged children who should be happy to be part of the great new world order. This has a special wrinkle in Quebec where tuition costs are the lowest in the country. So, Serious Commentators shake their heads and cluck their tongues — those brats should be grateful! And isn’t it unfair that you pay more? Of course it’s unfair but that doesn’t mean the answer is to make it just as expensive for them as it is for us; perhaps tuition ought to be reduced everywhere else. This raises the real problem which is the commodification of education and this is being protested in a lot of places — California, for instance, and England.

Education should not be a privilege reserved for the well-to-do, but that will be the result of making it more and more expensive. California schools used to have very low tuition but now they are among the highest in the U.S. Of course, California screwed up its economy so badly that the state must scramble for money. It can’t come from the wealthy (because that would mean raising taxes) so it must come from those with no income whatsoever: students. The death of cheap education is an attack on middle-class and blue collar families. We are on the road to a two class system: those on top and the vast majority toiling for them.

Nude march, May 3. This photo is from a Turkish source ( and just goes to show that idiot journalism has been globalized. Blot out the finger? Really?

When Quebec went through its Quiet Revolution in the 1950s and 60s, it envisioned a particular kind of future for itself. One part of this future was free education even though, at the beginning, some tuition was charged — the idea was to phase it out. The separatist Parti Québécois came to power in 1976 and Anglophone capital fled the province making the downturn of the 1980s very tough indeed for Quebec. All social programs, including education, have suffered. Unemployment has been high, especially for young people, ever since.  Tuition has slowly risen.

A Quebec child goes through eleven years of primary and secondary school but instead of Grade 12, Quebec students take a year or more at a CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel) where they enter a vocational or academic track, work toward a ticket or try to fulfill entry requirements for a university, vocational school, or advanced training. Public CEGEPs charge no tuition — at least not yet, though that seemed to be part of the plan before things blew up in the government’s face.  But the CEGEPs are a focus of the demonstrations in Quebec. Those students protest against the tuition raises that they will encounter after they finish CEGEP. Students have boycotted classes and set up picket lines preventing other students from attending.

Well, you know that sort of thing is going to trouble the law-abiding comfortable people and, up until a few days ago, public opinion was running against the protests but the government changed all that. First, Education Minister Line Beauchamp, refused to allow the largest Quebec student organization,  CLASSE, to be part of any negotiating. That was a world-class political error. Bring the group in, divide them, give one faction some meaningless points, and then raise tuition while the group disintegrates. Student organizations exist to be co-opted by administrations. Having cut CLASSE out of talks, Beauchamp then demanded that it immediately renounce violence but the two moves — one excluding, the other a peremptory demand — seemed more than a little contradictory. After all, if you’re going to exclude a group, how can you insist that it follow your rules? The upshot is that CLASSE has become more radical in its demands.

About that “violence”: there have been some broken windows, some campus vandalism. Meanwhile, the police have tear-gassed and beaten many people, some of whom had no real connection with the protest except to be in the wrong place when the cops came through. All this is evident on numerous videos of the protests.

But this led to the other big government error: Premier Jean Charest hurriedly introduced legislation to establish order and throttle any dissent. The law, Bill 78, was hastilly scribbled on scraps of paper, government members editing as they went. Originally the bill applied to groups of more than ten people. Cooler heads prevailed and the new law says that people cannot gather in groups of fifty or more without government permisssion. Good thing the Canadiens aren’t in the playoffs, eh? I can see it now: cops busting fans on their way into or out of the Forum. And CEGEPs that are boycotted will be closed for the semester. (That should save the government a few bucks, maybe enough to pay police overtime.)

A page of the scribbled memo where “10” becomes “50”

Oh, and the law forbids supporting the students in any way. So, right after the bill was passed, cops arrested a Montreal restauranteur for wearing a red square, symbol of the protests, on his shirt. That is not the way to win friends and influence people. Public opinion is now swinging against the government.

Win Butler, of Montreal-based Arcade Fire, showing the Red Square on Saturday Night Live, May 19.

That has been the story in other places, too. The battle against tuition increases in Quebec, England, and California is part of a general revolt against the privatization of humanity, the concept that all our human relations are economic and, therefore, should be monetized. The idea that society is cooperative and that everyone shares in the greater good is being attacked with the counter-concept that, if something is valuable, it has a price and only those who can afford it can own it. Education is at the combative edge of this philosophic struggle. Is education available to everyone or only to those with money? Is learning a commodity to be bought and sold or is it a resource of value to all?

The Quebec protest, like the Occupy events, is a mass protest against the direction that society is taking. In the last federal election, the New Democrats, a social democratic party, won overwhelming support in Quebec. “We aren’t separatists,” say the Québécois, “We are socialists.” Tommy Douglas, that great Canadian, had something to say about socialism: “Friends,” he said,”The alternative is barbarism.”

From Quebec:

Open Letter to English Canada
Ten Points Everyone should Know About the Quebec Student Movement

Still More from Occupy Oakland

In the last post I said 200 people were arrested. Actually, it was 400. The cops “kettled” the protestors, then flashbanged and charged into them with clubs. There is a great deal of video that shows all this. As the weather warms (and it has been a record mild winter in the west of North America) the Occupy movement is rousing in other places as well. Washington, DC is a place to watch.

Good coverage of Occupy Oakland at zunguzungu.

More from Occupy Oakland

Occupy Oakland was busted (again) on the 27th. Among those arrested were several journalists, including Susie Cagle. Cagle was eventually released and has yet to receive any answer to her questions of why the OPD took journalists into custody. Cagle has begun a series of posts to Truthout on the history of Occupy Oakland. Link is to first post (of five). Susie Cagle’s new site.

from part one of "Occupy Oakland: An Illustrated History" by Susie Cagle

Meanwhile OO determined to find and occupy an abandoned building in Oakland on Saturday to use as an HQ. OO was gassed and about 200 arrested that day.

Russia Protests

A lot of Russians think the recent elections were rigged. December 10 was designated Protest Day and people made plans to turn out. There was just one problem: government authorities were determined not to allow any protesting.

St.Petersburg: "No Voice" is written on the tape

People protested anyway. Noise-making, including chanting and singing, was illegal so people walked around with tape over their mouths in silence.

Barnaul: Toys protest illegally

Protest signs were illegal so displays of protesting toys holding signs were set up in the snow. Authorities in Barnaul carefully photographed the tiny signs and announced that before putting toys out, the snow had to be rented from the city. Apparently not understanding how foolish they appeared, police said: “Political opposition forces are using new technologies to carry out public events – using toys with placards at mini-protests. In our opinion, this is still an unsanctioned public event.”

Moscow: Blue Bucket

Ah, new technologies! Like blue buckets. In Moscow, where privileged drivers can put a blue light atop their cars and ignore traffic laws, a protestor put a blue bucket on his head and ran over a police car. (Amazing video!) Then the Blue Bucket Society put buckets on their car roofs and paraded through the city. Legislation requiring blue bucketed cars to be registered has been introduced in the Duma.

Drawbridge dick under arrest by FSB building on the right.

Many protests are conceived as art projects. The art collective Voina (= “War”) stages various events that have earned them beatings and stays in jail. Still they persevere. Last June they painted a penis on the Liteiny drawbridge in St. Petersburg. When the bridge was raised, an erect penis faced the headquarters of the FSB — secret police successor to the KGB. The work was titled “Dick Arrested by FSB” and, surprisingly, the Ministry of Culture decided that it was worthy of an award. Voina refuses to accept any award from the government, though, and has turned it down.

Voina members pose in front of their artwork.

Meanwhile, an exasperated Putin has declared that the protests are all a plot engineered by Hilary Clinton. Other government officials blame Senator John McCain. Confusion over these protests was exposed in Kaliningrad when a pro-government nationalist group went out for a jog to demonstrate a healthy lifestyle. They were carrying the black and yellow Kalinn flag and the police mistook them for a  Gay Pride event — illegal in Kaliningrad — and busted them.

Making the police and the authorities that control the police look silly is the point, of course, but as Occupy protestors have discovered, this can be dangerous. Cops don’t think billy clubs and pepper spray are ridiculous; force is what they are all about and, once Putin is safely ensconced as President in March, they will likely use it.

Occupy Christmas

It’s Christmas for the 1%, too, and they say, “Bah, humbug!” to Occupy Wall Street. John A. Allison IV, a director of BB&T Corp., the ninth-largest U.S. bank: “Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let’s call it an attack on the very productive. This attack is destructive.” Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, is more outfront: He said he isn’t worried that speaking out might make him a target of protesters. “Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?” Oh, but others feel the pain, “It still feels lonely,” sighs Allison.


Well, yes, Christmas used to be a time when the wealthy could count on support from within. Remember Scrooge? “Are there no workhouses?” No, Ebeneezer, sadly they’ve all been privatized. And how about Henry F. Potter, “Are you running a business or a charity ward?” he asks George Bailey. Now that particular movie was investigated by the FBI because it seemed to be anti-capitalist propaganda. Is OWS being investigated? Well, probably, but that pinko in the White House just doesn’t have the jam to call in a drone strike on American citizens. (What? He did what? But that guy was a Muslim, right? So, all right then.)

And, hey! isn’t George Bailey a bit like the current bankers who lent too much money on too little collateral?  “From Bailey to bail-out”, right? Not exactly, because George has a savings and loan operation like the ones that used to be invested in the community. Outfits like Northern Rock were making loans of 120% of property value because they got caught up in the greed of the day, we’re told. Actually, that ship sailed back in the 1980s when Reagan bailed out corrupt savings and loan companies, thus setting a standard for today.

Not Scrooge, Leon Cooperman.

Anyway, we should all remember what Leon Cooperman, former CEO of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s money-management unit, has to say: “Capitalists ‘are not the scourge that they are too often made out to be’ and the wealthy aren’t ‘a monolithic, selfish and unfeeling lot,’ Cooperman wrote [in an open letter to President Obama]. They make products that ‘fill store shelves at Christmas’ and provide health care to millions.” Exactly. Without the rich, why we probably wouldn’t have Christmas at all. So thank you, Mr. Cooperman; don’t feel lonely, Mr. Allison: the vast, imbecilic 99% still wish you a Merry Christmas!

Occupy Moscow

Many people turned out on December 11 to protest the recent Russian elections, widely seen as fraudulent. Some estimates are that 50000 people turned out, others that say half that number. Count them yourself:

Fisheye view of Moscow, December 11. (from via Nag On the Lake)

There are more photos here and video and, of course, Facebook. These protests began about December 6 and, like all the Occupy events, have snowballed. I don’t think people will be camping out in Red Square in December but hopeful observers say that these demonstrations may force Putin to actually relate to the mass of Russians. It is worth noting that, like other Occupy protests, the immediate concerns are local — in Russia, elections and housing. But the general sense of unrest is global.