Failing to appreciate or plan for the possibility of repression was an error in itself, but it also freed the students to indulge in whatever provocative action seemed enticing. Inflammatory gestures such as erecting, opposite Mao's Mausoleum, a "Goddess of Democracy," a replica of America's Statue of Liberty, doubtless antagonized the regime while not changing any facts on the ground. In short, while the students were familiar with the most obvious forms of nonviolent action - occupying public spaces, hunger strikes and playing to the international media - their decisions in using these sanctions did not reflect "any significant degree of strategic thinking..."
The failure of strategy at the moment of crisis kept echoing throughout its aftermath. The government's use of repression taught the wrong lesson to many about how rights and democracy should be pursued. In 1999 one former protestor called himself "a victim of June 4," since he was fired and prevented from getting another job; he had decided that "the only path for China was. . .cautious, progressive liberalization." Even the flammable Wu'er Kaixi, who fled China and later had to pump gas and wait on tables in California, succumbed to lower expectations. Explaining why he hoped that Beijing would not be forced to acknowledge its Tiananmen savagery, he said that doing so might only set back gradual reforms. And he wanted to return home. "I think if everything goes okay, I'll be able to go home in five years. If something happens, if there are demonstrations and another crackdown, it will take longer."
Journalists...played their part in the resistance on the first day of the coup. One of the first acts of the putschists had been to suspend freedom of the press. Only one television station in Moscow was allowed to operate, and the printed press was told to print exclusively declarations of the State Committee for the State Emergency. Nevertheless, Yeltsin's "Appeal to the Citizens of Russia" was printed on page two of a late edition of Izvestia, one of the Soviet Union's largest-circulation newspapers. The appeal had been printed against the direct order of the editor, but the paper's staff insisted they would burn the presses if it were not included.
Other Russian citizens were informed of Yeltsin's defiance by watching the evening news on the "official" television station. One segment, titled "Moscow Today," was designed to demonstrate how calm the capital city was after the regime change. The program showed that, indeed, most of Moscow was calm and operating normally. But the segment also included footage from the White House and excerpts from Yeltsin's speech on the tank. The response from the coup leaders in the Interior Ministry was immediate. "The story on Moscow was treacherous!" the editors of the program were told. "You have given instructions to the people on where to go and what to do!"
Tanks and armored personnel carriers fanned out across the city of 18 million, guarding key government buildings, and major tourist and archaeological sites. Among those singled out for special protection was the Egyptian Museum, home to some of the country's most treasured antiquities, and the Cabinet building. The military closed the pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo – Egypt's premier tourist site.
But soldiers made no moves against protesters, even after a curfew came and went and the crowds swelled in the streets, demanding an end to Mubarak's rule and no handoff to the son he had been grooming to succeed him.
"This is the revolution of people of all walks of life," read black graffiti scrolled on one army tank in Tahrir Square. "Mubarak, take your son and leave," it said.
Thousands of protesters defied the curfew for the second night, standing their ground in the main Tahrir Square in a resounding rejection of Mubarak's attempt to hang onto power with promises of reform and a new government.
There were no clashes reported between protesters and the military at all, and many in the crowds showered soldiers with affection.
One army captain joined the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, who hoisted him on their shoulders while chanting slogans against Mubarak. The officer ripped apart a picture of the president.
Popular revolts, both violent and non-violent, can of course fail. It's as yet unclear whether events in Egypt will be more like Russia in 1991 (ElBaradei as Yeltsin, the military standing aside?) or China in 1989 (using tweets instead of faxes, lacking strategic cohesion?). I'm heartened that the resisters have distributed a good plan via offline channels, so hopefully the former precedent will hold sway despite the clear US government interest in the survival of a strategically important allied regime in the region.
I might as well note that this month marks the 25th anniversary of the People Powered Revolution in the Phillipines:
The spark that set it all off was a corrupt snap election called to prop up Marcos' hold on power. All regimes require the consent of the people and crave the veneer of popular legitimacy. The tyrant fraudulently declared victory over his opponent, Corazon Aquino (who died last August), and that was his undoing:
After the election Cory Aquino spoke to a crowd of one million people at a rally in Manila. She proposed a seven-part program of nonviolent resistance, including a one-day work stoppage and a boycott of Marcos-controlled banks, stores and newspapers. She urged people to "experiment with nonviolent forms of protest" and declared: "...if Goliath refuses to yield, we shall keep dipping into our arsenal of nonviolence and escalate our nonviolent struggle." The revolution had begun.
On February 22, 1986, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Deputy Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos defect from the Marcos government. Enrile and Ramos barricade themselves in the Defense Ministry headquarters in Manila, along with a small group of sympathetic troops. They say they are prepared to die rather than continue supporting the corrupt Marcos regime.
Of course it started with 47. Assemblies of protest of support:Opposition to the policies or acts of an opponent, or support for certain policies, may be expressed by public assembly of a group of people at appropriate points, which are usually in some way related to the issue. These may be, for example, government offices, courts, or prisons. Or people may gather at some other place, such as around the statue of a hero or villain. Depending on the particular laws and regulations and on the general degree of political conformity, such an assemblage may be either legal or illegal (if the latter, this method becomes combined with civil disobedience).
Aquino educated her audience, provided them with a strategic framework and specific tactics. Her appeal was to the people, not her opponent. Even had there been no media coverage of that event, she reached a million citizens directly and launched a successful revolution.
The Filipinos could have reacted completely passively, just accepting the old dictatorship and the games Marcos played in stealing the election. Or they could have opted for violence. Instead, they doubled their chance of victory by resisting nonviolently:Our findings [using data on major resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006] show that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.
There are two reasons for this success. First, a campaign’s commitment to nonviolent methods enhances its domestic and international legitimacy and encourages more broad-based participation in the resistance, which translates into increased pressure being brought to bear on the target. Recognition of the challenge group’s grievances can translate into greater internal and external support for that group and alienation of the target regime, undermining the regime’s main sources of political, economic, and even military power.
Second, whereas governments easily justify violent counterattacks against armed insurgents, regime violence against nonviolent movements is more likely to backfire against the regime. Potentially sympathetic publics perceive violent militants as having maximalist or extremist goals beyond accommodation, but they perceive nonviolent resistance groups as less extreme, thereby enhancing their appeal and facilitating the extraction of concessions through bargaining...We assert that nonviolent resistance is a forceful alternative to political violence that can pose effective challenges to democratic and nondemocratic opponents...
Mubarak is an autocrat and a US ally, just as Marcos was. While it's not my place, let alone Washington's, to really weigh in on the actions of sovereign people, on balance I hope we see peaceful regime change. There's no guarantee a better one will be put in place should the uprising prove to be successful, but that's always a risk.
And in light of Egypt, and Tunisia, and the countless other examples of successful popular movements throughout the world, I join Chris Hedges in wondering what, exactly, will motivate us to rebel against corporate power here at home...
PS--I'm not sure what's happened with the Pax Americana template, so some of the links will appear blank, but content is actually at the bottom of the pages.