“First it was Tunisia, then Chile and Turkey. And now Brazil. What do the street protests in such different countries have in common? Several things … and all amazing.
One. Small incidents that become big. In all cases, the protests began with localized events that unexpectedly become a national movement. In Tunisia, it all started with a young fruit vendor who could no longer bear the abuse from authorities and set himself on fire. In Chile it was the costs of universities. In Turkey, a park and in Brazil, bus fare increases. To the surprise of the protesters themselves – and governments – those specific complaints awoke echoes in the cities and became widespread protests on issues such as corruption, inequality, the high cost of living or the arbitrariness of the authorities.
Two. Governments react badly. None of the governments of the countries where these protests have erupted was able to anticipate them. At first they did not understood their nature and were not able to cope effectively. The common reaction has been to send riot police to break up demonstrations. Some governments go further and choose to send the army onto the streets. The excesses of the police or military further aggravate the situation.
Three. The protests do not have leaders or a chain of command. The demonstrations rarely have an organizational structure or clearly defined leaders. Eventually some of the protesters emerge as leaders, and are appointed by the others – or identified by journalists – as spokesmen. But these movements organize spontaneously through social networks and text messages, rather than have formal leaders or a traditional command hierarchy.
Four. There is no one to negotiate with or imprison. The informal nature, spontaneous and chaotic collective protests leave governments confused. Who to negotiate with? Who to make concessions to in order to appease the anger on the streets? How to know if those who appear as leaders really have the ability to represent and bind the rest?
Five. It is impossible to predict the consequences of the protests. No expert foresaw the Arab Spring. Until shortly before their sudden ousters, Ben Ali, Gaddafi or Mubarak were treated by analysts, intelligence and media as untouchable leaders whose hold on power was permanent. The next day, those same experts were all busily explaining why the fall of these dictators was inevitable. In the same way that it was not known why or when the protests started, we do not know how and when they will end, and what will be their effects. In some countries they have had major consequences, elsewhere they have resulted in only minor reforms. In others, the protests have toppled governments. The latter is not the case in Brazil, Chile and Turkey. But there is no doubt that the political climate in these countries is no longer the same.
Six. Prosperity does not buy stability. The main surprise is that these street protests occur in economically successful countries. Tunisia’s economy has been the best of North Africa. Chile is an example to the world that development is possible. In recent years it has become commonplace to qualify Turkey as an “economic miracle”. And Brazil has not only lifted millions of people out of poverty, but has even achieved the feat of reducing inequality. They have now a larger middle class than ever. So why take to the streets to protest rather than celebrate? The answer is in a book that the American political scientist Samuel Huntington published in 1968: Political order in changing societies. His thesis is that in societies undergoing rapid change, the demand for public services grows faster than the ability of governments to meet it. This is the gap that takes people to the streets to protest against the government. Along with other well-justified protests: the prohibitive cost of higher education in Chile, the authoritarianism of Erdogan in Turkey and the impunity of corruption in Brazil. Surely, in these countries the protests will subside. But that does not mean that the causes will disappear. That is Huntington’s unbridgeable gap.
And that gap, which produces political turbulence can also be transformed into a positive force that drives progress.”[h/t Ricardo Fuentes]
And here, in case you missed it, is the viral video ‘No, I’m not going to the World Cup’. 3 million hits and counting