Social Justice, Democratization and Social Movements 2021


Photo by: Gayatri Malhotra (Unsplash)


Is COVID-19 Shaking Up Politics in Southeast Asia?


Many Southeast Asian leaders’ pandemic responses have sparked public outrage and damaged their legitimacy. This could prompt the biggest political changes across the region since the 1990s.

Over the past fifteen years, politics have stagnated and democracy has faltered [PDF] in Southeast Asia. And after fending off the pandemic in 2020, the region is now facing a massive COVID-19 outbreak. The new wave is decimating populations and causing massive economic damage while also sparking ferment against the political order.


What are the current political trends in Southeast Asia?

Between the 1980s and the early 2000s, Southeast Asia was at the center of a global wave of democratization. Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand all became democracies. Timor-Leste also became a democracy after separating from Indonesia, which had controlled it. And Cambodia, Malaysia, and Myanmar launched political reforms.

But since the late 2000s, the region has regressed politically, part of a global wave of democratic backsliding that seems to be gathering pace.

Authoritarian populists have undermined freedoms in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Military juntas have further crushed democracy in Thailand and, most notably, Myanmar. Seemingly promising reformers, such as Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, have faltered in battles against corruption and once again empowered antidemocratic actors. The most repressive states in the region, such as Vietnam, have become more authoritarian. The main regional organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has done little amid coups and other reversals of democracy. Today, Timor-Leste remains the only fully free democracy in Southeast Asia.

The pandemic further sped up this backsliding, as leaders used it to grab more executive power. In its 2021 report on freedom in the world, Freedom House* scored Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines lower than in its 2020 report.


How have Southeast Asian countries handled COVID-19?

Initially, they performed well. In the first year of the pandemic, Southeast Asia survived COVID-19 mostly unscathed. Indonesia and the Philippines faced sizable outbreaks, but caseloads remained small in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and even impoverished Myanmar. Leaders in Thailand and Vietnam instituted effective policies on mask wearing, contact tracing, closing borders, and quarantining.

In 2021, however, the inflexibility and repression of Southeast Asian governments have hampered their battle against the virus. Although the region’s autocrats were able to manage COVID-19 at first with border closures and other techniques that depended on central control—while also forestalling public anger by banning large gatherings—in 2021, they have faltered as the challenge has shifted with the more contagious Delta variant and the wider availability of vaccines.

Southeast Asian states have struggled to vaccinate their populations; just three of eleven countries in the region have vaccinated over 60 percent of their eligible populations. Meanwhile, countries such as Vietnam have struggled in trying to switch away from a “zero-COVID” approach to a more flexible pandemic strategy.

Often, these failures stem from corrupt and autocratic politics, or from political situations in which leaders spend their time battling each other rather than the virus. The Thai government originally handed domestic vaccine production over to a company, controlled by the Thai king, that had no real experience making vaccines and struggled to get up to speed. The Myanmar junta appears to be withholding vaccines from political opponents. Malaysian politicians have spent the past year trying to topple each other’s parliamentary coalitions and using pandemic-related emergency orders to boost their political powers, failing to develop a clear approach to the pandemic.


How severe is the outbreak now?

Today, Southeast Asia is struggling with one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world.

Myanmar is a failing state, with COVID-19 patients dying at home, unable to get oxygen, medication, or vaccines. Malaysia has one of the highest per capita daily COVID-19 cases of any country in the world. Thailand is recording around eleven thousand new cases per day.

Meanwhile, a recent study by the Economist suggested that, although Southeast Asian nations have reported about 217,000 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, the real figure could be 2.5 to 8 times higher.


How has the devastation affected politics?

The pandemic era could prompt the biggest political changes in Southeast Asia since the 1990s. Even in places where autocrats are holding on, failure to control the virus has damaged leaders’ legitimacy.

The spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic damage has made people desperate in countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, where anger was already rising over inequality. Partly as a result, protests have been erupting more often. Large, anti-government protests have taken place in recent months in Thailand and Myanmar, and Malaysia’s government collapsed earlier this year, in part because of political in-fighting and because of citizen anger at the government.

Even in normally placid Singapore, the usually dominant People’s Action Party (PAP) called an election amid the pandemic and won reelection, but the opposition put up a strong result, winning a higher percentage of the overall vote than in the last general election. After the mediocre showing, the PAP’s prospective candidate for prime minister, Heng Swee Keat, who also barely squeaked home in his constituency, took himself out of the running for the job. 

At the same time, however, autocratic leaders are digging for more years in power. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he could rule for ten more years. Indonesia’s Jokowi has hinted at pushing amendments to the constitution. It is possible that such an amendment could allow him to run for a third term as president—when Indonesian presidents are limited to two terms—but so far Jokowi has denied that he would do so. The Myanmar junta has demonstrated that it will not hesitate to kill civilian protesters. The Thai military, police, and government have used brutal force to stifle dissent.


Could democratic backsliding be reversed?

It’s possible. In other regions, failed pandemic policies have led publics to oust leaders or turn sharply against them, including U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Although many Southeast Asian states are more repressive than the United States or Brazil, the pandemic has been so destructive that it could spark political change.

Tarnished governments in Southeast Asia now face a different political reality. Although the leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam can rule by force, most Southeast Asian politicians cannot. They require some degree of popular legitimacy, and thus need to hold elections which, while often not fully free and fair, have the possibility of a loss for ruling parties. Indeed, voters around the region crave political leaders who will prioritize effective public health strategies over politicking, partisanship, and repression, and they see that the current wave of leaders cannot pass this test.

It could be possible for citizens to eject unpopular, as well as repressive, regimes. One strategy is for citizens to organize a long-running, intense pressure movement before elections, as the Bersih movement in Malaysia has done, and then, during the election season, consolidate reformist voters around one coherent party or coalition. In addition, activists in Southeast Asia—sometimes supported by foreign democracy-promotion groups—can help reverse democratic backsliding by protesting and mobilizing voters, among other actions, to make clear that they will not stand for further destruction of institutions such as independent media, anticorruption commissions, and impartial judiciaries.

In a sign of how this hunger for competent governance could reshape regional politics, Malaysia’s leading reformist party recently made an alliance with the long-dominant party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), to govern together and develop new pandemic strategies. After more than a year of ineffective government, the move will likely enjoy high levels of popular support. It will also put Malaysian reformers in a position to potentially win power the next time national elections are called.

*Editor’s note: The author serves as a consultant for Freedom House’s Southeast Asia country reports.


By                  :                        Joshua Kurlantzick

Date              :                         October 6, 2021

Source          :                         Council on Foreign Relations


9/11 killed it, but 20 years on global justice movement is poised for revival


Since the attacks on the United States by 15 Saudi Arabian Islamic fanatics on 11 September  2001 — now known as 9/11 —  the world has been divided by a “war on terror” with any protest group defined as “terrorists”.

New anti-terror laws have been introduced both in the West and elsewhere in the past 20 years and used extensively to suppress such movements in the name of “national security”.

It is interesting to note that the 9/11 attacks came at a time when a huge “global justice” movement was building up across the world against the injustices of globalisation.

Using the internet as the medium of mobilisation, they gathered in Seattle in 1999 and were successful in closing down the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting.

They opposed what they saw as large multinational corporations having unregulated political power, exercised through trade agreements and deregulated financial markets, facilitated by governments.

Their main targets were the WTO, International Monetary Fund (IMF), OECD, World Bank, and international trade agreements.

The movement brought “civil society” people from the North and the South together under common goals.


Poorest country debts
In parallel, the “Jubilee 2000” international movement led by liberal Christian and Catholic churches called for the cancellation of US$90 billion of debts owed by the world’s poorest nations to banks and governments in the West.

Along with the churches, youth groups, music, and entertainment industry groups were involved. The 9/11 attacks killed these movements as “national security” took precedence over “freedom to dissent”.

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, a former vice-president of the UN Human Rights Council and a Sri Lankan political scientist, notes that when “capitalism turned neoliberal and went on the rampage” after the demise of the Soviet Union, resistance started to develop with the rise of the Zapatistas in Chiapas (Mexico) against NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and culminating in the 1999 Seattle protests using a term coined by Cuban leader Fidel Castro “another world is possible”.

“All that came crashing down with the Twin Towers,” he notes. “With 9/11 the Islamic Jihadist opposition to the USA (and the war on terror) cut across and buried the progressive resistance we saw emerging in Chiapas and Seattle.”

Geoffrey Robertson QC, a British human rights campaigner and TV personality, warns: “9/11 panicked us into the ‘war on terror’ using lethal weapons of questionable legality which inspired more terrorists.

“Twenty years on, those same adversaries are back and we now have a fear of US perfidy—over Taiwan or ANZUS or whatever. There will be many consequences.”

But, he sees some silver lining that has come out of this “war on terror”.


Targeted sanctions
“One reasonably successful tactic developed in the war on terror was to use targeted sanctions on its sponsors. This has been developed by so-called ‘Magnitsky acts’, enabling the targeting of human rights abusers—31 democracies now have them and Australia will shortly be the 32nd.

“I foresee their coordination as part of the fightback—a war not on terror but state cruelty,” he told In-Depth News.

When asked about the US’s humiliation in Afghanistan, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, founder of the International Movement for a Just World told IDN that the West needed to understand that they too needed to stop funding terror to achieve their own agendas.

“The ‘war on terror’ was doomed to failure from the outset because those who initiated the war were not prepared to admit that it was their occupation and oppression that compelled others to retaliate through acts of terror.” he argues.

“Popular antagonism towards the occupiers was one of the main reasons for the humiliating defeat of the US and NATO in Afghanistan,” he added.

Looking at Western attempts to introduce democracy under the pretext of “war on terror” and the chaos created by the “Arab Spring”, a youth movement driven by Western-funded NGOs, Iranian-born Australian Farzin Yekta, who worked in Lebanon for 15 years as a community multimedia worker, argues that the Arab region needs a different democracy.

“In the Middle East, the nations should aspire to a system based on social justice rather than the Western democratic model. Corrupt political and economic apparatus, external interference and dysfunctional infrastructure are the main obstacles for moving towards establishing a system based on social justice,” he says, adding that there are signs of growing social movements being revived in the region while “resisting all kinds of attacks”.


Palestinian refugee lessons
Yekta told IDN that while working with Palestinian refugee groups in Lebanon he had seen how peoples’ movements could be undermined by so-called “civil society” NGOs.

“Alternative social movements are infested by ‘civil society’ institutions comprising primarily NGO institutions.

“‘Civil society’ is effective leverage for the establishment and foreign (Western) interference to pacify radical social movements. Social movements find themselves in a web of funded entities which push for ‘agendas’ drawn by funding buddies,” noted Yekta.

Looking at the failure of Western forces in Afghanistan, he argues that what they did by building up “civil society” was encouraging corruption and cronyism that is entangled in ethnic and tribal structures of society.

“The Western nation-building plan was limited to setting up a glasshouse pseudo-democratic space in the green zone part of Kabul.

“One just needed to go to the countryside to confront the utter poverty and lack of infrastructure,” Yekta notes.

”We need to understand that people’s struggle is occurring at places with poor or no infrastructure.”


Social movements reviving
Dr Jayatilleka also sees positive signs of social movements beginning to raise their heads after two decades of repression.

“Black Lives Matter drew in perhaps more young whites than blacks and constituted the largest ever protest movement in history. The globalised solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza, including large demonstrations in US cities, is further evidence.

“In Latin America, the left-populist Pink Tide 2.0 began with the victory of Lopez Obrador in Mexico and has produced the victory of Pedro Castillo in Peru.

“The slogan of justice, both individual and social, is more globalised, more universalised today, than ever before in my lifetime,” he told IDN.

There may be ample issues for peoples’ movements to take up with TPP (Transpacific Partnership) and RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) trade agreements coming into force in Asia where companies would be able to sue governments if their social policies infringe on company profits.

But Dr Jayatilleka is less optimistic of social movements rising in Asia.


Asian social inequities
“Sadly, the social justice movement is considerably more complicated in Asia than elsewhere, though one would have assumed that given the social inequities in Asian societies, the struggle for social justice would be a torrent. It is not,” he argues.

“The brightest recent spark in Asia, according to Dr Jayatilleka, was the rise of the Nepali Communist Party to power through the ballot box after a protracted peoples’ war, but ‘sectarianism’ has led to the subsiding of what was the brightest hope for the social justice movement in Asia.”

Robertson feels that the time is ripe for the social movements suppressed by post 9/11 anti-terror laws to be reincarnated in a different life.

“The broader demand for social justice will revive, initially behind the imperative of dealing with climate change but then with tax havens, the power of multinationals, and the obscene inequalities in the world’s wealth.

“So, I do not despair of social justice momentum in the future,” he says.


By                :                 APR editor

Date            :                 September 11, 2021

Source        :                  Asia Pacific Report



Nicaragua: The revolution betrayed


President Ortega is seeking a fourth successive term – but seems to have no intention of giving up power whatever the outcome of November’s election

When Nicaragua goes to the polls in November, it is worth considering how rare a flower democracy is in the land of Sandino, the heroic revolutionary who led the resistance against US occupation.

Consider the 1990 general election, nearly 60 years after the US withdrawal from Nicaragua. Confident of victory, Daniel Ortega’s leftist Sandinista government had prepared the biggest celebration the country could remember. But then the unimaginable happened. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the widow of a newspaper editor assassinated during the Somoza dictatorship, had more votes than Ortega. The shock was palpable. How could it be that the Nicaraguan people would vote against their liberators, against the heroes who liberated them from the Somoza dictatorship?

Everything suggests that was the moment Ortega sensed power is not assured in a democracy.

A recent demonstration of the Sandinista National Liberation Fronts’ (FSLN) pragmatism was the party’s exit in August from the Permanent Conference of Political Parties of Latin America and the Caribbean (COPPPAL). The FSLN did not want to ratify COPPPAL’s democratic principles of the organization, which led its president, Alejandro Moreno Cárdenas, to note that human rights in Nicaragua are ignored in Nicaragua on the pretext of defending the people’s sovereignty.

It was a reference to the current situation in Nicaragua. Ortega and Rosario Murillo, who is both the president’s wife and the vice-president, have disdained international condemnation of Nicaragua’s crackdown on critics, withdrawn ambassadors and responded aggressively to accusations of human rights violations. Ortega has said that he is taking decisive actions against “agents of the Yankee empire” who “conspire against Nicaragua to overthrow the government”. The presidential couple knows that the pandemic has consumed all the attention. Or perhaps that the disillusionment is so great it is difficult to overcome.

There are several reasons for this, not least how rare democracy is in Nicaragua. Consider its history.

In 1912, US military forces invaded and occupied the country until 1925. Nationalist leader Augusto César Sandino organized the resistance and US Marines finally left in 1933.

A 1936 coup put the Somoza family in power and they ruled Nicaragua for more than 40 years. A number of strategies were used to keep the Somoza dictatorship in power, including provisions that lengthened presidential terms, electoral fraud, US support and the guarantees provided by the Nicaraguan army.

Between 1937 and 1979, there were generations who never knew democracy. Dictatorships end, but they leave a trace on a country’s consciousness. The Sandinista revolution, which overthrew the Somozas, occurred on 19 July 1979. It would awaken the admiration of millions around the world and draw political and financial support from dozens of countries.

Fast forward to April 2018 and the beginning of Nicaragua’s popular protests for democracy.

They were a consequence of changing times. Young people had access to the internet, they were rebellious and eager to build better lives. They were fed up with the abuses of tyranny and the enrichment of those in power. Between April and September 2018, 325 people were killed, thousands injured, an undetermined number disappeared, and at least 100,000 were exiled. Other organisations, such as the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights reported 302 deaths between 18 and 30 July.

More than 1,600 people were thrown into prison and 140 of them remain incarcerated.

The list of political prisoners has grown in recent weeks with the arrests of seven presidential candidates running against Ortega in the 7 November elections.

A further 26 opponents have been detained and are being investigated for violation of the law on the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace. In short, they have been branded ”traitors to the homeland” and protagonists of a “conspiracy to undermine national integrity”.

The persecution has extended to 40 non-governmental organizations, which lost their legal status and are no longer able to carry out their social assistance and poverty alleviation programmes.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, its special rapporteur for freedom of expression and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for Central America and the Dominican Republic have noted “the intensification of repression" in Nicaragua in the past two months. At least 12 journalists have been forced into exile, they said.

Power in Nicaragua has been exercised as a monopoly. The army, the national electoral board, the national legislature, the attorney general's office and the judicial system enable various measures against the opposition, including laws that proscribe human rights. There are ways in which violence is justified against the population at the hands of the police, the army and the paramilitary.

The opposition is fragmented and has not managed to make a convincing and attractive argument for change. When they speak of a return to liberal democracy, they address the international community rather than the Nicaraguan people.

Ortega-Murillo are not wrong in the course they have set. Democracy is about fickleness, it means it is possible to lose. Best to portray it as a trap set by US imperialists. “We are going all out,” said Murillo, which some have decoded as the promise to stay on, that no one will get us out of here.

The title of an Amnesty International report published earlier this year is ‘Silence at Any Cost: State Tactics to Deepen Repression in Nicaragua’. It lists the regime's methods to crush dissent or criticism.

Ortega-Murillo know that the international community may issue condemnations but is incapable of doing much more than that. In any case, other countries in the region have their own domestic problems, especially on account of the pandemic, and it’s neither likely nor possible for them to get more involved in Nicaraguan issues. As for governments in Central America, their attitudes are largely unacceptable.

The Amnesty report denounced the strategies used by the Nicaraguan authorities to prevent Nicaraguans from turning the page on one of the darkest chapters in the country's recent history. For now, the nightmare continues.


By                    :            José Zepeda

Date                :            September 26, 2021

Source            :            Open Democracy


Fat acceptance as social justice


The fat body has long been a site of medical surveillance, and this has not changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Early research focused on linking fatness with more severe disease outcomes, yet many have questioned the strength of this association, including within the pages of this journal.

Fat communities, such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), have contested society’s stubborn generalizations that associate fatness with disease and poor health outcomes, and push back against the assumption that fat people have little regard for themselves or their own well-being. They argue that thinking about obesity as a disease or medical risk (such as for severe COVID-19) contributes to stigma because it positions larger bodies as drains on an already-taxed health care system.

The NAAFA mobilizes the term “fat” in its fight against weight discrimination and fatphobia in all aspects of life, including in employment, health care and education. Similarly, as social scientists, we use the term “fat” rather than the deeply problematic medical term, “obesity,” which causes harm to people under the guise of benign objectivity. Categories can shape how individuals view themselves, as philosopher Ian Hacking has argued; they reinforce judgments about people who do not conform to a norm. Thus, “obesity” is not merely a statistical category, but is rather an evaluation about what constitutes an ideal weight. To “fatten” a category, Mollow and McRuer explain, “means examining it through the lenses of fat studies and the fat justice movement.”

Scholars of fat studies understand fatness as a way of thinking about bodily diversity. This literature maintains that fatness should be uncoupled from pathology, as such framings attach fatness to a sense of moral weakness and failed citizenship, and can fuel stigma in various settings, even health care. Such an uncoupling is increasingly supported by medical and population health research, which suggests that people who are labelled obese are not necessarily unhealthy.

Larger bodies have been associated with heightened health risks, chief among them rising rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, mental illness and some cancers. Early in the pandemic, research identified a link between larger-bodied patients and higher mortality rates from COVID-19, as well as more severe COVID-19 that required mechanical ventilation.  As the authors of a recent meta-analysis on obesity and COVID-19 have cautioned, however, body weight may not be an independent predictor of poor health outcomes. Such findings are echoed by the recently developed Canadian Adult Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines, which acknowledge the complex relation between weight and health, and link a person’s overall health and well-being to health markers such as blood pressure and sugar levels, which can be normal in larger-bodied people. Thus, a fat person might be at risk of a particular health condition, but the move to think about a person whose body mass index categorizes them as obese, or worse, “morbidly obese,” as generally unhealthy does little to promote the health of the person sitting in the doctor’s office.

Scholars of fat studies also point to the ways in which obesity is racialized, as higher levels of obesity are often associated with already marginalized communities. This is particularly important for the medical profession, given that physicians and other allied health professionals have recently engaged in efforts to challenge the structural racism in health care experienced by Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities in Canada.  The struggle for social justice is incomplete without serious attention to how fear, hatred and discrimination occur at the nexus of different identities, including among people labelled as obese. Fat studies scholars and activists have pointed to how the conflation of obesity with racialized and colonized communities is part of a long tradition of marking marginalized populations as diseased, and of associating pathology with Indigenous, Brown, Asian and Black bodies. As such, the surveillance and regulation of fat bodies must be understood in the context of colonialism and state regulation of Indigenous, Black and racialized communities. It is essential to think carefully and urgently about how “obese” bodies are treated as “risky” in this political moment, and to ensure that conversations about fatness are read with an appreciation for the realities of structural racism and the history of insufficient care for members of BIPOC communities.

How should physicians approach larger bodies in clinical settings? Physicians and health professionals should “fatten” their understanding of the complex factors associated with weight, and rethink some of the assumptions undergirding the association between weight and health by engaging with critical fat studies scholarship, as well as with fat activist perspectives, such as those advanced by the NAAFA. People who identify as fat should be understood as authoritative sources of knowledge, not passive recipients of occasional public or professional pity or sympathy. Physicians wield substantial power in the health care system — we are asking that doctors confront the possibility that how they interact with patients whose bodies are larger than the statistically ideal weight can harm their patient’s psychological and emotional well-being, as well as their physical health, if these interactions discourage them from seeking health care in the future. As a prominent blogger who writes under the name “your fat friend” explains: “Perhaps the largest factor that kept me out of doctors’ offices for eight long years was the relentless drumbeat of conversations about weight loss. Those conversations overwhelmingly ignored any history of eating disorders, food insecurity, and trauma. Often, health care providers skipped straight to a lecture without even asking about my current diet or activity levels. It felt like someone had pressed play on a recording, and I just had to wait it out.”

There are, however, no neat checklists for physicians who want to do better. Confronting fat stigma requires more than a list of do’s and don’ts. It behooves those in the medical profession to resist suggesting that there are only a few bad apples, and that most doctors and other health care professionals treat their fat patients respectfully. Living in a culture that is consumed by feel-good narratives of weight loss and recovery means that few of us are immune to a series of embedded assumptions about fatness. And yet, like members of other marginalized communities, fat people deserve compassionate, competent care that is based on careful understandings of bodily difference and that respects their human rights.


By                            :                        Deborah McPhail and Michael Orsini

CMAJ September 07, 2021 193 (35) E1398-E1399; DOI:


How Latin America’s protest superheroes fight injustice and climate change – and sometimes crime, too


Not all heroes wear capes. In Latin America, some real-life icons wear Mexican wrestling masks or arm themselves with shields and herbicide to lead demonstrations and strong-arm government officials into protecting the people.

These superheroes aren’t traumatized billionaires like Ironman or aliens with modest alter egos like Superman. They are regular people from Mexico, Argentina and beyond who, with outlandish costumes – and, sometimes, social media accounts – galvanize their communities to defend themselves against everything from police brutality to corporate greed.

Mass demonstrations in the United States have yet to spawn this kind of real-life superhero. But as my research on Latin American cultural studies and history demonstrates, common citizens there regularly don outlandish outfits and adopt comic book-inspired personas to promote social change.


Mexico’s Superbarrio

Perhaps the best-known character of this sort is Mexico’s Superbarrio, who in the late 1980s advocated for housing reform in Mexico City. The character was created by Marco Rascón, a social activist and occasional political candidate, who never actually wore the mask but who coordinated the character’s public appearances.

In addition to organizing rallies for affordable housing and tenant protection programs, Superbarrio routinely met with politicians and housing officials as an advocate for the needs of the city’s poor, many of whom were rural migrants who came to the capital during Mexico’s mid-20th-century boom years.

In the 1990s, Superbarrio supported the Zapatistas – an Indigenous protest movement based in the southern state of Chiapas – in their grassroots challenge of the Mexican government and global capitalism.

The costume Rascón helped design for Superbarrio combined some elements of Mexican masked wrestlers like El Santo – a justice-seeking “luchador” who became a folk hero and movie character – with others recalling El Chapulín Colorado, perhaps the Spanish-speaking world’s best-known superhero. Superbarrio combined these influences with the stylized “S” chest emblem of Superman.

Superbarrio inspired other real-life superhero protesters in Mexico, including the environmental activist Ecologista Universal and the LGBTQ rights advocate Super Gay.


Newer figures join in

More citizen-superheroes have since emerged in other Latin American countries.

One is Menganno, a middle-aged Argentine crime fighter who patrols the streets of the city of Lanús on a motorbike, dressed in a full costume with mask and shield. Menganno alerts authorities and city residents whenever he comes upon petty crime, from robberies to drug deals. He also helps aid agencies in identifying people who need food or shelter.

A 2018 Menganno movie has languished in post-production due to the COVID-19 crisis, but Netflix Latin America may be picking up his story.

Like Menganno, the Honduran masked figure Súper H – born Elmer Ramos – informs his neighbors about such issues as homelessness, gang violence and corruption. He has plenty of problems to identify: Súper H works in San Pedro Sula – once infamously known as the murder capital of the world.

Active on social media and in the streets since 2016, Super H wears a Mexican-style luchador mask and the jersey of the Honduran national soccer team.

Increasing pesticide use is one of his targets. Another is Honduras’ semi-authoritarian president, Juan Orlando Hernández. Several Hernández administration officials have been convicted in U.S. courts for drug trafficking; in their trials Hernández himself was accused of participating in those operations.


Chilean characters

Back in South America, Chile has seen several iconic figures arise from recent national protests there against a public transit fare hike and a starkly unequal economy.

Some of them are accidental heroes, like Pareman or “Stopman” – a protester who was captured by journalists holding a stop sign while being hosed down by the police in October 2019.

Other notable homegrown Chilean protest heroes include the Stupid and Sensual Spiderman, a street performer in a Spiderman costume who twerks in front of police while chanting protest slogans, and a climate activist dressed as Mexico’s Chapulín Colorado but armed with a gas mask and a sprayer of Round-Up herbicide.

Chile’s modern-day protest heroes follow in the footsteps of Negro Matapacos, a street dog wearing a red bandanna who electrified protesters almost a decade ago. Though he died in 2017, Negro Matapacos is still depicted as a sort of super sidekick in Chilean graffiti and print.


Capitán Colombia

Dressed in black gym clothes, ski goggles and a gas mask, Capitán Colombia is a visible figure on the front lines of his country’s ongoing protests against political corruption, economic difficulties and health care privatization.

Capitán Colombia, who carries a tri-colored shield in the colors of the Colombian flag, adorned with a drawn heart, is a comic book-like muscular superhero. His toned arms and expansive chest are an exception to generally rounded physiques of Latin America’s other real-life icons.

Like his Latin American peers, though, Capitán Colombia has no actual superpower. Still, his participation in marches draws local and international attention to the demands of his fellow protesters. So does his Instagram account, which has 11,000 followers.


An all-male cast

While Latin America’s mass demonstrations draw all genders – and some are women-led – nearly all its citizen-superhero protesters are male. In Chile, women activists have donned creative masks and outfits, sometimes going topless at protests against gender violence and police abuse. They have not, however, adopted a superhero persona.

The all-male street superhero cast may reflect Latin America’s broader issues with gender inequity, and it mirrors the sparsity of women superheroes in both Latin American and U.S. comic franchises. Only recently have Marvel and DC put out female-led films.

In Mexico – which has seen several recent feminist uprisings against rape and other forms of gender violence – the government recently created a coronavirus-fighting superheroine named Susana Distancia. Perhaps officials consciously sought to add a female-identified character into the mix of national superheroes. But their choice may have to do more with the rhyme of “distancia” – distance, as in social distancing.

Latin America’s activist superheroes skip the big screen to fight not aliens or supervillains but real world injustices. Might gender equality be a future target?


This story has been updated to correct an error, introduced during editing, about the Mexican state in which the Zapatista movement originated.


By                   :                     Vinodh Venkatesh (Professor of Hispanic Studies, Virginia Tech)

Date               :                       July 13, 2021

Source           :                       The Conversation



Photo by: Logan Weaver (Unsplash)


9/11 Killed It, But Twenty Years on Global Justice Movement Is Poised to Reincarnate


SYDNEY (IDN) — Since the attacks on the United States by 15 Saudi Arabian Islamic fanatics on September 11, 2001 (now known as 9/11) the world has been divided by a ‘war on terror’ with any protest group defined as “terrorists”. New anti-terror laws have been introduced both in the West and elsewhere in the past 20 years and used extensively to suppress such movements in the name of “national security”.

It is interesting to note that the 9/11 attacks came at a time when a huge ‘global justice’ movement was building up across the world against the injustices of globalization. Using the internet as the medium of mobilization, they gathered in Seattle in 1999 and were successful in closing down the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting.

They opposed what they saw as large multinational corporations having unregulated political power, exercised through trade agreements and deregulated financial markets, facilitated by governments. Their main targets were the WTO, International Monetary Fund (IMF), OECD, World Bank, and international trade agreements.

The movement brought 'civil society' people from the North and the South together under common goals. In parallel, the ‘Jubilee 2000’ international movement led by liberal Christian and Catholic churches called for the cancellation of $90 billions of debts owed by the world's poorest nations to banks and governments of the West.

Along with the churches, youth groups, music, and entertainment industry groups were involved. The 9/11 attacks killed these movements as ‘national security’ took precedence over ‘freedom to dissent’.

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, a former vice-president of the UN Human Rights Council and a Sri Lankan political scientist notes that when “capitalism turned neoliberal and went on the rampage” after the demise of the Soviet Union, resistance started to develop with the rise of the Zapatistas in Chiapas (Mexico) against NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and culminating in the 1999 Seattle protests using a term coined by Cuban leader Fidel Castro ‘another world is possible’.

“All that came crashing down with the Twin Towers,” he notes. "With 9/11 the Islamic-Jihadist opposition to the USA (and the war on terror) cut across and buried the progressive resistance we saw emerging in Chiapas and Seattle.”

"9/11 panicked us into the 'war on terror' using lethal weapons of questionable legality which inspired more terrorists. 20 years on, those same adversaries are back and we now have a fear of US perfidy—over Taiwan or ANZUS or whatever. There will be many consequences," warns Geoffrey Robertson QC, well known British human rights campaigner, and TV personality. But, he sees some silver lining that has come out of this 'war on terror'.

"One reasonably successful tactic developed in the war on terror was to use targeted sanctions on its sponsors. This has been developed by so-called 'Magnitsky acts', enabling the targeting of human rights abusers—31 democracies now have them and Australia will shortly be the 32nd. I foresee their coordination as part of the fightback—a war not on terror but state cruelty,” he told IDN.

When asked about the US’s humiliation in Afghanistan, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, founder of the International Movement for a Just World told IDN that the West needs to understand that they too need to stop funding of terror to achieve their own agendas. "The 'war on terror' was doomed to failure from the outset because those who initiated the war were not prepared to admit that it was their occupation and oppression that compelled others to retaliate through acts of terror.” he argues. “Popular antagonism towards the occupiers was one of the main reasons for the humiliating defeat of the US and NATO in Afghanistan,” he added.

Looking at western attempts to introduce democracy under the pretext of ‘war on terror’ and the chaos created by the ‘Arab Spring’, a youth movement driven by western-funded NGOs, Iranian born Australian Farzin Yekta who worked in Lebanon for 15 years as a community multi-media worker argues that the Arab region needs a different democracy.

“In the Middle East, the nations should aspire to a system based on social justice rather than the western democratic model. Corrupt political and economic apparatus, external interference and dysfunctional infrastructure are the main obstacles for moving towards establishing a system based on social justice," he maintains, adding that there are signs of growing social movements being revived in the region while “resisting all kinds of attacks”.

Yekta told IDN that while working with Palestinian refugee groups in Lebanon he has seen how peoples' movements could be undermined by so-called 'civil society' NGOs (non-governmental organizations). "Alternative social movements are infested by 'civil society' institutions comprising primarily NGO institutions. 'Civil society' is effective leverage for the establishment and foreign (western) interference to pacify radical social movements. Social movements find themselves in a web of funded entities which push for ‘agendas’ drawn by funding buddies,” noted Yekta.

Looking at the failure of western forces in Afghanistan, he argues that what they did by building up 'civil society' was encouraging corruption and cronyism that is entangled in ethnic and tribal structures of society. "Western nation-building plan was limited to setting up a glasshouse pseudo-democratic space in the green zone part of Kabul. One just needed to go to the countryside to confront the utter poverty and lack of infrastructure," Yekta notes. ”We need to understand that people’s struggle is occurring at places with poor or no infrastructure.”

Dr Jayatilleka also sees positive signs of social movements beginning to raise their heads after two decades of repression. “Black Lives Matter drew in perhaps more young whites than blacks and constituted the largest ever protest movement in history. The globalized solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza, including large demonstrations in US cities, is further evidence. In Latin America, the left-populist Pink Tide 2.0 began with the victory of Lopez Obrador in Mexico and has produced the victory of Pedro Castillo in Peru. The slogan of Justice, both individual and social, is more globalized, more universalized today, than ever before in my lifetime," he told IDN.

There may be ample issues for peoples’ movements to take up with TPP (Transpacific Partnership) and RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) trade agreements coming into force in Asia where companies would be able to sue governments if their social policies infringe on company profits. But Dr Jayatilleka is less optimistic of social movements rising in Asia.

"Sadly, the social justice movement is considerably more complicated in Asia than elsewhere, though one would have assumed that given the social inequities in Asian societies, the struggle for social justice would be a torrent. It is not," he argues. The brightest recent spark in Asia, according to Dr Jayatilleka, was the rise of the Nepali Communist Party to power through the ballot box after a protracted peoples’ war, but “sectarianism has led to the subsiding of what was the brightest hope for the social justice movement in Asia.”

Robertson feels that the time is ripe for the social movements suppressed by post 9/11 anti-terror laws to be reincarnated in a different life. "The broader demand for social justice will revive, initially behind the imperative of dealing with climate change but then with tax havens, the power of multinationals, and the obscene inequalities in the world's wealth. So, I do not despair of social justice momentum in the future," he says. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 September 2021]


Analysis by Kalinga Seneviratne

Source   :


Mauritius: A picture perfect democracy’s fall from grace


Mauritius has been listed as one of the world’s top ten autocratising nations. Can the people save it?

Over the past few decades, Mauritius has built a glowing international reputation. It is regarded as one of the best managed democracies in Africa, as a place to do business, and as a country where the rule of law is upheld. However, recent reports have begun to challenge this “picture perfect” image.

Most notably, Mauritius was put on the European Union’s blacklist for money laundering and terrorist financing last year, jeopardising trust in the country and potentially undermining its financial services sector. Then, earlier this year, Mauritius was listed alongside the likes of Brazil, India and Turkey as one of the world’s “top ten autocratising countries” between 2010 and 2020 in a report by the V-Dem Institute.

What’s behind this fall from grace of a country recently considered a textbook for success?


A key moment in Mauritius’ democratic decline were the 2019 general elections. The island’s previous eleven elections had typically been well-managed, but this poll was fraught with allegations of irregularities and unfair practices.

These ranged from inconsistencies in the electoral register, to marked ballots being found outside counting centres, to widespread allegations of fraud and bribery. One of the respondents interviewed for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy described how “for the first time in my political career, I have witnessed so much money in circulation. Big means were used. Millions of Mauritian rupees were laundered. In each constituency, vast amounts of money were used.”

The ruling Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) and Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth were officially returned to power, but opposition parties filed ten petitions in the Supreme Court contesting the validity and credibility of the results. 18 months later, the court is still yet to make its ruling.

In some ways, the disputed elections were a sign of things to come. After winning the elections, the MSM-led government quickly signalled its unwillingness to tolerate dissent. To begin with, the party ran roughshod over the long-standing tradition that the Speaker of Parliament is selected in consultation with the opposition. Instead, the party used its majority to install MSM loyalist Sooroojdev Phokeer, who has acted with little impartiality since.

In 2020, the speaker expelled or suspended opposition MPs 14 times for asking questions about corruption allegations linked to Jugnauth or the then deputy prime minister. Then, this March, Phokeer went even further by indefinitely suspending three MPs who protested his decision to withdraw from the Hansard and delete footage of a question an opposition member had asked the previous week. These elected officials will be barred from participating in parliament or voting until 2024 unless they tender “unreserved apologies”. This situation is unprecedented and has shocked many.

Other supposedly independent institutions have also been accused of bias. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and Police have avoided investigating those close to power. Meanwhile, the National Audit Office (NAO) has complained of restrictions in its attempts to conduct its 2019-2020 audit, saying it “had to deal with situations where NAO officers either could not have access to records or such access was simply denied”.

The auditors did, however, have enough information to raise serious concerns about government spending. Corruption, nepotism and cronyism have always existed in Mauritius, but the COVID-19 pandemic has taken them to another level. According to the NAO, “medical disposables to the tune of Rs 850 million [$21 million] were purchased from private companies which had no previous dealings with the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) in such goods. The average prices paid for some medical disposables were up to 67 times higher than the last price paid for.”

Many in Mauritius are also concerned by what they see as a creeping surveillance state. Financed by a $350 million loan from the China EXIM bank, the government launched the Mauritius Safe City Project (MSCP) in December 2019, installing 4,000 CCTV cameras across the island. These are accessible by the Police, which falls under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The ruling party also recently published proposed amendments to the ICT Act “to effectively address any inappropriate use of social media platforms”. If approved, all internet communications in Mauritius would pass through a centralised proxy server managed by Information & Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA) that could access, decrypt, analyse and block traffic. This method of filtering data bears a chilling resemblance to “The Great Firewall of China”, which severely restricts freedom of expression and information.

Sprigs of hope

In the island’s history, Mauritians have rarely taken to the streets to protest. This can be partly explained by the fact that independence was peaceful and that governments since then have tended to emphasise national unity while investing in a generous welfare state.

Following the MV Wakashio oil spill in July 2020, however, this changed. Two massive street protests saw tens of thousands of protesters expressing their anger at government inaction and opacity in dealing with the environmental catastrophe. Many openly demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Jugnauth.

These demonstrations were momentous in terms of their turnout, diversity and explicit demands for change. They also led to the emergence of new citizen-led groups such as Linion Sitwayin (Citizens’ Union), Ideal Democrate (Democracy Ideal) and En Avant Moris (Let’s Go Mauritius). At the same time, the Mauritian diaspora – believed to number about 200,000 people, compared to the country’s 1.3 million population – has become more vocal. A group called the Mauritius Global Diaspora recently organised “Virtual General Elections” on their right to vote.

It is too soon to say if these new political formations can sustain popular support and provide a credible alternative to the mainstream political parties that have dominated Mauritius’ political landscape since independence. But what is clear is that many Mauritians are deeply dissatisfied. In a 2020 Afrobarometer survey, 36.4% said they considered Mauritius either “not a democracy” or “a democracy with major problems”, while 53.6% of respondents said the country is “going in the wrong direction”.


Roukaya Kasenally is a democracy scholar and an Associate Professor in media and political systems. She is currently the Chair of the Electoral Institute of Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) and part of the International Advisory Board of the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP).


By                        :                 Roukaya Kasenally 

Date                    :                  May 12, 2021

Source                :                  African Arguments


What’s Happening to Democracy in Africa?


The pandemic is exacerbating a decline of democracy across sub-Saharan Africa. To combat the trend, the United States and other partners should commit to the painstaking work of bolstering democratic institutions.

A democratic decline, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is underway in sub-Saharan Africa. More Africans live under fully or partially authoritarian states today than at most points in the last two decades.

Even before the pandemic, an increasing number of African heads of state had moved to undermine term limits or rig elections to remain in power. But COVID-19 has given them greater leverage, providing further pretext for postponing elections in Somalia and Ethiopia, muzzling opposition figures in Uganda and Tanzania, and imposing restrictions [PDF] on media across the continent. The enforcement of pandemic restrictions by security services has often been brutal, provoking demonstrations in Kenya and even in more advanced democracies such as South Africa.

As governments across the continent become, with some exceptions, more authoritarian, Africans will be increasingly alienated from those claiming to represent them. Political instability can manifest itself in severe episodes of violence, as is already being seen in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Nigeria. Such turmoil will grow as elites compete for power and citizens resist oppressive regimes, and will, in turn, inhibit social and economic development, to the disadvantage of the continent’s rapidly growing population. Taken together, these forces also drive internal displacement and outward migration—both to other African countries and to Europe. Addressing these issues will require grappling with long-standing grievances left untreated and often exacerbated by the poor, sometimes brutal governance that is all too common across the African continent.

Unmet Expectations

When the “third wave” of democratization swept across much of Africa in the wake of the Cold War, hopes were high that Africans would begin to enjoy the freedoms afforded to citizens living in the former colonial powers. Initial progress was remarkable: In 1989, two-thirds of African states were “not free,” as measured by Freedom House. By 2009, two-thirds were considered “free” or “partly free.”

However, foreign as well as domestic expectations for liberal democracy in Africa have often been unrealistic, and Africa’s setbacks are not surprising. For much of the continent, the foundations of a political culture necessary to sustain liberal democracy have been weak for most of the postcolonial era (roughly six decades for most African states). The persistence of religious and ethnic rivalries has been underestimated by African democrats and their friends abroad. Also significant has been the role of the police and the army, often vestiges of colonialism, which have been a cause and consequence of power systems favoring a coterie of elites.

Authoritarian and semi-authoritarian rulers, mindful of foreign opinion, have dressed their regimes with the forms of democracy, such as regular (if rigged) elections and de jure (not de facto) separation of powers. Presidential term limits, where in place, have been frequently circumvented through so-called constitutional coups. Heads of state have deftly manipulated social cleavages and played up fears of malevolent foreign interference to deflect popular pressure away from their illiberal rule.

Trends in Africa’s Democratic Trajectory

Where democracy stands in Africa today has myriad influences, including the legacy of colonialism and the emergence of the digital age. Four trends stand out:

Temporal: Gradual Gains for Authoritarians

In its 2021 report, Freedom House rated only eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa as free. Of these eight, half are small island states: Cape Verde, Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe, and Seychelles. Others, such as Botswana, enjoy high levels of economic and social development. Strong institutions of government are a common feature, acting as a bulwark against self-interested leaders, such as former South African President Jacob Zuma, who is now on trial for corruption. They also provide added stability around elections. In Ghana’s 2020 election, former President John Mahama, running as the opposition candidate, rejected his defeat. But when the country’s Supreme Court upheld incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo’s victory, Mahama accepted the results, conceding that he was “legally bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court.” Large-scale violence was absent from the electoral process; five people, however, were killed in postelection violence.

Meanwhile, the number of African countries that Freedom House rated “not free” has grown from a low of fourteen in 2006 and 2008 to twenty in 2021. In Africa, authoritarian states are often run by strongmen, geriatric “leaders for life,” some of whom are now looking to anoint their sons as their successors. These countries usually have low levels of social development, underdeveloped civil organizations, and weak institutions of government. Rwanda is an exception: its social development indicators rank higher than its human rights standing, and its president, Paul Kagame, is relatively young at sixty-three years of age. In other countries, such as the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and South Sudan, power has changed hands more frequently, though transfers have come from coups, wars, or deals between elites made behind closed doors.

Despite the decline, a plurality of countries (twenty-two) are considered “partially free,” in line with the sixteen-year average. However, within this category, increasingly populist governments are suppressing opposition groups, postponing elections, eliminating term limits, and abusing human rights to maintain power. This growing trend is driving democratic backsliding on the continent. Yet, a single defining characteristic for these countries is difficult to pin down. Tanzania and Zambia, for example, have largely avoided the ethnic and religious conflicts that afflict Nigeria and Mozambique. Kenya and the Ivory Coast, both with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of around $2,000, are significantly richer than Malawi and the breakaway territory of Somaliland (rated separately from Somalia by Freedom House), each with income per person at around $400.

Regional: Following One’s Neighbors

Geography is not quite destiny, but similarly rated countries do tend to form clusters. West Africa and East Africa both have mostly partially free regimes. Ghana is the most notable, positive exception in West Africa. In southern Africa, the triumvirate of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa are all considered free. However, in Central Africa and the Horn, almost all states are authoritarian. Small island nations make up an outsize share of “free” African countries, and they are freer on average than similarly sized countries on the mainland, such as Djibouti and Eswatini. Littoral states are also, on average, freer than landlocked ones, likely benefitting from increased interactions with foreigners from democratic societies—a factor more important prior to the advent of the digital age. Economic prosperity, also concentrated on the coasts [PDF], likely has also influenced a positive democratic trajectory.

Most African regional organizations have a stated vocation of promoting democracy. Yet, only the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has devoted serious energy and resources to defending democracy: it has played a major role in rolling back military dictatorships in West Africa and opposing military coups, though it has been less effective in preventing third-term bids by incumbents. By contrast, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been paralyzed by its inability or unwillingness to address the excesses of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), because of its origins as a liberation movement. The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) is stocked with autocrats, while the East African Community (EAC) has been but a weak presence to the point of risking irrelevance.

Digital: The Information Generation

The internet and social media are increasingly empowering Africa’s youthful population to become politically active. This has been seen in Nigeria, where #EndSARS protesters organized online to demand police reforms; in Uganda, where presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, better known as Bobi Wine, used social media to catalyze his People Power movement; and in Ghana, where Twitter users instigated a national discussion on illegal small-scale mining.

Yet, these movements have frequently been met with an equal and opposite reaction: Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni cracked down on activists and implemented a social media ban; in Nigeria, protesters were massacred by army and police forces. More broadly, digital repression has become commonplace—especially around elections—as leaders seek to throttle the opposition and influence popular discourse, frequently through disinformation. As in other parts of the world, it thus remains unclear whether the increasing prevalence and importance of the internet and social media, in their totality, will have a beneficial, deleterious, or ambiguous effect on democracy.

COVID-19: Pandemic Politics

Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “using the pandemic as a pretext, authorities in some countries have deployed heavy-handed security responses and emergency measures to crush dissent, criminalize basic freedoms, silence independent reporting, and curtail the activities of nongovernmental organizations.” Freedom House reported in late 2020 that democracy in eighty countries was worse off due to the pandemic. Examples can be found across Africa: from Guinea to Somalia to South Africa, democracy ratings slid amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Tanzania offers a stark example. President John Magufuli repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by COVID-19, claiming that prayer had defeated the disease in his country. The government criminalized the sharing of “unofficial” data and used the law to restrict news coverage of the outbreak and other matters in the run-up to the October 2020 presidential election, which Magufuli won through intimidation and fraud. In March 2021, Magufuli died—his death was attributed to heart disease but was likely brought on by COVID-19. During the president’s weekslong public absence prior, at least one man was arrested for questioning his health.

Initial signs following Magufuli’s death are promising for Tanzanian democracy: Samia Suluhu Hassan, the vice president under Magufuli, was sworn in as president as prescribed by the constitution. President Hassan has shifted the country toward a more evidence-based approach to COVID-19 and reached out to the opposition. But some critics remain unconvinced. After signaling an intention to lift all media bans in the country, Hassan walked back the decision. Opposition figures including Tundu Lissu and Freeman Mbowe have called for a new constitution that limits presidential powers.

Yet, Malawi offers a bright spot amid the pandemic. According to Freedom House, Malawi was the sole country globally whose democracy strengthened during COVID-19 lockdowns, after it became the first African country to overturn a fraudulent election through legal means and conduct a free and fair follow-up election. The Economist declared it country of the year. At his swearing-in, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera said he would lead “a government that serves, not a government that rules.” Many Africans, it seems, stand ready to push for the same from their own leaders and governments.

Outside Influences

Public support for democracy in Africa is still high, according to Afrobarometer surveys. However, China’s model of developmental authoritarianism remains attractive to those who see democracy as an impediment to development. As vaccination campaigns continue around the globe, “vaccine diplomacy” by China could deepen its ties to the continent and potentially further erode African confidence in democracy.

Additionally, the inabilities of many governments—democratic in form and partially so in substance—to respond to the security challenges they face undermine popular support for a democratic trajectory. Personal security in many parts of Africa has declined dramatically, in some places because of a jihadi onslaught, in others from criminal gangs, and in still others from ethnic and religious conflicts often exacerbated by self-serving politicians.

Failing to counter crime and insurgency, some African leaders are seeking greater security involvement from the United States. In their first meeting, in April 2021, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari proposed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the headquarters of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) be moved from Stuttgart, Germany, to an African country. Until recently, successive Nigerian governments had opposed an AFRICOM headquarters on the continent, as had Nigeria’s political class. Buhari’s remarkable reversal is an indication of the security threat posed by groups such as Boko Haram that draw on the alienation of many Africans from their governments, in part the result of stalling or declining democracy.

The Project of Promoting Good Governance

What can Africa’s foreign friends do to encourage a democratic trajectory? There is a consensus among UN and development agencies, international financial institutions, and many Africans that good governance is critical. Nobel Laureate Chinua Achebe’s words about his own country apply just as well to many other African countries: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else.”  

Poor leadership has been facilitated and enabled by weak institutions of government. During a 2009 visit to Ghana, U.S. President Barack Obama famously said in an address to the parliament, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” But institution-building requires time and patience. Components such as an independent press, fair and transparent systems of taxation, and civic education and participation in governance take time to develop. Even so, continuing to build institutional infrastructure is the unglamorous way to promote a democratic trajectory in Africa. Resilient institutions offer the best tonic to unscrupulous elites—present everywhere, but a particular scourge in sub-Saharan Africa, where institutions have been deliberately weakened during the colonial period and subsequently by “big men” and their associated militaries.

In 2011, the Obama White House launched the Open Government Partnership, an initiative in which member governments—over a dozen of them African—made concrete commitments to promote transparency, empower citizens, and fight corruption. The same administration’s Young African Leaders Initiative, which has been reinvigorated by the Joe Biden administration, seeks to groom future leaders in a democratic context. Other U.S. assistance programs support judicial independence, a critical component of functional democracy that is lacking in much of Africa. The United Nations [PDF] and advanced democracies including France, Japan, and the United Kingdom have similarly linked foreign aid to good-governance reforms.

Such measures are buttressed by the work on the ground by nongovernmental organizations, journalists, and active citizens, who ultimately are the catalyst for democratization and democratic consolidation. But the United States and other partners can—and should—do their part to create the conditions under which those fighting for democracy and good governance can feel safe to pursue their work.

The dilemma remains that Africa is buffeted by immediate security challenges that will not wait for a democratic culture to develop. COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity: were the United States to launch a vast vaccination assistance program, it would affirm to many Africans that democracy and good governance can address their ills. Conceptually, security assistance programs that engage military and police forces are a greater challenge, especially given the alienation of many Africans from their governments. Yet, if a witch’s brew of jihadi terrorists, criminal networks, and the disaffected destroy sitting governments, the human rights consequences certainly will be worse than the status quo. The challenge facing American and other policy makers is to support African governments in taking meaningful steps toward democracy while at the same time acknowledging the legitimate grievances that underpin so much of the insecurity.

COVID-19 has also dramatically redirected Ethiopia’s political landscape deeper into authoritarianism. After the central government used the pandemic to postpone parliamentary elections scheduled for August 2020, leaders from the Tigray region held local elections in defiance of the order. Now, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for earlier reconciliation efforts with neighboring Eritrea, is waging war in the north of his country. Eritrean troops—overtly or tacitly supported by the Ethiopian government—have reportedly committed a range of atrocities, while Abiy’s government stands accused of attempting to starve large swathes of the Tigrayan population into submission.


This publication is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.


By                      :                        John Campbell and Nolan Quinn

Date                  :                         May 26, 2021

Source              :                         Council Foreign Relations


Tunisia’s presidential power-grab is a test for its democracy


President Saied’s ‘constitutional coup’ on 25 July was a dark day for Tunisian and Arab democratization

In a shocking move, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied invoked Article 80 of the country’s constitution on 25 July, the nation’s annual Republic Day. Citing “exceptional” circumstances, he sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, froze the Parliament and lifted the immunity of its members, granted himself interim executive powers, and appointed himself the equivalent of Tunisia’s head prosecutor.

The drastic measures followed recent protests against the government and major parties, and Saied referred to divisiveness and failure by both Mechichi’s government and Parliament to address the pandemic, socio-economic stability and social stability as reasons for his actions.

Saied then fired the defense and justice ministers, put in place a mandatory two days off for government employees, and lengthened the country’s curfew (originally enacted for COVID purposes) to 7pm-6am, when previously it had been 8pm to 5am. As part of his ‘anti-corruption’ crusade, he issued a travel ban that prevents business men and women, heads of sports clubs, high-level state officials, former ministers, local government heads and ex-members of parliament from leaving the country. There are likely more measures to come, as he has promised further decrees.

Perhaps removing Mechichi and suspending Parliament defies the traditional conception of a coup. But the recent mayhem and chaos must be explained as a backdrop to what many experts are calling a ‘constitutional coup’. In the Tunisian context, we should question wide-held assumptions or ready-made definitions of the term, rather than getting caught up in semantic and definitional hair-splitting.

What’s happening in Tunisia is not a textbook coup, such as those in Latin America written about by the gurus of democratization. It is also not like that seen in Egypt in 2013, which was the most dramatic military coup in post-2011 Arab politics. Saied is not a military leader, and Tunisia (even under authoritarian leaders Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali) is far from a state whose military is institutionalized within the political system. Yet it is clear that Saied has secured the complicity of the military’s top brass – perhaps with the exception of dismissed defense minister, Brahim Bartaji (which can be read as a sign of non-cooperation on Bartaji’s part).

Protest lead-up

The protests rocking the country in the run-up to 25 July, the commemoration of the founding of the Republic, were in themselves not unusual. Angry and raucous crowds called for the dissolution of Parliament, decrying the country’s largest party, Ennahda, and attacking its offices. They hurled insults and accusations at the party’s leader, Rached Ghannouchi, and at Mechichi.

Protest has become commonplace in Tunisia; the escalating COVID crisis has brought to the fore deepening inequalities and a deteriorating economy, and in recent weeks the air has been heavy with expectation. For days, headlines have focused on feuding between the three presidencies: President Saied, Prime Minister Mechichi, and the speaker of Parliament, Ghannouchi.

Disgruntlement and anxiety have seemed to rise with the temperature, in the smoldering heat of an exceptionally hot summer. Over the past few weeks, Tunisians have bemoaned economic hardships; a crumbling healthcare system; early curfews and limited mobility between cities and governorates, which are debilitating for commuting workers and business owners; and a botched vaccine rollout despite the country recently securing millions of donated doses. Palpable discontent with the country’s political class, which, in the eyes of many, reeks of corruption, mounted by the day.

On the eve of 25 July, heavy police presence and barricades were seen across the city of Tunis, primarily in the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue. It was as though the police officers themselves were ‘occupying’ public space, choking citizens out.

As news broke of Saied’s power scramble, and Tunisians began to process the jolt of what had happened, an astounding transformation came over the avenue. Hours after curfew, which is mostly enforced in the capital, the street began to fill as a swelling crowd formed. This time, congregants were jubilant, joyous, celebratory. Anger at Ennahda, at Ghannouchi, at the corrupt political elites turned into exultation over the president’s new decrees.

Saied was a new ‘savior’ for this cross-section of Tunisians. They cheered against Ennahda and for Tunisia. Chanting the national anthem, waving shirts, ululating gleefully, some zooming across the Avenue on their motorcycles. The police seemed to have evaporated – only eventually half-heartedly dispersing the crowd hours later. Then, a few army vehicles crawled in, flanked by delighted carousers.

‘State of exception’

What seems not to have dawned on those celebrating, is the disputed legality of the president’s measures. By suspending Parliament for 30 days, and stripping its elected deputies of legal immunity, Saied is treading on very murky ground. He apparently failed to consult with the other two ‘presidencies’, Ghannouchi and Mechichi, as is stipulated in Article 80 of the 2014 constitution. There is no imminent threat to Tunisia’s stability or its independence, another prerequisite for activating Article 80, from its elected Parliament, its democratic political parties, its diverse polity, or foreign powers, to warrant such actions by the president.

Adding to the chaos is the constitutional void created in Tunisia by the country’s elites, including its president. In theory, the Constitutional Court must verify whether there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ necessitating the triggering of Article 80 within 30 days. Yet, in an ongoing political saga, no such court exists. After years of political foot-dragging by various ruling parties, it was most recently Saied who refused to sign Parliament’s latest attempt to assemble the court back in April.

Saied’s takeover, his amassing of inordinate power in his hands, disrupts Tunisia’s democratic institutions and its very democratic process. These measures are a grave lapse of judgment, akin to what leading legal experts in the country have termed a “constitutional coup” – despite some whooping crowds signaling their approval.

Tunisia’s Political Class Reacts

Tunisia’s political parties are split. Pan-Arabist and populist Harakat Al-Chaab (People’s Movement) has thrown its weight behind the president’s new measures. Elsewhere, Abir Moussi, a former official for Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally, has claimed she is “on the side of the people” and has not condemned the moves. Moussi leads the Free Destourian Party, which is a morbid foe of political Islam and Ennahda and draws on the twin constituencies of Bourguiba and Ben Ali (nationalist-conservative). Another opposition party, the Democratic Current (a quasi-social democratic party), has an official position of “disagreement” with the president’s interpretation of Article 80. Yet one of its members, Samia Abbou, made early statements endorsing the move.

Ennahda’s opposition to Saied’s measures, which it considers a “coup against the constitution and [country’s] institutions”, was initially the most stark, along with that of Qalb Tounes (the party of media mogul Nabil Karoui, under investigation for corruption) and Etilaf Al-Karama (a hodgepodge of Salafist-type newcomers to Parliament).

Ennahda’s Executive Office has called on the president to “reverse” his new measures but has also signaled a willingness for dialogue and “consultations” with political and civil society actors.

To varying degrees, other smaller parties have declared either outright rejection of Saied’s power grab or reservations about its scope and time frame, while a critical mass of veteran democracy activists and founders of the post-revolution order are against the move. Many have, as individuals or through their respective parties, issued statements or expressed positions to that effect.

Nejib Chebbi is one of the opposition veterans who failed to secure a political position in post-2011 elections. Old-timers like him, with a long record of anti-authoritarian and democratic activism, may see this as an entry point and an opportunity to re-enter the political scene.

In a statement attributed to him, Mechichi has asserted he will not “cling to any [political] office” but will hand over power to Saied’s new appointee. On the other hand, the Parliament’s Executive Office has declared the legislature is in an ongoing session, disregarding the president’s ‘freeze’. Similarly, the National Federation of Tunisian Municipalities rejected the president’s measures, in a display of disobedience.

No time for a ‘savior’

The political and governance failures of Ennahda are one thing, even when it comes to legitimate criticism of their intra-party democracy or parliamentary performance. Yet the party’s shortcomings are no justification for extra-constitutional measures. Ennahda, and all political players, should be dealt with via constitutional channels in this new democracy.

Some Tunisians – and here people seem split – seem all too ready to welcome a national ‘savior’. Tunisia has tried this before, with Bourguiba and Ben Ali. Among the great many who refuse the status quo, a strong leader seems appealing – even, it seems, if he boasts consolidated powers to the point of threatening democratic checks and balances.

But going back to this notion of al-hakim bi-amrihi (‘the ruler by his command’, in the words of one Tunisian academic, in reference to Bourguiba) is very dangerous. It is many steps backwards in Tunisia and the Arab world’s faltering democratic journey. A president who, standing alone, ‘triumphs for the people’ as the headline of the 26 July edition of Alchorouk paper put it, is an anti-democratic illusion. It feeds on, and is feeding, populist fervor that has gripped democracies the world over, old and new.

The oddity staring everyone in the face is that Saied is a lecturer in constitutional law. Yet he seems all too comfortable acting against political pluralism and party competitiveness. He decries the media for criticizing him, forever warning of foreign plots and conspiracies. Always, always, claiming to speak on behalf of ‘the people’.

Over the past year or so, Saied has already done much damage by refusing to cooperate with institutions of government. He has held back on signing acts of Parliament and refused to coordinate with the other two presidencies and with those political parties not to his liking. Saied has spoken out against rival parties and has dithered on a national dialogue between different political forces in the country (which the country’s largest labor union, the UGTT, has for months tried to organize) because the list of invitees did not suit him. And so on.

Saied’s end game is as yet unclear. It is hard to predict whether or not he will hold his ground for the full 30 days, or if he will, as he says, end these ‘exceptional’ measures in one month. . It seems that even those within the institutions he leads have doubts about his power grab, as hinted by his sacking of the minister of defense.

Is this Tunisia being led by populism, from above?

Dangers for democracy

Even if Saied restores democratic institutions and processes in a month’s time, Tunisians – as well as those who vouch for democratization across the region and the world – should be concerned. A president who bestows upon himself inordinate powers is not playing the democratic game.

Doing justice to the complex and varied needs, aspirations and positions of ‘the people’ is beyond the capabilities of any one man or woman. That is why democracy exists.

Tunisia has continuously transitioned from one emergency to another since the popular uprising of 2011 brought it onto the path of democratic politics. The principle of checks and balances is at the heart of the intensely negotiated and hard-won 2014 constitution.

Article 80, while acknowledging a disruption of normal politics, does couch the ability of any president to launch a state of exception in a language of restraint. The three bodies of the state, especially the prime minister and speaker of the Parliament, should be involved in what could be called a binding shura, or consultation. Kaïs Saeed has not bypassed a legal nicety but a constitutional imperative of monumental importance: the checks and balances needed to avert the possibility of the abuse of executive power.

Tunisia's fledgling democracy necessitates restraint by political actors. To play a zero-sum game will erode the trust so badly needed in such a politically diverse society. The solutions to its political, economic and social problems require the continuation of consensus and compromise in the national interest.

What next?

The dismantled democratic institutions and the inordinate powers claimed by President Saied on 25 July are now in doubt. It remains to be seen what will happen in the next 30 days – summer is a sluggish time for government offices and the bureaucracy and Ennahda will have a hard time with the new measures. One might venture that the party is the main target, having made many enemies over the past decade, particularly since the 2019 elections. The question now is what happens to the democratic process.

But there are a few things to bear in mind.

Those advocating for early elections may be skipping over a key loophole: institution-building is incomplete. New elections cannot be held given the current “constitutional void”, according to Nabil Buffon, head of the country’s election commission. Political decisions are being made within a legal-juridical vacuum of sorts.

What’s more, new elections are very costly. Tunisia is currently undergoing one of the worst series of crises (the pandemic, the failing economy, etc.) and negotiations with the IMF over another loan package have stalled.

The voices calling for a national dialogue have grown louder as trust in democratic institutions has declined. The political role of civil society actors such as the Nobel Quartet, and its members, are democratic gains that may help restore the democratic process.

However, some elites and other non-Islamist power-holders and actors, such as the UGTT appear to be speaking with two tongues. They seem divided, refraining from condemning the president’s move. Instead, the union has asked for “guarantees” that Saied will abide by the constitution and that the country will eventually return to the democratic process. Some of its apparatchiks have no qualms about lending full support to the president’s actions, as revealed by daily newspaper Al-Sabah on 27 July 2021.

Abir Moussi, rising claimant to the mantle of power and the Bourguibist heritage, appears buoyant on the back of favorable opinion polls placing her at the forefront of electoral intentions. Hers (especially her Facebook page) is a space to be watched in Tunisian politics.

There appears to be slowly mounting international pressure on the president: US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, stressed “adher[ance] to the principles of democracy and human rights” in a phone call with Saied. Meanwhile, the US’s ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, emphasized “full compliance with [Tunisia’s] constitution and democratic principles”. The EU has called for the “resumption of parliamentary activity”.

Diplomatic pressure on the president to resume the functioning of democratic institutions should not punish Tunisians desperate for protection from the COVID pandemic. Clearly, it should not take the form of using vaccines as “leverage”.

Tunisians are disagreeing, and that is what democracy is about. But they are not looking for external intervention or punitive measures.

The Road Ahead..

There is growing talk of a ‘roadmap’ and a ‘National Salvation Government’. Amid the mayhem and uncertainty, the next few days will be consequential. Saied has ‘shot, asking questions later’. Unless he is a Superman capable of addressing the country’s colossal problems (political, economic, social, public health), the president has placed himself in a huge quandary. In the weeks and months ahead, he may find himself a victim of his own anti-democratic encroachments.

Tunisia’s is a constitutional coup but it seems to have military backing. Saied has (mis)interpreted the law, taking it into his own hands. Some have given him the benefit of the doubt, insisting on the legality of his actions. But, as we know, what is legal is not always right.

Saeid is single-handedly taking it upon himself to remake the country’s political system according to his own presidential image. His statements over the past 18 months indicate that he envisions a new system not necessarily operated by political parties, instead populated and popularized by some version of citizen-led ‘popular committees’.

Saied does not have the final word: civil society is demanding legal guarantees and a timely return to the democratic process. Long celebrated as the region’s clearest hope for democratization, Tunisia’s incipient democracy faces a huge test for the resilience of its civil society, as well as the cooperation and ingenuity of its political class.


By                     :                         Larbi Sadiki and Layla Saleh

Date                 :                         July 28, 2021

Source               :                       Open Democracy


Black Lives Matter: How far has the movement come?           


Black Lives Matter has been called the largest civil movement in U.S. history. Since 2013, local BLM chapters have formed nationwide to demand accountability for the killings of dozens of African Americans by police and others. Since the summer of 2020, when tens of millions in the U.S. and around the world marched under the “Black Lives Matter” slogan to protest a Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd, the movement has risen to a new level of prominence, funding and scrutiny.

BLM has long been seen as a coordinated yet decentralized effort. Lately, the movement and its leading organizations have become more traditional and hierarchical in structure. Public opinion is also changing, as BLM chapters call on the movement’s leaders to be more accountable to its grassroots groups. We caught up with two scholars of worldwide African communities and cultures – Kwasi Konadu and Bright Gyamfi – to discuss BLM as both a movement and an organization.

What was the original structure of the Black Lives Matter movement?

Black Lives Matter started in 2013 as a messaging campaign. In response to the 2012 acquittal of George Zimmerman for shooting and killing Black teenager Trayvon Martin, three activists – Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors – protested the verdict on social media, along with many others. Cullors came up with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which gained widespread use on social media and in street protests.

Over the next several years – as Black Lives Matter flags, hashtags and signs became common features of local, national and even international protests in support of Black lives – this messaging campaign became a decentralized social movement to demand accountability for police killings and other brutality against Black people.

The movement remained decentralized, although some significant, formal BLM-related organizations emerged during this time. For instance, in 2013 Cullors, Tometi and Garza formed the Black Lives Matter Network to facilitate communication, support and shared resources among the dozens of locally organized and led Black Lives Matter chapters that were springing up around the United States.

In 2014, the Movement for Black Lives, or M4BL, formed as a separate but related coalition of dozens of organizations of Black activist and others, including the Black Lives Matter Network.

In 2017, the Black Lives Matter Network transformed into the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, co-founded by Tometi and Cullors, who was the executive director until she stepped down in May 2021. This group describes itself as “a global foundation supporting Black led movements.”

What’s changed about BLM’s structure since then?

While the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation says it is decentralized, over time it has followed a pattern similar to other social movements driven by individuals and organizations. It has become more of a conventional hierarchical organization, centralizing its operations and leadership. Its founders have won awards, book deals and notoriety.

The BLM Global Network Foundation has not developed any publicly known independent source of funding, nor was a decision ever made to rely primarily on grassroots support or small individual donations. As a result, it is dependent on corporate and foundation money to pay for its operations and programs. Amid the George Floyd uprisings in 2020, the BLM Global Network Foundation generated some US$90 million in donations or grants from corporations and foundations.

The Movement for Black Lives, which calls itself decentralized and anti-capitalist, also raised millions in 2020, including $100 million from the Ford Foundation.

All told, corporations pledged close to $2 billion to BLM-related causes in 2020, though less is known about pledges for 2021.

Meanwhile, many frontline Black Lives Matters chapters have struggled to stay afloat. Some key chapters have begun calling for financial transparency and more democratic decison-making from national leaders at the BLM Global Network Foundation, as well as a share of the funds the national groups have raised.

Others have disavowed the Black Lives Matter Network and defected from it, focusing on local community fundraising and organizing to support their work.

How is public opinion about the BLM movement changing and why?

Though the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has become a common sight, the movement is losing public support. According to a new Civiqs survey of 244,622 registered voters, support for BLM fell from two-thirds of voters in June 2020 to 50% in June 2021.

Some of this shift may be due to growing public awareness of the movement’s internal struggles, such as competing visions and competition over scarce resources, as well as questions about whether some BLM leaders have used donations for personal benefit.

Is this evolution of Black Lives Matters typical of social movements? Can you give other examples?

Tensions and conflicts are part of the evolution of all social movements, including BLM.

Money shaping social movements, such as the civil rights movement, is not new. The civil rights movement, including the summer of 1963’s March on Washington, was funded by white liberal organizations and foundations. In the summer of 2020, BLM protests also generated millions in similar funding. Indeed, the Ford Foundation and the Borealis Philanthropy recently formed the Black-Led Movement Fund, which raises money for the Movement for Black Lives.

Malcolm X, in his analysis of the 1963 March on Washington, brought attention to the influence white philanthropy and leadership held over “black” social justice organizations, especially regarding funding that was controlled by the white power structure. Siding with Malcolm’s analysis, James Baldwin also observed, “the March had already been co-opted.”

Is it at all clear what structure BLM will or should have in the future?

Based on our research on civil rights-Black power organizations and on Black internationalism, BLM would benefit from a “starfish” organizational structure.

Starfishlike organizations are decentralized networks with no head. Intelligence is spread throughout an open system that easily adapts to circumstances. If a leader is removed, new ones emerge, and the network remains intact.

In the U.S., BLM organizers work through various groups, yet all are tied to centralized hubs, like the Movement for Black Lives coalition. These organizational choices conform to a spider analogy. Compared to the starfish structure, spiderlike organizations operate under the control of a central leader, and information and power are concentrated at the top.

Movements for peoples of African ancestry also face a distinct challenge: They often have to appeal for both funding and action from the same white power structure and corporate interests that participate in and benefit from the suffering of Black people.

For example, although President Lyndon B. Johnson is remembered for helping pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he routinely referred to the 1957 version of that act as the “nigger bill” in conversations with his Southern white supremacist colleagues.

Another example involves the McDonald’s Corp. In 1968, after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., McDonald’s partnered with U.S. civil rights organizations. The company claimed its African American-owned franchises were carrying on King’s civil rights agenda to empower the Black community.

In the wake of the 2020 mass protests against racism after George Floyd’s murder, many Republican-led states proposed a new wave of draconian anti-protest laws to stifle dissent. This suggests that BLM might be more resilient if it followed the starfish approach.

In their desire to appeal to a diverse public to end white supremacy, Black Lives Matter’s leaders fail to consider that pervasive anti-Black violence is “the very engine that powers” white supremacy and makes broad coalitions ineffective.

According to historian Marcia Chatelain, however, instead of enabling economic freedom, McDonald’s has burdened the Black community with low wages, relatively few franchises and high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. McDonald’s has benefited from a devoted African American consumer base, more so because African Americans consume more fast food than any other race, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Kwasi Konadu (Professor in Africana & Latin American Studies, Colgate University)

Bright Gyamfi (Doctoral candidate in History, Northwestern University)


By                           :                            September 8, 2021

Source                    :                            The Conversation



     Photo by      :     Cody Pulliam (Unsplash)


Myanmar’s anti-coup protesters defy rigid gender roles – and subvert stereotypes about women to their advantage

One of the first signs of the military coup that overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected civilian government was a Facebook Live video of regional lawmaker Pa Pa Han being arrested, which was posted by her husband.

Soldiers stormed Pa Pa Han’s home around 3 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2021. While her young daughter wailed and her husband pleaded to see an arrest warrant, Pa Pa Han stalwartly grabbed her handbag and a coat and left with the soldiers.

Other parliamentarians were simultaneously being roused from bed and arrested across Myanmar by soldiers who claimed election fraud had occurred in the November elections. By daybreak, Myanmar was under military rule.

Ever since, thousands of people in Myanmar – most of them young, many of them women – have been protesting the coup daily and demanding the restoration of democracy. More than 770 civilians had been killed and over 3,738 detained as of May 6, according to the nonprofit Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Myanmar, formerly called Burma, is a conservative country with rigid gender roles. A 2015 survey rated it Southeast Asia’s most traditional society when it comes to family structure, deference to elders, respect for authority figures and conflict avoidance.

Yet Myanmar’s Generation Z activists, born between 1997 to 2012, are defying many of these social norms with their protests – and busting gender stereotypes while they’re at it.

A very traditional society

One act of creative resistance on March 8 involved hanging women’s sarongs on clotheslines above streets across Yangon. The young protesters suspected that many soldiers would avoid going underneath the clotheslines for fear that doing so would diminish their “hpon” – a kind of mojo that belongs to only men.

They guessed right: Soldiers sent to arrest the protesters climbed atop their army trucks to clear the clotheslines before passing underneath, giving protesters extra time to avoid arrest.

Such beliefs around “hpon” reflect a pervasive concept in Myanmar that men are superior to women and born with special spiritual protection. In a 2015 Asia Barometer survey, 60% of Myanmar respondents agreed that if they could have only one child, a boy would be “preferable,” compared with 46% in the Philippines and 30% in Cambodia.

Having grown up in Myanmar, I was raised to believe in these same gender roles and sexist superstitions. After being exposed to a U.S. liberal arts education, I came to question the gender inequality buried in traditions and Burmese culture. Now, as a psychologist who teaches about sex and gender, among other topics, I am tracking how Myanmar’s young protesters are rejecting sexism and subverting gender norms to their advantage.

After the sarong tactic, some of those activists questioned whether using sarongs to deter the soldiers might itself have been sexist because it played into old misogynistic superstitions. Shortly after the March 8 protest, activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi wrote on Twitter that women’s clothing should be flown proudly as “our flag, our victory” – not used as a weapon.

Gender violence in Myanmar

Spousal rape and domestic violence is still legal and pervasive in Myanmar, and when it occurs people often blame the victims rather than the perpetrators.

On April 20, a 17-year-old coup protester named Shwe Yamin Htet, who had just been released from jail after six days, reported on social media that a 19-year-old female protester detained with her had been “beaten with a metal pipe” and “kicked in her groin” and that her “vagina was bleeding due to the kicking.”

Rather than express outrage at the assault, some on social media worried that publicizing the young women’s sexual abuse would bring shame to her and asked Shwe to remove the post. She did not oblige.

A few women have defied the odds to obtain power in Myanmar – including the country’s deposed leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who came to power in 2012. Rather than seeing her as an inspirational symbol of women’s leadership, however, researchers Mala Htun and Francesca Jensenius reported in their 2020 study that most people in Myanmar view Aung San Suu Kyi simply as an exception.

Before the coup, women held 15% of political posts in Myanmar’s civilian government. Now, just one woman sits on the coup regime’s 17-member state administration council.

The military’s history of oppression

The military has run Myanmar as a dictatorship on and off since 1962. In addition to airstrikes and attacks with heavy artillery, it is known to use sexual violence as a weapon in its long-standing effort to crush separatist movements in the border regions of Myanmar.

Self-identifying ethnic Burmese make up 32% of the population. For nearly six decades, several ethnic minority groups – the Kachin, Karen and Karenni – have been fighting for autonomy and self-determination. For just as long, the Myanmar army has violently suppressed them.

Human rights groups report widespread and systematic rape in Karen state, in southwest Myanmar, over many decades. When women are captured by the military, soldiers use them as porters to carry shells during the day. At night, they may be gang-raped.

In Kayah state, another conflict zone north of Karen, women generally do not go out alone even for basics like groceries, because the military is known to target women.

The military oppression and gender violence so familiar to rural Burmese in conflict zones is now affecting the urban middle and working classes – groups that were long sheltered from the country’s borderland conflicts. On April 24, soldiers were reported to have physically abused a transgender woman who spoke out against the coup online, forcing her to change into “male” clothing before arresting her.

Women’s political future in Myanmar

Despite the risks, women continue to participate in the front lines of Myanmar’s fight for democracy.

Some have been arrested, including Thin Thin Aung, co-founder of a leading independent news site called Mizzima, and union leader Myo Myo Aye. Others were shot dead, like Khukhu Cilena, of the women’s rights group Women for Justice.

After the coup, a group of pro-democracy advocates formed a parallel government called the National Unity Government led by the elected lawmakers, which is financially supporting the civil disobedience movement. Myanmar’s opposition lawmakers are also busting glass ceilings: Ethnic minority party affiliates make up 25% of its 32 members, women make up 28%, and one member identifies as LGBT – a first in Myanmar.

The National Unity Government and Generation Z offer Burmese society a vision of a more equitable, inclusive future – should democracy prevail.


By                        :                       Ei Hlaing   (Assistant Professor of Psychological Science, University of Lynchburg)

Date                     :                       May 12, 2021

Source                 :                        The Conversation


Why we must overhaul the funding of social movements

To adequately respond to the ongoing crisis of democracy, we must support care and protection strategies for activists.

Last year exposed the structural flaws of the multiple systems that hold our societies together. We witnessed broken health systems, crumbling democracies, increased repression, attacks on human rights defenders, the criminalization of movements and the pervasive violence that continues to proliferate across the globe.

As we enter 2021, we honor the lives of essential workers and health workers – as well as the many activists on the frontlines of movements defending land rights, natural resources, the right to have an abortion, workers’ rights, freedom of expression, sexual rights and gender expression, and many others.

We also honor and grieve the deaths of women activists who have been targeted for their activism and those who we have lost to suicide and chronic illness. We funders must now consider whether we are truly supporting the sustainability of movements and the safety of activists. To do so, we must analyze the context in which activists operate – by listening to those on the ground with first-hand knowledge of their needs and challenges.

When crises arise, funders are invited to be more flexible and willing to learn, adapt and take funding risks – as we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Some private foundations led by example, such as the Global Wallace Fund, which pledged to spend 20% of its endowment in 2020 on “organizations doing vital work to solve the social and economic crises sparked by COVID-19 while continuing to advance systemic change for people-centered democracies and fighting for a more just and sustainable economy.”

Changing the conversation on care

In the 1980s, ‘care’ was considered a practice innate to women (the caregivers) and a reflection of the societal sexual division of labor. In the decades since, the concept of care has been expanded upon by activists and practitioners. At the beginning of the 21st century, academics analyzed and reflected on the cost of care and started a conversation about the “economy of care”.

More recently, thanks to feminist activists and practitioners, the debate has moved towards care as linked to the protection of activists and the sustainability of movements. This important shift in the conversation brings us to the feminist phrase “the personal is political”, but this time focusing on the lived experiences of activists.

An important milestone in the conversation between activists and funders about care and protection was the 2007 publication of “What Is the Point of a Revolution if We Can’t Dance”, by Jane Barry and Jelena Djordjevic. More than 100 activists from across the globe contributed to the book, which was developed in partnership between women human rights defenders and Urgent Action Fund. They shared their experiences of burnout, exhaustion, isolation and illness, along with their intimate fears and struggles, and the book challenged the idea that self-care and community care are selfish acts that are disconnected from the work of activists to advance social change.

As funders we continue to grapple with how to best support activists, who often face criminal penalties for their work and who are part of organizations and movements that lack safety and protection strategies. We know that general support, multi-year grants and flexible grants are the best way to increase their safety and protection, as such funding allows organizations to plan ahead and be strategic with resources.

Developing new protection strategies

Many funders are unable to, or choose not to, provide flexible general operating grants. Often they develop capacity-building strategies, which aim to increase organizations’ digital and physical security, but do not include well-being and psycho-social support. Some funders provide emergency support for activists at risk, such as relocation funds, but do not include community-led strategies that aim to protect activists, their families and their communities.

Traditional funding strategies do not acknowledge cultural practices of care and protection, such as guardias Indígenas and rondas campesinas (both cultural practices of peasant and Indigenous communities to protect and take care of their territory and its inhabitants) or community-rooted spiritual expressions of care and protection, such as healing circles.

This is why women’s rights and LGBTQI activists in every continent have been developing and using individual, organizational and movement-level care and protection strategies and frameworks. These expand the notion of traditional physical and digital security to a more holistic idea of safety, focusing on care, well-being and the economic sustainability of activists and movements.

There is not a single strategy or framework being used across regions, movements or contexts. Activists use different strategies, sometimes simultaneously, depending on context. The following examples come from feminist and social justice movements in Latin America and the United States and are inspired by many global and local activists, organizers, human rights defenders, organizations, networks and movements:

Collective protection (protección colectiva). This concept is based on cultural practices that understand the individual as part of the collective, and protection as a value of the community as a whole – challenging traditional notions of protection, which focus only on the individual. It also emphasizes the idea of community safety, and cultural and conscious everyday practices of care and protection such as community patrol networks or Indigenous community protection guards (guardias Indígenas), rather than using external security forces.

The term, credited to Just Associates and the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras), is widely used by Latin American social justice movements. It conveys the idea of protection as contextual and relational; people across different organizations and movements share cultural knowledge and practices that commit them to protect and care for each other.

Healing justice. This term, credited to the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, is based on the notion that generational trauma is a product of colonization, systemic violence & oppression and it strongly impacts Black, Indigenous, people of color communities, LGBTQI people and people with disabilities.

The movement’s organizers, Black and people of color feminist leaders who were part of US southern movements in the early 2000s, feel healing and care strategies are integral to political liberation. They worked to reclaim traditions that had been stolen from them and built new collective practices rooted in a southern context and ancestral lineage that would support and sustain emotional, physical, psychic, spiritual, and environmental well-being by helping to heal and counter the ways in which oppression affects people’s bodies, hearts, and minds.

At the heart of this approach is decriminalizing practitioners and traditional practices of healing (such as midwifery) and building an awareness and critical analysis of racism, slavery, and colonization and their impact for the collective care of Black people and people of color movements and communities.

Holistic security. This widely used term is credited to US social justice movements inspired by Occupy Wall Street. It was later used by Tactical Tech and adopted by many international human rights organizations, and it refers to a strategy that includes digital security, psycho-social well-being, and organizational security processes, in addition to the traditional focus on physical security.

Integrated feminist protection (protección integral feminista). This strategy, which originated from the Latin American feminist movement and has been developed and adopted by the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders and Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca A.C., references and addresses the links between gender discrimination and violence against women human rights defenders and focuses on building strong protective community networks to enhance resilience.

Politics of care. This framework, which also stemmed from the feminist movement, looks at the issue of care through a political and feminist lens. This notion, expanded on by Urgent Action Fund Latin America and the Caribbean, encourages the “mainstreaming” of well-being, self-care, collective care and sustainability across an organization’s structure (in policies, decision making processes and community organizing models).

Protecting ‘Territory, body and spirit’

Over the past decade, the women’s rights and human rights philanthropic sector have worked to pay more attention to movement safety and to fund these protection strategies. Funders are also increasingly concerned with the best ways to support care, healing justice, well-being and prevention of burnout.

But good intentions are not enough. To embrace care and protection is not to simply develop a healing program, or hire a consultant to write a well-being manual for the organization, or fund workshops on collective care. These often do not trickle down to the organization’s base or its community – and might not achieve the needed cultural transformations.

To adequately respond to the ongoing global crisis of democracy, we funders need to make a paradigm shift in funding. We must broaden our understanding of care and protection, by listening to activists.

We invite the funder community to join us in questioning our own power and privilege. We must recognize that for human rights defenders, especially Black and Indigenous women human rights defenders, protection is not limited to humans alone. An anthropocentric view leaves unrecognized the fact that care and protection are intrinsically linked to our surroundings and environment. Women defenders of the Amazon have referred to this as “territory, body and spirit”.

The Urgent Action Fund Latin America argues that “there is a need for an intercultural approach to funding”. A dialogue between cultures is needed to understand the deep meaning of care and protection and to learn from one another. In short, we must become aware that care and protection are practices reflected in the way we relate to one another. This also includes grantee-funder relationships.

To start a conversation within our funding community, we have developed a set of recommendations to consider when thinking about expanding funding strategies to increase movement safety, well-being and long-term sustainability.

Implement care and protection funding strategies. Set aside resources to support care and protection practices – including for digital safety, as many activists and organizations continue to be targeted online. Communicate to your grantee partners that such funding exists, encourage its use and make it accessible with limited reporting.

Remember that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ care and protection model. In order to be effective, care and protection strategies should be local and should be rooted in grantee partners’ cultures, experiences, skills and needs.

Recognize economic security as integral to the care and protection strategies you support. This means promoting and supporting grantee partners’ fair wages, caring work cultures, and strong labor practices. By funding organizations and collectives to have enough resources to support staff salaries, we also contribute to activists’ livelihoods, well-being, and safety; and their ability to continue to do their work.

Include and fund well-being. Make resources available to address burnout, trauma, grief and psycho-social support for staff and leadership of organizations. Remember that activists are likely supporting themselves, their organizations/collectives, communities and families. Well-being also has to do with addressing different forms of oppression inside of our organizations, such as racism, patriarchy, ableism, classism and LGBTQI phobia, and the impact these have on individuals, organizations, and movements.

Promote and fund collective rather than only individual protection strategies. Promote shared leadership models within organizations and movements, as activists are less likely to be targeted if they are not the only visible leaders in their communities. A single attack is designed to have a ripple effect: when an activist is attacked, the effect is felt by their family, organization, community and movement. After an activist is attacked, it is common that inter-organizational conflicts arise, and trust is diminished.

Consider how your funding practices may be contributing to the stress and urgency that movements are experiencing and inadvertently putting activists at risk. Do not try to respond to an emergency by making rapid-response grants without having strong and necessary grantmaking infrastructure, internal capacity and the knowledge and care of what emergency grantmaking entails. Make sure your foundation’s pace and sense of urgency does not impact grantee partners and that your grants management practices are not unnecessarily burdensome.

Avoid putting those you seek to support at risk. Put in place secure digital platforms to communicate with and about grantees. Do not use the names of countries or grantees at risk in non-digitally secure platforms. Consider not listing the names and grant amounts of grantees in countries where social movements are being targeted. Ensure that resources are disbursed safely, especially in contexts where there is government scrutiny of foreign funding. Do not generate international visibility for organizations without checking with grantee partners first. More visibility in repressive contexts could be counter-effective.

Consider being more flexible and creative when supporting organizations in democratic crises. Be willing to explore different funding strategies and mechanisms, support organizations to do context analysis, and listen to the solutions proposed by the organizations and movements that know their own challenges, risks and contexts best.

Strengthen care and protection movements at large. Fund movement infrastructure, such as safety houses and collective care houses for activists and spaces for reflection and knowledge building, such as research and conferences on this issue area, and by directly supporting and strengthening “care and protection” practitioners, advocates, and trainers.

Recognize that resources are needed to support the collective care and protection of multiple bodies and abilities. Consider funding organizations working on disability justice and organizations wanting to learn from and implement a disability justice approach to their work. Since access to care is related to assumptions of what bodies are valued and which are expendable, disability justice does not only apply to individuals with different abilities, but rather can be an approach to supporting more sustainable activism. It is also a way to support the protection and safety of all bodies.

Fund the sustainability of movements by responding to the current emergency with a long-term funding strategy. Funders need to adapt to the needs and contexts of organizations and movements, respond strategically to the emergency, and invest in the long-term financial resilience of organizations and movements.

We must ensure our grantees have the resources to get through the current crisis, and are able to continue to help us build and imagine a better future for all.

These recommendations were developed by Cara Page (Changing Frequencies), Mónica Enríquez-Enríquez (Foundation for a Just Society), Somer Nowak (Foundation for a Just Society), Tatiana Cordero (Urgent Action Fund Latin America) and were inspired by Astraea Foundation’s Healing Justice 2019 Report and a 2019 mapping on Holistic Safety and Collective Care conducted by lead researcher Sandra Ljubinkovic for Foundation for a Just Society.


By                                :                      Tatiana Cordero Velásquez & Mónica Enríquez-Enríquez

Date                            :                       January 15, 2021

Source                        :                       Open Democracy


Senegal's Democracy Faces a Crisis of Public Trust

Senegal is easy to admire.  It’s long been one of Africa’s most stable democracies, where vigorous debate and dissent are part of peaceful democratic discourse. It has maintained its security and territorial integrity, managing to avoid becoming engulfed in the instability that consumes so much of the Sahel. In fact Senegal is a security exporter, providing significant numbers of military personnel and police to UN peacekeeping missions.  A cultural powerhouse, it is a Muslim-majority country that defies stereotypes.

But the latest news from Senegal is worrying, and it forces observers to grapple with the country’s complexities and challenges.  On March 3, opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was arrested for participating in an unlawful demonstration while on his way to court to respond to rape allegations against him. Mass demonstrations followed, as youthful Senegalese took to the streets to oppose what they see as a pattern of politically motivated prosecutions (two major candidates were excluded from the 2019 election, which gave incumbent President Macky Sall another term, due to convictions in corruption-related cases). In addition, demonstrators expressed frustration at limited economic opportunities made even more scarce by the pandemic. Eight people were killed in the protests, and while tensions have eased somewhat since Sonko’s March 8 release on bail, more protests are planned for the days ahead.

Ironically, it was youth-driven civic action that helped bring Sall to power in the first place: the Y’en a Marre movement mobilized against efforts by Sall’s predecessor to seek a third term in office. Senegal’s history and culture of civic engagement have been a source of strength for the country, reinforcing principles of democratic accountability. But this will remain true only insofar as leaders respond to popular concerns and democratic institutions demonstrate the integrity essential for maintaining public confidence. Meanwhile, Sonko harnesses popular frustration with his anti-French rhetoric, reinforcing a troubling notion that the state and its economy are structured to serve narrow elite interests rather than the wider population.

Senegal’s democracy is resilient, but it will take more than just resolving the Sonko case to restore popular trust in the state. Adherence to term limits in the 2024 election—which would require President Sall not to seek a third term—accountability for both the powerful and opposition figures in the justice system, and a policy framework designed for the reality of Senegal’s demographic profile will all be essential for the country’s success going forward. 



By                 :                         Michelle Gavin

Date             :                          March 12, 2021

Source         :                          Council on Foreign Relations


Democracy has always been fragile in Southeast Asia. Now, it may be sliding backwards

Just five years ago, many people were optimistic that Southeast Asia had finally turned the corner when it comes to democracy.

Myanmar’s military had finally loosened its decades-long grip on power when Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won elections in 2015. Three years later, Malaysia’s opposition party swept the long-serving Barisan Nasional from power — the first regime change in the country since independence in 1957.

These were seismic political shifts. More importantly, both changes in power took place after free, albeit not completely fair, elections. There was no bloodshed involved.

Democracy rollbacks from Manila to Naypyidaw

Today, that optimism has gone.

Much of the world’s attention has been on Myanmar’s implosion following the military coup in early February, which has resulted in scores of civilian killings and disappearances. But democracy has been rolling back across the region.

In Thailand, we are seeing the return to a monarchy-military rule with the new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, demanding changes to the constitution to grab more executive powers for himself and take direct control of Crown Property Bureau, which manages the royal fortune.

In the process, he has become one of the richest monarchs in the world, with wealth estimated at between US$60-70 billion.

Crackdowns under Thailand’s infamous lese-majeste law (better known as 112) have intensified. People are regularly targeted under the laws for anti-monarchy social media posts, and last year, the government took legal action against Facebook and Twitter for ignoring requests to remove content it deemed against the law.

Worryingly, several prominent Thai dissidents have also died mysteriously in neighbouring countries.

In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte took power in June 2016 and started a popular campaign against drugs that has led to the deaths of some 12,000 people.

Duterte has also gone after the media for reporting on the killings, with one high-profile government critic being found guilty of libel last year. The country’s largest broadcast network, ABS CBN, was shut down by allies of Duterte in Congress, as well.

Optimism over the Malaysian Spring is completely gone. A year ago, the reformist Pakatan Harapan government collapsed and a new, all Malay-Islamic coalition came to power.

Given Malaysia’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, this backdoor establishment of Perikatan Nasional is not a positive sign for democracy.

Then, last month, the government declared a state of emergency and suspended parliament for six months. Many believed this was done to prevent the opposition from mounting a challenge to the new government.

Singapore, the richest state in the region, stubbornly remains under the stranglehold of the People’s Action Party, which just won another election last year. The PAP has been in continuous power since 1959.

The only bright spot in the region appears to be Indonesia. But there are dark clouds on the horizon. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appears to be backtracking on reforms and pandering to the Islamists, who are keen to make Indonesia into a quasi-Islamic state.

Why is democracy so fragile here?

All this is happening in the midst of China’s determination to position itself as the dominant power in Southeast Asia.

Beijing has sent a clear message that it does not really care what sorts of regimes or political systems are running the countries of Southeast Asia, as long as they acknowledge China as the undisputed regional power and do not question its sovereignty over the South China Sea.

This, of course, has indirectly strengthened the hand of the anti-democratic forces in the region, with some openly admiring the Chinese “strong state” system.

The pro-democracy camp, meanwhile, faces a sizeable dilemma. On the one hand, its supporters have been hoping for more help from the West, principally the US and Australia, to promote democracy in the region. On the other, they are worried they could be accused of being Western agents, driving people into the hands of the autocrats trumpeting populist nationalism.

Another challenge is the diversity of Southeast Asia. There is no single template or historical model for a stable and democratic political system in the region.

Most of the countries were colonised by European powers, who imposed their different political ideas on the societies they controlled. The one thing the colonial rulers did not do was promote democracy. They only did this after their former colonies became independent.

And by global standards, many of the nations in Southeast Asia are relatively young. Most of them were created after the second world war, and their boundaries and political systems were largely decided by their colonial masters.

This means the process of nation-building is ongoing, and the West should not assume these countries naturally aim to build liberal democracies.

In many of these countries, traditional power — often autocratic, feudal and authoritarian — lies just beneath the surface. In fact, many elites within them have ambivalent attitudes towards liberal democracy.

While they accept the concept of mass elections to choose political leaders, they also believe in the concept of “guided” leadership to elect the “right” kind of leaders.

Indonesia’s first leader post-indendepence, Sukarno, for example, was famous for practising a “guided democracy”, in which the government would force a political consensus and ensure elections were used to legitimise leaders hand-picked by the regime.

This is why cheating, vote buying and rigging the ballot box are common features in Southeast Asian elections — they are sometimes seen as justified to get the “right” kind of leaders.

There are no easy answers to the promotion of real democracy in Southeast Asia. We may simply have to wait for a generational shift before this takes root in the region. Young people do yearn for real democracy, but at the moment, they do not hold the guns or control the parliament.


By                 :             James Chin  (Professor of Asian Studies, University of Tasmania)

Date              :             March 31, 2021

Source          :             The Conversation


Book Review: The University and Social Justice: Struggles Across the Globe edited by Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally

In The University and Social Justice: Struggles Across the Globe, editors Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally offer a new collection exploring university-based activism and social justice movements around the world. With rich accounts that cover diverse repertoires of action and collective struggles, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in the state of Higher Education across the globe, finds Shreya Urvashi.

The University and Social Justice: Struggles Across the Globe. Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally (eds). Pluto Press. 2020.

Compiling an edited volume is always a daunting task; and to do so on a topic as contemporary and interdisciplinary as student struggles, even more so. In The University and Social Justice: Struggles Across the Globe, editors Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally do just that – and brilliantly. The book is a collection of studies on university-based activism, essential reading for anyone intrigued by the state of Higher Education in the world. Over the last few years, a lot has been said and written about social justice movements in universities all across the globe. Thus, to draw out researched pieces from amongst a barrage of fake news is a big task, yet extremely necessary at this juncture.

To the larger public, the university takes on a lot of different meanings. It is considered as a training ground for the elite or as an institution to reproduce the norms and cultures of the dominant few. Nevertheless, universities are also seen as sites of dissent, of unfamiliar ideas and of resistance. Campuses globally have turned into sites of struggle, with many of these struggles drawing on, as well as influencing, longer histories of popular resistance, broader social movements and radical visions of a fairer world. This book is an assemblage of such accounts of deep engagements with leaders and protagonists, activists and reformers. While some chapters are autobiographical ethnographies, others are historical analyses. Most adopt social science methods within a qualitative framework, looking at the characteristics of social movements, at the social, cultural and economic conditions on the ground and at political trends.

From student movements to staff unions, these twelve accounts from twelve different countries present the diverse forms that the fight for accessible, critical and quality public education has taken. For instance, Jamie Woodcock in his chapter gives an insider view of the student movement in the UK, looking at the recent genealogy of the twenty-first-century student movement and the extension of these skills and knowledges. He identifies the different types of students who organise, and how they apply the skills learnt during their participation in the movement in their later lives. In a similar vein, Juliet Le Mazier explores the repertoire of actions and tactics available to the French student struggles over a longer timeframe, and the tensions in the emphasis on those tactics when deployed by different political tendencies.

Prem Kumar Vijayan considers student movements as both left-leaning and progressive, as well as conservative and having reactionary tendencies, in his discussion of Indian activists. He problematises students as ‘unruly’. Although the chapter is mostly filled with theorisations of the different concepts of Higher Education from access to exclusion, Vijayan manages to give a very informative account of the tensions and contours of student organising happening in India. In another account from Asia, Sarah Raymondo and Karlo Mikhail I. Mongaya write about a very intriguing relation between sports and activism, with a coach saying that ‘basketball is life’. The chapter goes on to discuss Higher Education in the Philippines with the struggle between postcolonial and transformative education. The authors consider the tensions between education and social change, and delve into the role of militant organisations in the larger struggle for social and economic justice.

The place of university-based struggles for social justice is seen through the discourses and practices of nationalism in rosalind hampton’s evaluation of the Quebecois movements and Gülden ?zcan’s account of the Turkish student movement. Being from a different part of the world, I hardly knew about these except from coverage in the global news, such as of the Turkish movement in 2016. Thus, while I am not equipped to say whether the complexities were delved into sufficiently, the chapter was informative and led to a lot of food for thought.

Latin American student political activity is fascinating in more ways than one, since not just university, but even secondary school students are involved in the struggles. In one chapter, Javier Campos-Martinez and Dayana Olivarria talk about the social and political gains made through university activist politics in Chile, focusing on the generation born after the end of the dictatorship around the 1990s. Alma Maldonado-Maldonado and Vania Bañelos Astorga discuss recent events in the Mexican student movement in a similar vein. These accounts give an insight into the temporality of student movements, with them being a long and continuous process, constantly learning from past events.

The book mentions the Palestinian cause in two chapters. Using San Francisco State University (SFSU) as a case, Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi and Saliem Shehadeh discuss a lot of pertinent issues regarding activism around Palestine. The chapter covers racism, communalism, privatisation as well as the corporatisation of Higher Education through attempts to regulate university spaces and suppress voices. The chapter states that while there have been what one could call ‘little victories’, the movement is a work in progress and it is far from over at SFSU. In another account, Lena Meari and Rula Abu Douhu focus on the complex issue of the tensions between class and national liberation struggles in the Palestinian student movement, focused on Birzeit University, Palestine. Reading this chapter was in part challenging, especially with the numerous names and events mentioned, but for the most part it was a wonderful read.

Finally, there are two chapters about Africa. I had made a conscious attempt while reading the book to not look at the content first so as to feel a bit of suspense every time a new chapter, and with it a new country, came up. When I was ten odd chapters down, the absence of Africa from the discourse started to seep in, but that is when the chapter by Asher Gamedze and Leigh-Ann Naidoo appeared. The chapter discusses South Africa; it begins with the famous Rhodes Must Fall movement and goes on to talk about the racial bias of academic publishing and knowledge production. While every non-Western scholar is familiar with this situation in some ways, there is an impressive discussion of a project centred on a decolonial methodology to produce a movement record, a publication (or what they call publica(c)tion) that drew on the range of struggles across South Africa and engages local and specific issues alongside providing a pedagogic project. As the activists put it, ‘Publication is a mode of public action’.

Next, Rhoda Nanre Nafziger and Krysta Strong write on the forms of student struggles in Nigeria. As is the case in many former colonies, Nigerian students have historically played a critical role in social struggle, but in the near past have somewhat lost their focus. They are what the authors call a ‘contested elite’ – being an enforcer of sociopolitics but also a Gramscian elite. Students are in a state of paradox where on the one hand, they are supposed to promote the norms and culture of their society (as opposed to external forces), and on the other, are supposed to be the harbingers of change to prevalent conditions. This dilemma puts students in a peculiar position, and at constant loggerheads with state forces. The Nigerian student struggles are a depiction of this tension since successive governments have attempted to suppress student bodies, while the organised student bodies continue to maintain a certain degree of independence. While there have been positive outcomes, the Nigerian student still enters into the legacy of a complex student body.

One of my reasons for taking up this book was my own engagement with education and student movements over the years, and it was a pleasant surprise to see the depth of these explorations and the broad range of political tendencies explored, with Australia being the only continent left out. Further, the representation of authors, albeit better than most literature on this issue, could be improved with more writers of colour and different genders being included. Nevertheless, this curated work comprises an undeniable richness due to its multifarious texts covering diverse repertoires of action; and it is exactly the kind of collective analysis we need to understand contemporary university activism.


Shreya Urvashi is a research scholar based at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She writes about sociology of higher education, sociology of identity and politics.

Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of USAPP– American Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics. 


By                        :                           Shreya Urvashi

Date                    :                            February 28, 2021

Source                :                             LSE Blogs Phelan US Centre


                               Photo by :   Mostafa Meraji (Unsplash)


What’s in a social justice diet??


It’s perfectly possible to eat with equality and sustainability as priorities.

Billions of dollars are spent telling individuals how to eat healthy. But even if you follow EAT-Lancet’s planet-friendly diet to a T, and your dinner plate is filled with gluten-free nutrivore fare, vegan locavore leafy greens, and ovo-pescatarian (wild caught!) omega-3’s, it still might be missing something. America’s industrialized food production and the dire nature of our planetary health raise the question: How do we add climate and social justice to our diet?

This year, members of the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will convene to update their recommendations. But this effort to help guide Americans toward a “balanced” diet is also the product of lobbying by the dairy, grain, and meat industries, which have long been accused of pursuing dollars at the expense of health.

Considering the impact of environmental racism and the number of food deserts in the United States, it’s clear that food production and consumption are not just about personal decisions. It’s about politics and systems that determine who has healthy grocery options available and who does not. Existing guidelines not only ignore the needs of the climate and rely on intensive factory farming practices, but they assign blame for poor bodily health and quality of life based on “choices” that, for many people, simply do not exist.

What would it look like to be able to eat with justice—social, racial, economic, and climate—in mind?


Honor tribal treaties and food systems.

Before we talk about eating, we have to talk about the land on which our food is grown. In contrast to the American colonial prioritization of extracting resources from the ground, rivers, and oceans, Indigenous food systems are built on a relationship with the land. But when Native peoples were forced to leave their lands—along with their soils and place-based expertise—they were robbed of the healthy diets they had developed over generations.

Genocide, forced assimilation, creation of reservation territories, and continuance of anti-Native policies have dispossessed Native people of two kinds of wealth: the ability to truly self-govern and manage their land, and the ability to build capital, which would enable individuals to make choices about how to live a healthy lifestyle.

“What we’ve noticed, and what I’ve aimed to do, is promote the simple enrichment of diets through our traditional foods, because we know that eating just one traditional food meal a week changes the blood,” says Valerie Segrest, a member of the Muckleshoot tribe and a director with the Native American Agriculture Fund. According to a 2019 U.N. report, Indigenous peoples steward 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity—plant and animal species that are essential to climate health.

But the U.S. government has an abysmal record of breaching treaties made with Native governments. And by replacing Native food systems with industrialized versions, Segrest says the U.S. harms the land and public health simultaneously. Native leaders, U.S. scientists, and public health officials say that chronic diseases, including diabetes, didn’t exist in Native communities until the mid-20th century. Now, Native people have the highest rate of diabetes of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S.

Segrest has worked with all of the tribes in Washington state to teach the importance of traditional ingredients and says that Native foods are the remedy to this health crisis: “What’s good for an Indian is good for everybody.”


Grow knowledge and anti-racist practices.

Ayanna Jones is a Black farmer, educator, and community organizer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She lives in a majority-Black community, which runs up against a number of institutionalized racist practices. “Food justice is huge for us,” Jones says, detailing how her community’s food options are limited to local grocery stores that often sell low-quality or spoiled produce.

The stores offering higher quality and healthier options are intentionally located in the wealthy White communities, where customers are thought to be more interested in and able to pay for them. For those who can afford to travel to these neighborhoods to shop, their dollars end up leaving their own communities.

With this in mind, Jones says she began to think about what it would look like to grow her own food, to become self-sufficient. She wanted to find a way to show young people in the community that their bodies were worthy of food that is not rotten or laden with sugar and salt.

In 2015, Jones started the Sankofa Village Community Garden to provide anti-food-apartheid education and community programs, including gardening for seniors and summer camps for youth. Here she teaches young people how to produce their own food and how their bodies feel when they eat food that’s good for them.

“I give them that mental food,” Jones says. “They’re discovering the myths they’ve been given about food and food justice.” But even when one learns that sugar-filled cereal won’t sustain a child throughout the school day, if parents aren’t paid a wage that allows them to purchase healthier options, it’s difficult to turn knowledge into action. Still, Jones believes that “information is power”—that knowing is better than not knowing. “I’m growing to educate,” she says.


Shift food policy by buying regionally.

In nearly every corner of the country, it’s cheaper to purchase a liter of soda than it is to buy a head of broccoli; a 2013 study found that a “healthy” diet cost $550 more per person per year than an “unhealthy” one. For a family of four, that’s an extra $2,200 each year. “The system is set up to feed poor people more poorly,” says fifth-generation farmer Andy Dunham, who runs an organic vegetable operation in Grinnell, Iowa. “The only reason that soda is so cheap [is because] the United States government subsidizes the hell out of those crops: sugar cane and corn.” Billions of federal dollars are disbursed annually growing Big-Ag products: corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice, and to industries like big beef and big pork rather than small family farmers.

“I don’t think people have any idea about how much we spend on policy that [is] environmentally degrading,” Dunham says. To combat today’s industrial production, he calls for establishing ecologically diverse farming systems and a managed grazing system that allows soil to sequester carbon. And empowering people to know the difference. If consumers and voters understand the environmental implications of what they’re purchasing and which businesses they’re supporting through their consumption, then food policy at the federal level might look different. “Having a food literate society allows for policy to be sane,” he says.

In terms of what that translates to on the plate, Dunham says climate justice eating is about having a region-based diet. That doesn’t always mean picking plants over meat; it means taking into consideration where your food was raised and what kinds of energy, chemicals, and transport went into that process. You may need to change your approach to menu planning to reflect what’s in season, rather than relying on production somewhere that’s enjoying summer during your winter. This approach supports local farmers and keeps the carbon footprint of your food relatively low.


Support community-run collectives.

All forms of structural inequalities are made visible in the industrialized food system—from production to consumption, says Victor Brazelton, a community activist and educator with Planting Justice, an Oakland, California-based grassroots organization that works to cultivate food sovereignty, economic justice, and community healing through individual and communal empowerment. Planting Justice hires organizers, farmers, and activists who were formerly incarcerated. Part of its work is to combat current-day colonization and community displacement by building access to organic food through community gardens and educating kids about what healthy food looks and tastes like. “Food is medicine,” Brazelton says. Sustainable farming practices heal people and the planet.

“Community first starts wherever you are,” Brazelton adds, which includes acknowledging and collaborating with the people who originally stewarded the land. In the East Bay of California, the state government forced Ohlone tribes from their land through violence, but despite this, they still live and practice Ohlone culture today in what’s now called Oakland. Planting Justice developed a partnership with the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, which works to repossess stolen Ohlone land. Planting Justice is currently working to pay off a 2-acre land parcel, and when it does, it will hand the deed over to the Land Trust.

“What’s really important is people having agency over their food,” says Molly Scalise of FRESHFARM, a D.C.-based food justice organization. FRESHFARM brings healthy food directly to communities through farmers markets, in-school programs, and gleaning programs, which distribute unsold produce to shelters. The organization also runs a farm-share through local schools, where parents can purchase produce at a subsidized rate using SNAP benefits. Scalise says this is necessarily a collaborative effort with D.C. residents to make sure it’s “not invasive or intrusive.” She says solutions arise from working with neighbors and communities.

The goal is making options more accessible to consumers in order to impact community health while ensuring that local farms remain profitable.


Develop relationship-oriented food systems.

How can we begin to talk about justice when those most impacted have the least access to decision-making tools and systems? That question is at the center of Jamie Harvie’s work. Harvie is the executive director of the Institute for a Sustainable Future, which works to build solutions for ecological health through advocacy and research. A food justice diet, he says, must mitigate climate impact, reduce poverty, and ensure that decision-making processes include those most impacted.

Ultimately, Harvie says, what’s good for the climate will be good for people too. But White, Western, colonial systems have conditioned many of us out of the understanding that food systems and communal health are connected.

Food justice must return systems to communities, Harvie explains. Organizations like Oregon Rural Action tackle food injustice from a farming and policy perspective, by working to change state laws that allow farmers to sell directly to consumers, as well as collaborating with the state’s Department of Energy to provide low-interest loans to schools upgrading their energy systems, and building access to local farmers markets. Local food systems that are communally owned and operated allow for communal wealth creation. This means that food is not only eaten in the same region where it is produced, but the financial and public health benefits uplift the community as well.

Tying together food and climate justice isn’t an intellectual exercise, Harvie notes. Justice work, in any form, is about creating and sustaining relationships with one another, including the relationships with the Earth and our food systems. We have to do the hard work of moving from a transactional, colonial, and capitalist model of feeding ourselves to a relational model of feeding and caring for each other.


This article was first published in YES! Magazine under a different stand-first and lead image.


By                   :                     Ray Levy-Uyeda

Date               :                     September 15, 2020

Source           :                      Open Democracy


Youth of color disproportionately represented in the justice system


Teenagers and youth across the country commit the same types of crimes – carrying a weapon, drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and fighting – but even as the number of incarcerated youth has declined, disparities affecting young people of color have continued to grow.

This overrepresentation of minority youth is only half of the picture, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed, along with other reports. 

Youth of color account for 28% of the U.S. population in 2017, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. However, they represented 67% of offenders in residential placement, according to Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 

Joshua Rovner, a senior advocacy associate for the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., said there isn’t a significant difference between the crimes committed by youth of different ethnicities. The overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system originates from systemic inequalities. 

“There are differences, but none of the differences are big enough to explain the differences in arrests,” Rovner said. 

He said the disparity gets worse at every step through the juvenile justice system. 

Nationally, Black youth are five times more likely to be detained or confined than white youth, the Sentencing Project reported. Native American youth are three times more likely and Latino youth are roughly two times more likely than white youth. 

Growing up in Rochester, Minnesota, Dylan Sutter said he always helped out his single mother, took care of his younger siblings, never got into trouble and dreamed of playing college basketball.

Today, after a long history with the juvenile justice system, the 21-year-old sits in a cell in the Faribault Correctional Facility, where he’s serving a five-year sentence for burglary. 

“I never had problems with him when he was very young,” said his mother, Leslie Sutter. “He was never a troubled young man that I saw. But now when he describes things to me and he’s written me letters, he says, ‘Mom, I always felt like it was part of my future and my destiny to go to prison like my dad did.'”Experts point to many factors contributing to these disparities, including the disproportionate presence of police in communities of color. 

Minority youth lack “the benefit of the doubt,” said Tanya Washington, a senior associate for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore in its Juvenile Justice Strategy Group.

“I think (it’s) assuming that the behavior that (white youth) are engaged in warrants a call to their parents and a non-justice system resolution, versus youth of color, (which) almost by default involves police, in handcuffs, and a judge and a charge,” Washington said. 

Growing up in Rochester, Minnesota, Dylan Sutter said he always helped out his single mother, took care of his younger siblings, never got into trouble and dreamed of playing college basketball.

Today, after a long history with the juvenile justice system, the 21-year-old sits in a cell in the Faribault Correctional Facility, where he’s serving a five-year sentence for burglary. 

“I never had problems with him when he was very young,” said his mother, Leslie Sutter. “He was never a troubled young man that I saw. But now when he describes things to me and he’s written me letters, he says, ‘Mom, I always felt like it was part of my future and my destiny to go to prison like my dad did.'”Experts point to many factors contributing to these disparities, including the disproportionate presence of police in communities of color. 

Minority youth lack “the benefit of the doubt,” said Tanya Washington, a senior associate for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore in its Juvenile Justice Strategy Group.

“I think (it’s) assuming that the behavior that (white youth) are engaged in warrants a call to their parents and a non-justice system resolution, versus youth of color, (which) almost by default involves police, in handcuffs, and a judge and a charge,” Washington said. 

“I felt in high school, the principal and the administration had their eye on me a little too much,” he said. 

The presence of school resource officers often leads students into the justice system, known as the school-to-prison pipeline, for more arbitrary offenses. 

“I made a lot of mistakes and I maybe earned that target on my back,” Sutter said. “But even when I thought I was doing the right thing and wasn’t involved in any trouble, I felt like they still were out to get me.”

Black youth are the most overrepresented minority group, according to the Sentencing Project. In six states – New Jersey, Wisconsin, Montana, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts – they are at least 10 times more likely to be held, which is twice the national average. 

Disparities continue to grow in some states.

Kentucky decreased the overall detention rate for youth by 20% from 2014 to 2017, but detentions of Black children grew by 30% in 2017, according to the Kentucky Juvenile Justice Oversight Council. 

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when some detainees are being released to reduce their risk of infection, white youth are being released at higher rates than Black youth, a recent Annie E. Casey Foundation report found.

Black juveniles represent about 54% of youth transferred to the adult system, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice. 

Rachel Antonuccio, a juvenile public defender in Johnson County, Iowa, represents juveniles facing charges in adult court. She said most of the children she represents are kids of color in a state the Census Bureau says is 85% white non-Hispanic. 

“The initial charge is based on police discretion, and that’s how you start in adult court,” she said. “My concern is that racism in the police system is responsible for quite a bit of this, frankly. And then, racism across systems. That’s where it starts.” 

Police officers and college students surveyed by the American Psychology Association found that “Black (children) were rated as more culpable than Latinos, and Latinos were rated as more culpable than Whites.”  


Black youth treated differently

Black children as young as 13 have been viewed as adults, the report said.

“In other words, our findings suggest that, although most children are allowed to be innocent until adulthood, Black children may be perceived as innocent only until deemed suspicious,” it stated. 

Kameron Johnson, the chief juvenile public defender in Travis County, Texas, said perception of age is important to consider. 

Black children have “the same gestures and mannerisms, say, that a white child would, but (officers) are seeing them in different ways,” he said. 

Johnson said Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old killed by Cleveland police in 2014 while playing with a pellet gun, was prejudged by officers responding to a 911 call of a man brandishing a gun.

“They pulled a gun on him,” Johnson said. “The officer viewed him as threatening. And then the response (was), ‘Oh, he looked older than he was.'” 

Rice’s death, at the hands of law enforcement, is one of many that inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, which continues to gain traction through protests and national efforts to reform police departments.

The adultification of juveniles particularly affects youth of color, said Samantha Mellerson, the chief of strategy and impact at The W. Haywood Burns Institute, which works towards eliminating racial and ethnic disparities. 

“In a training session once, somebody (pointed out) the Dennis the Menace cartoon,” Mellerson recalled. “What would that look like if that was the Black boy? Totally different.” 

Mellerson said assumptions about children of color are unfair and that minority kids feel they can’t be kids.

Glenn said he grew up knowing police would assume he was older than he was. 

“Where I come from, in my type of neighborhood, you’re an adult as soon as you’re over 5 foot, 5 inches, that’s the way the police deal with you,” Glenn said. “They don’t deal with you like a child, they deal with you like an adult.”

Latino juveniles also face adultification, according to a 2016 report from the Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy, which stated, “Black and Latino boys were more likely than white boys to be seen as older by law enforcement and legal actors.” 

Black and Latina girls are not exempt either. Minority girls have a higher likelihood of being incarcerated compared with white girls. 

Black girls made up 34% of youth in U.S. detention facilities in 2019, while Hispanic girls accounted for 22%, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2015, more than 6 out of every 10 females in residential placement were minorities.

Iliana Pujols, 22, was expelled from high school after getting into an altercation with another girl. Pujols said police officers never asked her side of the story. 

“The immediate assumption was that I was the aggressor because I was a little bit bigger than the other girl,” said Pujols, who is Latina. “They thought I was over 18, but I’ve always presented myself as a very mature person, and an older person, so nobody knew that I was 16 years old at the time.”

Latino and Native American youth encounter unique biases within the juvenile justice system. Their identities are underreported and misrepresented in data, and they often face prejudice from law enforcement, experts said. 

Hispanic youth on average are detained about two times more often than white youth, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Edgar Ibarra, 27, said he felt police targeted him and presumed he was in a gang because of his Chicano Indigenous identity. 

Growing up fatherless, and with his mother constantly working, Ibarra said he had little guidance. Watsonville did not have enough youth services, Ibarra said, and he struggled to find a path in life. 

“The people that we looked up to were just kind of like the guys hanging out around our blocks around the neighborhood,” Ibarra recalled. 

Although Ibarra said he was not in a gang at the time, the juvenile justice system always treated him like he was. Police often would approach him and his friends if they were walking in a group, performing “tattoo checks” and taking down personal information. 

When he was 12, Ibarra was stopped by a police officer, asked to take off his shirt so his gang-related tattoos could be photographed – but he had none. 

“They’d put your name on there, they would determine what gang you were already going to be a part of and begin the whole process,” he said. 

Presumed gang affiliation is a prejudice most Latino youth face, said Washington, D.C., attorney Julie Swaney, which often is based on the assumption that a Latino or Hispanic surname means gang involvement.

“That already stigmatizes the child who may not be involved at all in any type of gang activity,” Swaney said.

Ibarra said his mother, who wasn’t a citizen at the time of his conviction, was barely involved in the legal process. 

“She never spoke up in court because she was scared that they might question her and she might get deported,” he said. “I thought that she was just the kind of the normal, soft-spoken … Mexican mother (who) just doesn’t want to change anything.”

Today, Ibarra works for Motivation Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA), an organization staffed by formerly incarcerated people whose mission is to “cultivate” change-makers. His work focuses on helping Latino youth avoid or navigate the justice system, using his own experiences to provide insight. 

In Utah, Montana and Pennsylvania, Latino youth are more than three times as likely to be held in placement than white youth, and in Massachusetts they’re more than seven times as likely, according to the Sentencing Project.

He was convicted for the first time at the age of 15 in Santa Clara, California, of assault and robbery. He was in the Preston Castle Reform School from 2008 to 2013. 

Although Ibarra said he was not in a gang at the time, the juvenile justice system always treated him like he was. Police often would approach him and his friends if they were walking in a group, performing “tattoo checks” and taking down personal information. 

When he was 12, Ibarra was stopped by a police officer, asked to take off his shirt so his gang-related tattoos could be photographed – but he had none. 

“They’d put your name on there, they would determine what gang you were already going to be a part of and begin the whole process,” he said. 

Presumed gang affiliation is a prejudice most Latino youth face, said Washington, D.C., attorney Julie Swaney, which often is based on the assumption that a Latino or Hispanic surname means gang involvement.

“That already stigmatizes the child who may not be involved at all in any type of gang activity,” Swaney said.

Ibarra said his mother, who wasn’t a citizen at the time of his conviction, was barely involved in the legal process. 

“She never spoke up in court because she was scared that they might question her and she might get deported,” he said. “I thought that she was just the kind of the normal, soft-spoken … Mexican mother (who) just doesn’t want to change anything.”

Today, Ibarra works for Motivation Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA), an organization staffed by formerly incarcerated people whose mission is to “cultivate” change-makers. His work focuses on helping Latino youth avoid or navigate the justice system, using his own experiences to provide insight. 

In Utah, Montana and Pennsylvania, Latino youth are more than three times as likely to be held in placement than white youth, and in Massachusetts they’re more than seven times as likely, according to the Sentencing Project.

Like Sutter, Ibarra said going to jail felt like the path he was destined to take.

“I thought (going to jail) was OK, it was normalized,” Ibarra said. “It should’ve never been normalized, it should’ve never been internalized nor should ever have been OK, but growing up at the time, that’s what it was.”

Jaime Arredondo, executive director of CAPACES Leadership Institute, an organization focused on leadership development within Latino communities, said he worries about the effect of disproportionate incarceration has on Latino youth. 

“We’re losing our youth, we’re losing our workers, we’re losing a brother, a sister, a potential entrepreneur, a taxpayer,” he said. 


Statistics on Latinos ‘unreliable’

No uniform system of data collection exists to identify youth as Hispanic and Latino when they’re detained, according to Melissa Sickmund, director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice. Some systems, but not all, include multiracial as an identifier. 

Rovner said data surrounding incarceration rates of Latino and Native youth can be unreliable. Often Latino or Hispanic youth are categorized solely as white, and Native youth are identified as Latino or Hispanic. 

“The fact that the data is aggregated, or disaggregated, and just grouped in such a way that each kid only gets one ethnicity,” said Rovner from the Sentencing Project. “Well, half of Native youth in this country are also Latino, but they get categorized only as one or the other.”

Data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows Native American youth are nearly three times as likely to be detained or committed than white youth, but Native Americans account for less than 2% of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau.  

“Native American youth are bearing the brunt of this in an epic way as well,” said Tshaka Barrows, CEO of the W. Haywood Burns Institute. “But it’s rarely discussed.”  

A 15-year-old boy from Wyoming received 20 years in prison after bringing two loaded guns to school when he was 14. He pled guilty to assault and possession of a firearm with unlawful intent. Dale Warner, originally from the Lakota Sioux Tribe on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, faced difficult circumstances growing up, according to his adoptive family. 

Warner developed a fetal alcohol syndrome disorder as a baby, a common issue in Native American communities plagued by higher rates of alcoholism and a lack of preventative resources, a BMC Public Health study stated.  

His adoptive father, Scott Warner, said his son met a harsher judicial process than white youth who had committed similar crimes in Gillette. 

“I honestly think race had something to do with it, because it just seems weird how the other cases, and I’m going to say there’s probably three or four of them, never saw the light of day as far as adult court or any of that,” Scott Warner said. “Yet my son all a sudden has 20 years in prison.”

Swaney, the Washington attorney who works on the Criminal Justice Act Panel and the Juvenile Delinquency Panel, said the solution is preventing kids from ever getting to the courthouse door. 

“If they need to be in the court system because of the severity of the offense or because there just has been repetitive activity of that nature, then we need to focus more on what types of things are actually effective at preventing or solving some of those problems,” she said. 

LaTasha DeLoach, co-chair of the Iowa Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee, said it is important to use data to create solutions for disparities and create positive results for minority communities.  

“I really believe the answer is always there.” she said. “It’s about us finding it and finding the things that are impacting kids that are ending up in this space.” 


Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw is a Murray Endowment fellow.

This report is part of Kids Imprisoned, a project produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, a national investigative reporting project by top college journalism students and recent graduates from across the country. It is headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


By                :                   Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw, Nicole Sroka and Victoria Traxler/News21

Date            :                   September 2, 2020

Source        :                   Cronkite News


Book Review: A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice by Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman


In A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice, Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman explore how comedy can serve to advance a social justice agenda. Drawing on her own experience of writing and producing comedy shows in Berlin, Christine Sweeney finds that this book offers answers to questions she has long been pondering: how do we open up social research and discourse to wider audiences; how do we highlight the absurdities of our world, making us laugh and think? 

A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice. Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman. University of California Press. 2020.

‘If you’re thinking, you’re not laughing. Rule one of comedy,’ my stand-up teacher continued, ‘plenty of political comedians are skilled at this kind of humour, leave political or issue humour to them’. But if I wasn’t allowed to use politics and current events as comedy material, what would that leave? Stale observations about Tinder dates, eccentric people on the bus and worn-out gendered stereotypes? What is the dreadful state of current events if not prime material for comedy?

That’s right: I went from earning a master’s degree at LSE to a stand-up comedy class. I’ve also taken classes in improv, sketch-writing and sketch producing. How does someone go from a career in policy analysis to full-on immersion in the Frankfurt School of critical theory to chasing English-language open-mic nights in Berlin? For me, comedy was a coping mechanism I’d developed over the past few years of particular political uncertainty. Making jokes of everything was a salve for the sting of total disillusionment. It was an antidote to the earnest and material worlds of economics and politics, which I had come to regard with total cynicism and hopelessness. Once professionally driven to ‘make the world a better place’, the unexpected results of elections and referendums shattered my (naive and overly optimistic) world. I turned away from analysing and solving problems I felt were unsolvable.

With the state of the world, I might offer a revision to my stand-up teacher’s advice on political comedy: ‘If you’re thinking, you’re crying, not laughing.’ From a place of relative privilege, I wanted to stop crying when I thought about global problems of inequality and climate change. Laughing seemed to be the only alternative. However, I felt frustrated with a constructed dichotomy of the silly and serious when, more often than not, I found myself laughing and crying at the same cycle of news. In avoiding actually doing something about it, did I really have to choose between laughing and crying?

And we are more comfortable in knowing or being directed towards when we are meant to be silly versus sombre. Everyone knows the uncomfortable feeling of reacting to a joke that wasn’t intended to be a joke, or taking something seriously that was said in jest. Being able to manipulate people’s reactions with storytelling and context is a power I first witnessed seeing Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special Nanette. In it, she points out the heartbreaking real-life experiences of violence, poverty and homophobia that inspired her comedy. She has her live audience laughing before uncomfortably pausing when she explains the punchlines of her previous comedy sets. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that she manoeuvres using a dry tone and comedic timing, skills she honed during her previous career as an art history scholar. Her audience came for the comedy, but perhaps left with a deeper understanding of everyday homophobia and the male gaze in classical art.

How does a former academic learn to make others laugh? They research. And nothing makes a joke funnier than explaining it. In A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice, co-authors Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman do just that: they explain the joke. Or rather, they explain how comedy can serve to advance a social justice agenda. Perhaps Borum Chattoo and Feldman would argue that activism and comedy are each made better when they collaborate. With overlapping backgrounds in communication scholarship, media strategy in the context of social change and justice, comedy and creative media production, the authors bring a veritable Venn diagram of perspectives. The central argument is that ‘comedy’s potential for public influence in the context of social issues is newly powerful in the digital media age’. They suggest that comedy isn’t a tool for social justice strategic communications, but rather an artform to depict what public radio would call ‘the world’s most pressing issues’.

The book examines how different forms of mediated comedy, including satirical news, scripted episodic TV, comedy documentary, stand-up comedy and sketch, have the unique potential to increase message and issue attention, disarm audiences, lower resistance to persuasion, break down social barriers and stimulate sharing and discussion. If this sounds like a practical handbook for communication strategists more than an academic discourse analysis, you’d be partially correct. As someone who is professionally indecisive and curious to a fault, I’ve spent time in academia, social justice and comedy. My brain is constantly making jokes, and then overanalysing those jokes to a point where I am a bit too silly for academia and a bit too serious for comedy; this book quite eerily spoke to me.

A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar doesn’t argue for or against comedy as a vehicle for social justice. Rather, it lays out how convergence culture, the power of the media consumer to influence the media producer, has allowed for ‘niche’ comedy, from comedians previously regarded as ‘niche’, to use identity or format to send a message via a larger platform, thanks to technology. Whereas mediated comedy used to be censored by mass-market demands, ratings and the tastes of executive gatekeepers, streaming has expanded and diversified platforms for emerging voices.

In a world where news and entertainment are interspersed on news feeds, and ‘news’ takes on a double-meaning of current public and private events, ‘The News’ has expanded to cover more frivolous topics, like gossip and the personal lives of public figures. At the same time, entertainment has taken on more serious topics. The internet’s globalisation of both news and entertainment has also expanded access to diverse commentary on this content. An optimistic reading of technology’s power to connect us would suggest that it also has the power to build empathy, giving us access to the experiences and perspectives of others. According to Borum Chattoo and Feldman, comedy, sharing a joke, requires that comedians and audiences have a common understanding of current affairs, in order to then distort that reality. Global access to news media expands our shared library of comedic ‘material’. Those who deliver that comedy can describe the absurdity they experience every day. To quote fictional comedienne Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel, otherwise known as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel:

Comedy is fueled by oppression, by the lack of power, by sadness and disappointment, by abandonment and humiliation. Now, who the hell does that describe more than women? Judging by those standards, only women should be funny.

If oppression, lack of power, sadness and disappointment are the stuff of great comedy, perhaps we are in a Golden Age of humour. The mechanics of turning this dark matter into something that is at once funny and thought-provoking is another major theme of the book. Borum Chattoo and Feldman describe the ways in which satirical comedians like Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Samantha Bee effectively break down complex concepts, particularly in US and global politics, for issue awareness and social change. For example, ahead of the 2012 US presidential elections, Stephen Colbert made campaign finance law understandable, describing how money is effectively laundered to legally fund candidates. While his audience may not had gone out of their way to study complex campaign finance law, on his show comedy served as a primer to get people to pay attention. This is the role of comedy in social justice. Getting us to pay attention.

From a social science research perspective, Borum Chattoo and Feldman sprinkle in studies demonstrating comedy’s ability to promote information retention. In another, 20 minutes of stand-up comedy was comparable to 20 minutes of exercise in terms of promoting positive wellbeing. Other studies show the ways in which comedy induces ‘arousal and mirth’, disarming us and making us more playful. This openness helps us to see the world in new ways.

While satirical news shows like Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show and Oliver’s Last Week Tonight often preach to a progressive choir, scripted episodic television has the power to introduce social issues and diverse viewpoints to wider audiences. Borum Chattoo and Feldman give the example of Black-ish, a US family sitcom created by Kenya Barris. With Nielsen data suggesting that as many as 80 per cent of the show’s viewers since the 2016-17 season are not Black (62), the show has brought themes of racism and police brutality to those who may not have had personal experience of or previous engagement with these topics. Scripted television, particularly in the US, has served as a ‘centralised system of storytelling that shapes perceived social reality of its audiences’, or cultivation theory. Through this centralised storytelling, contact hypothesis suggests that ‘positive interactions between members of diverse social groups can reduce prejudice, providing opportunity to learn more about other groups’. In other words, scripted television has the power to build familiarity with those seemingly unfamiliar to us in our everyday lives, meeting viewers where they are in their understanding of cultural, gender and race issues.

A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar analyses other comedic forms like stand-up and sketch, which offer more intimate and agile modes of social commentary. Comedians can use deeply personal narratives to illuminate social justice issues, reframing the experiences of marginalised groups. Sketch comedy from shows like Saturday Night Live can more nimbly tackle news cycles with short-form parodies of current events.

Borum Chattoo and Feldman helpfully use specific global issues like climate change, poverty and inequality as examples of how comedy can bring people together to understand and care about the kind of topics that leave us feeling overwhelmed and helpless. When conventional news reporting shows the bleak realities of global warming and growing wealth inequality, comedy offers a way through fatigue and despair while staying engaged. Borum Chattoo and Feldman note that while environmentalists and humanitarians have long been doing the hard work of activism, they can be seen as didactic and aggressive.

Mediated ‘poverty porn’, images of starving children first featured in 1980s telethons to raise money for charities, has further fatigued audiences. These mediated narratives of poverty, while originally intended to build empathy, have reinforced damaging economic archetypes. A 2017 United Nations report on US poverty cited ‘caricatured narratives’ of poverty in the public mind, portraying the wealthy as moral and hardworking, and the poor as lazy and backward. Comedy has the power to challenge these narratives, skewering the status quo and the absurdities of systems that reinforce inequality. Crucial to social justice comedy’s ability to reframe narratives is punching up, rather than punching down: creating spaces for those who have experienced poverty to tell their own stories. In many cases, promoting storytelling involves expanding the comedy stage for comedians who have experienced poverty.

Among the most relatable chapters of Borum Chattoo and Feldman’s book are those focused on comedians’ perspectives as accidental or intentional social activists. Comedians like Hasan Minhaj (Netflix’s Patriot Act), Francesca Ramsey (MTV’s Decoded) and Issa Rae (HBO’s Insecure) share how, as members of marginalised communities in the US, they struggled to access the traditional stand-up club circuits, and instead got their start on platforms like YouTube.

While club circuits of the past have rewarded ‘lowest common denominator’ humour that speaks to mainstream (traditionally white, cisgender, heterosexual male) audiences, social media removed traditional gatekeepers, connecting audiences with comedians who reflected their own experiences. For many of these comedians, their lived experiences, real stories of discrimination and abuse, serve as their material in ways that can highlight the absurdity of racism and sexism embedded in mainstream culture. These comedians use humour to build empathy, illuminate, demystify, mock power, instruct, educate, humanise and represent. When your everyday experience of racism and sexism has not been previously represented, it becomes topical and imbued with social justice, whether intentional or not.

But what about when non-comedians seek to use humour to advance social justice agendas or when media executives and entertainers seek research and expertise to strengthen social justice comedy? Borum Chattoo and Feldman use interviews with emerging social justice communication firms and studio executives to suggest how activists and comedians can more effectively collaborate, making what is funny more informed, and what is informational more funny. They describe a careful balance of social activism groups serving as an information resource for entertainment, while respecting comedians as artists with creative licence. Too much information can outweigh comedy, while too little can trivialise serious topics.

Who is A Comedian and an Activist Walk into a Bar written for? The vagueness of the intended audience is both a strength and weakness of the book, further illustrating the oppositional forces of serious academic analysis that cause us to sit up straight and pay attention, and the comedy that disarms us and makes us laugh. The book offers answers to many of the questions I’ve had since grad school: how do we open up social research and discourse to wider audiences; how do we highlight the absurdities of our world, making us laugh and think? Comedy that does this well doesn’t make light of serious issues; it sheds light on them (sorry!). Bringing together researchers, activists and comedians can only serve to support more informed, engaged and hopeful audiences.


This review originally appeared at the LSE Review of Books.


Christine Sweeney writes and produces comedy shows in Berlin. Before that, she researched gender representation in media and earned an MSc in Media and Communications at LSE. Before that, she worked in international development and tech policy.


Date                             :                     October 18, 2020

Source                         :                    LSE UCentre's daily blog on American Politics and Policy


Why the fight for climate justice is a fight for justice itself


Movements are overlapping to take an intersectional approach to activism

Ask any guide, teacher or life coach, and they’ll tell you that the first step to breaking a pattern is identifying and recognizing exactly what it is.

When it comes to patterns of injustice, it appears COVID-19 and climate change are taking care of this first step for us.

The pandemic is exposing the vast inequalities in health and income across the globe. Racial and ethnic minorities are far more likely to die or be hospitalized after contracting the coronavirus. And in much of the Global South, lockdown measures have left children facing malnutrition and migrant workers stranded and out of work.

Similarly, 80 years from now, climate change could kill as many people as all infectious diseases, and these deaths will be concentrated in the world’s poorest countries.

There are countless more examples of injustices caused by inequitable global systems – from climate-induced migration to uneven access to health care to plagues of locusts causing food insecurity. It would be an injustice in itself to try and capture them all here.

What matters more is realizing that these are not different patterns of injustice that resemble one another. Rather, climate justice, social justice and racial justice are all one and the same.

So too, then, is the fight against them.

“We have to tackle these crises collectively, or we cannot tackle them at all,” says Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement in the U.S., who featured in a recent GLF Live.

“We need to address the inherent inequalities in our system that lead to some people breathing worse-quality air, experiencing the brunt of storms and being able to recover far slower than other people,” Prakash says. “Those inequalities almost always fall along lines of race, class and gender.”


The trails of legacies

The next step in tackling these injustices is a step backward, to understand the historical roots of where we are now. Global inequality has increased dramatically over the last 200 years, driven in large part by colonialism and industrialization, which drove economic development in Europe and its settler colonies but hindered it in other parts of the world. Climate change is exacerbating this inequality: the gap between the richest and poorest 10 percent of countries is now 25 percent wider than it would have been without global warming, according to one study.

In many cases, colonization also degraded the landscapes of colonized nations, making them particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, such as hurricanes. Deforestation in India has been attributed to the construction of railways by British colonialists, while much of the Caribbean was stripped of its forests to build plantations.

In Jamaica, for example, the colonial plantation economy has left a legacy of dependence on intensive agriculture, with sugar, bananas, cocoa and coffee still among the country’s major commodity exports. Slash-and-burn practices are widespread and, with their dangers amplified by climate change and global warming, are contributing to bushfires and deforestation. “A lot of these practices were inherited from colonialism – the idea of having to burn away vegetation to create space for added agricultural production,” says Jhannel Tomlinson, a Jamaican climate adaptation researcher and activist.

“Habits are hard to break,” Tomlinson adds, “and because these practices have been passed down through generations, it’s very difficult to tell farmers that they’re harming the environment, because this is all they know, and it’s hard for them to transition to a more sustainable way of farming.”


Intersectionality in environmentalism

Jumping back to the present, and into the climate space specifically, many activists are now calling for an intersectional approach to tackling injustices. The term ‘intersectionality’ refers to how different forms of social identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality overlap, particularly in the experiences of marginalized groups that often face multiple layers of oppression.

“It doesn’t make sense to just focus on a binary view, [such as] that all women are vulnerable and all men are privileged,” says Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, a researcher on gender and co-author of a CIFOR manual on intersectionality in forestry. “Issues of vulnerability that are faced by urban women, for instance, are much more linked to issues around pollution, waste and water management, whereas in rural areas, it’s more about agriculture.”

Rather than neatly dividing people into distinct categories, Sijapati Basnett believes it is important to recognize how overlapping identities can affect how they experience oppression. Much of her work focuses on Nepal, where caste, social class, gender and ethnicity all intersect to form complex identities that evolve over time.

“Sometimes development programs set quotas for low-caste women or ethnic-minority women without understanding that there are hierarchies within those groups,” she says, noting that some ethnic minority groups are in fact quite affluent. “We need to understand broad parameters of social difference but also have the flexibility to adapt and change.”


Diversifying the climate movement

Flexibility also means recognizing that some practices can unintentionally exclude people from these marginalized groups. The movement to ban plastic straws, for example, has been criticized as ableist, as it ignores the needs of people who might be unable to pick up a cup. Similarly, climate activist group Extinction Rebellion has been called out (and apologized) for relying on mass-arrest tactics that inherently exclude people of color.

Many climate activists of color have spoken out about the challenges of participating in a movement that, across much of the Global North, remains predominantly white and middle-class. “In a lot of places, I am usually the only person of color, which is a huge responsibility,” said Danick Trouwloon, a Netherlands-based activist originally from the Caribbean island of Curaçao. “All the faces are on you, and you become like an ambassador for any experiences with color. I struggled a lot with that.”

Yet communities on the frontline of the climate crisis have much to offer the climate movement, and Prakash believes it is crucial to ensure that they take an active role. “Many of the things that Greta Thunberg has been saying have been said by lots of Indigenous, black and brown leaders, particularly from island nations, for so long,” she points out. “And yet they have not been uplifted in nearly the same way.”

“Those closest to the pain can speak toward the solutions that we need with the greatest clarity,” adds Prakash. “It is absolutely essential that those folks have a place in our movements, otherwise we’re going to have major blind spots.”

This year’s mass demonstrations for racial justice are prompting many in the climate movement to engage more deeply with issues of race and ethnicity. “Something that I find really positive over the past month is how easy these discussions are to have now,” says Trouwloon. “In the past, you could often feel the tension in the room when racism was mentioned, but I think now people are really listening to each other.”

“That conversation is being had much more often now, and there’s a lot more space for me to say things that may be uncomfortable – but I speak to my experience.”


Building climate solidarity

One of the more uncomfortable realities of the climate crisis is the need for the world’s affluent citizens to cut their excess consumption and carbon footprints.

Global resource consumption is currently around 70 percent over the Earth’s regenerative capacity, according to the Global Footprint Network. Most of that excess is attributable to the Global North, with the average person in North America consuming almost six times as many resources as the average person in Africa, and around five times the planet’s biocapacity.

Some scholars and activists argue that the Global North has a moral duty to drastically cut its excess consumption in order to allow resources for the Global South to attain a decent standard of living. This process, often referred to as degrowth or a transition to a steady-state economy, involves a paradigm shift away from infinite growth in consumption and towards the pursuit of sufficiency.

Tomlinson believes the first step toward reducing consumption is at the individual level. “As individuals in the Global North, you need to recognize how you are contributing to these challenges and to see how you can live greener and cleaner,” she says.

And with funding at a premium for many grassroots climate-change projects, Tomlinson believes donations and volunteering can also make a crucial difference. “Where possible, individuals can contribute in cash, or in expertise to assist local communities in implementing these projects,” she suggests.

Equally important is the need to build solidarity across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and intergenerational lines. “Our allies in the Global North increasingly have a role to play in amplifying our voices,” Tomlinson continues. “They can utilize these platforms to highlight our plight in the Global South and to share some of the challenges we face.”

“It is an all-hands-on-deck moment to stop the climate crisis,” Prakash agrees. “Let’s be clear about that: young people cannot do it by ourselves – we definitely need other generations to team up with.”

Strengthening ties with the Global South could also bring valuable lessons for the climate movement in the Global North – such as learning from island communities on how to deal with scarce resources. “You have to make do with what you have,” Trouwloon says. “If you lose a fishery, you’ve lost that fishery. You can’t move up along the coast and find another area to exploit.

“That could be a metaphor for the entire planet – how we’re also an island in the universe. If we make a mess out of it, we don’t really have a Planet B.”


By               :                  Ming Chun Tang

Date           :                   September 7, 2020

Source       :                  Landscape News