Sunday, November 20, 2011

iPhone Diaries #433 and Book Review: "Small Acts of Resistance", by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson, and on a related matter, the relevance of the Occupy Movement

One would have to be on a deserted island not to know about the Occupy Movement in various cities around the world. The chattering class has written about it and invariably, it's been about how pointless the exercise has been and will be, and how it has inconvenienced most people. Time, and history, will surely tell that this movement is at a seminal crossroads whereby Western society realizes that the 1% has subverted democracy to the detriment of the other 99%. The Occupy Movement is an act of resistance.
Now on the book, "Small Acts of Resistance".
Most people in North America have never heard of baby strollers and the role this communal act played in bringing down the communist regime in Poland. This happened in Swidnik, in eastern Poland. A very innocuous, almost silly exercise became one of many acts of civil disobedience that brought the communist Polish government, and shortly thereafter, loosening the Soviet Union's iron grip on eastern Europe.
There was the designer for the lowly Burmese one-kyat note who softened the physical features of the widely respected Burmese General Aung San so that it resembled his dissident daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi. This quietly subversive act was one of the rallying points for her party's overwhelming victory in the 1990 general elections (ignored by the ruling junta, at their peril).
We learn of Rosa Parks (December 1, 1955) who refused to move to the back of the bus. But do we know Claudette Colvin (March 2, 1955) who was arrested and thrown out of a bus under identical circumstances?
Some of us have heard of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. But have you heard of Carl Lutz? He saved tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest.
India's Mahatma Gandhi is rightfully revered for espousing civil disobedience. But outside of the Indian subcontinent, who among us has heard of the Pathan (Pashtun) leader Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who is arguably just as remarkable as Gandhi.
Numerous individuals are mentioned in this book. There is Edmund Dene Morel, a junior clerk in a shipping company who exposed the horrors perpetrated by King Leopold of Belgium in the Belgian Congo.
There is Peter Benenson, saddened by the incarceration of two Portuguese students simply by raiding their glasses to liberty, who started Amnesty International.
There was the aptly named Lovings, Mildred and Richard, who brought about the end of miscegenation in the United States! When Barack Obama was born in 1961, the "miscegenation" of his white Kansan mother and black Kenyan father "was illegal in more than half of America's states".
In 1994, Boris Dittrich, a 39-year-old Dutch judge', led efforts for  the first state-sanctioned gay marriage;  similar laws have followed around the world. 
More famously, Muhammad Ali refused to go to Vietnam saying, "Ain't no Viet Cong ever called they ask me to put on a uniform nigger". He said, "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam, while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"
Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial instead of Washington's Constitution Hall (where she couldn't perform because she was black).
The U.S. general Alberto Mora who argued publicly, against the acceptance of, and the use of,  torture under the Bush Administration.
Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno set up a huge hoax to entrap Dow Chemical (Union Carbide) into accepting responsibility, and therefore shining a spotlight on the Bhopal Chemical spill in India.
Less stirring but just as significant are the Iranian taxi drivers refusing to pick up turbaned men (mullahs).
There's the Iranian women sneaking into soccer stadiums in defiance of the mullahs.
The Burmese sticking pictures of the hated general Than Shwe on stray dogs to show their defiance of a curfew; dogs, afterall, are not subject to the curfew.
Just as remarkable and significant are the groups.
The workers at the Sarajevo paper, Oslobodjenje, showing defiance against the Serbs and the inattention of the rest of the world; the Afghan television show, Afghan Star, for art and women's rights; the daily protests on Plaza Mayor that led to the ouster of the Peruvian president, Albertio Fujimori (and his subsequent conviction); Belgrade's anti-Milosevic Radio B92.
There are many more mentioned in this book! They did what they did because they felt it was the right thing to do. they didn't wait to be told

One has to  read this book to just get a glimpse of the efficacy of civil disobedience and that any act of resistance, no matter how small, can be  very effective, in the short term and in the long run. This is a very inspiring book!!
The Occupy Movement will soon take it's place in a future book of social revolutions! 
"The history of nonviolent action is not a succession of desperate idealists, occasional martyrs and a few charismatic emancipators. The real story is about common citizens who are drawn into great causes, which are built from the ground up". - Peter Ackerman and Jack Du Vall, A Force More Powerful.

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