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Six Things Tahrir Protesters Taught the World About Starting a Movement

Posted 1 month ago on March 3, 2014, 11:53 a.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: Revolution, The Square, Tahrir Square

Jehane Noujaim’s documentary The Square captures the urgent intimacy of the ongoing struggle in Egypt in a way that no news outlet ever could. Going beyond the simple headlines, the film drops viewers directly into the heart of the Egyptian revolution as we follow a group of young activists -- Ahmed, Khalid, Magdy, Aida, Ramy, and Ragia – risking their lives for a better future for their country.

Watching them resist corrupted powers, question their alliances, and ultimately reframe the Egyptian narrative is a thrilling reminder of what is at stake not just in Egypt, but in social movements around the world. Egypt’s revolution is often cited as the inspiration for the Occupy movement here in the United States. And although the two movements began with different goals— regime change in Egypt, financial reform in the U.S.— they both shared a larger feeling of disenfranchisement and signaled the return to street politics and the reclaiming of public spaces to force political change. In essence, Tahrir and Occupy represent civic engagement in the wake of failing policies.

The ideals and successes of the two also draw similar criticisms, not just from those in power who are either trying to oppose or hijack their momentum, but also from journalists and media who tend to be allergic to decentralized movements. Without even experiencing the events themselves, they define Tahrir and Occupy in outsiders’ terms, labeling both movements as failures.

Yet The Square digs deeper, showing viewers the anatomy of mass movements and the DIY ethos that drives those within to action. It shows you first-hand that decentralized movements aren’t about the headlines and the talking heads that define them, or, for that matter, the establishments that oppose them. They’re about the people and objectives within that propel them. The Square is an important film-- not just about Egypt, but about freedom movements and social change for an entire generation.

The Square is a snapshot of a greater uprising, a social shift that is interconnected with Occupy and others like it all over the world. And while some have turned their backs on protesters within both movements, The Square is a vital reminder of the lessons that Tahrir’s revolutionaries taught Occupy and the world, inspiring the disenfranchised to to turn to the streets to amplify their voices.

1. Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight

The American Revolution took eight bloody years before it led to independence. It took the United States 144 years to give women the right to vote. It has been fifty years since the March on Washington, and Americans are still fighting for civil rights for all. Radical social change is often the result of years of struggle. Instead of measuring political change in tangibles, look for it in the more subtle shifts of attitude and awareness of ordinary people. As one of the revolutionaries in The Square notes, watching children play “revolution” in the park – their innocent games mimicking the struggle of Egyptians for freedom and democracy – is the best indication of how deeply Tahrir has affected Egyptian society. It may take these very children to enact lasting change in Egypt. But it will come.

2. Revolution Is About Showing Up

Sign your petitions, send out your tweets – that’s all great when it comes to spreading the word globally. But real change happens on the ground. In Tahrir, protesters were targeted, beaten, and shot at, and yet the always returned, undaunted and ready to take on the powers that be. “The biggest mistake we made was that we left the square before the power was in our hands,” Ahmed Hassan laments in The Square. Revolution doesn’t happen from a distance. It requires you to put in the effort at the front line.

3. Start By Changing the Narrative

“The battle isn’t just in the rocks and the stones,” says Khalid Abdalla, the English-Egyptian actor who became the voice of the revolutionaries to the Western world. “The battle is in the images. The battle is in the stories.” In other words, revolutions aren’t just about who runs the country. They’re about who owns the narrative – the people in power or the people on the street? Whether in music, in media, in murals and graffiti, creative expression is vital, because it is how people give voice to their aspirations when the normal lines of communication are monopolized by the government. “A lot of people didn't feel that they belonged in Egypt during the Mubarak era,” human rights lawyer and Egyptian protester Ragia Omran explains, “so they never bothered to get involved or care about their community, but initiatives all over the country are reflection of this spirit.”

4. It’s Not About Democracy vs. Islam

It’s a pundit cliché to pit Islam against democracy. Talking heads love to talk about how Islamists are a threat to freedom and democracy, but they rarely if ever put them in the greater context of extremism, which exists in all religious faiths. Remember 90% of Egypt is Muslim. That means an overwhelming majority of Tahrir’s protesters, against both military rule and religious rule, are Muslims. When it comes to freedom, no one singular religion is the enemy. In Tahrir, “there was no such thing as Muslim or Christian,” Ahmed Hassan explains. “We were all present. We were one hand.”

5. Human Rights Violations Affect Us All

As a microcosm, Tahrir is about the future of Egypt. But as we learned in 9/11, the success or failure of democracy in a country like Egypt can have ripples across the world. One of Tahrir’s biggest protectors has been its international attention. The responsibility to keep Egypt in the narrative is a global one, because the more people tune in from abroad, the more accountable and transparent reform has to become.

6. If You Want The Story, Go To The People

The number one rule in understanding a revolution is to never believe the officials’ narrative of events. This is especially true when it comes to state-run media, which has the incentive of staying loyal to the regime in power. “Politics is not the same as revolution,” Khalid Abdalla explains. “If you want to play politics, you have to compromise.” If you want to know the real story, if you want to understand Egypt, you listen to the people on the ground, not the people in the government. Ahmed Hassan puts it best: “Only we can tell our stories.”

Samiezade’-Yazd is an Iranian writer and editor whose expertise falls into two categories: contemporary art/performance and the Middle East. Together, the two give her a unique perspective on the depth of a region that is usually overshadowed by its politics.

2 Comments

Police the Police

Posted 1 month ago on March 2, 2014, 3:49 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: police. meme wars, viral

4 Comments

Blueprint for the Future: Housing the 99%

Posted 1 month ago on Feb. 27, 2014, 3:14 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: Homelessness, Occupy Madison, tiny homes, housing, Direct Action

This article is by Damien Crisp

The future has not been written, but blueprints are being drawn up everywhere.

Many of us live as prisoners to architecture defined by capitalism. Rent is too high and far out of balance with wages. Mortgages are rigged against us.

We can pay and pay but still lose our home to foreclosure. The job market around you has collapsed and you live in fear of exile. We live in fear. Many people are homeless in the United States. Elderly and whole families unable to find shelter are becoming more and more common across the country. Homelessness and becoming a prisoner to your home mortgage are intertwined states.

What is the solution? There are endless solutions. Long term solutions demand redefining architecture, redefining the home, redefining homeless shelters, and redefining perceptions of homelessness. These solutions require lengthy dissections of our whole system but their need is immediate.

In Wisconsin, Occupy Madison occupiers collected energy leftover from the end of a successful occupation and focused on building an organization capable of redefining what it means to shelter the vulnerable homeless from economic violence.

Their tiny houses project has the promise of permanent revolution for Madison. Each homeless person, inside each tiny house, will become a homeowner and steward of projects on the land where houses are parked. Occupy Madison’s solution is: give people a home. Plans for OM’s tiny houses include composting toilets, structures wired to plug into both the grid and solar power sources, vented propane heaters for blistering Wisconsin winters and a water system.

The group imagines on-going construction leaving many tiny houses spread across the city. Mobility and adding sites are central to realizing this larger idea. Tiny houses are designed with trailers on wheels. Keeping homes mobile will allow owners to rotate through a circuit of sites. Becoming stewards for various spaces, every owner would play a role all along this network. Travelling with their house to points along a circuit, owners would have shifting views through windows as they switch parking lots. Tending to projects such as gardens established at all sites, everyone would contribute to projects sustaining the community without becoming fixed on one particular role. Expanding the projects’ map furthers potential for sustainability. One garden becomes two gardens, two become four and four become eight as the list of sites grows. Every additional site multiplies openings for new stewards.

As the circuit grows, it could become a community living visionary alternatives to our dominant order that question traditional parameters defining how living, home and survival are conceived. Purchasing just one site, however, has been difficult enough. Buying one site after another is an impossibility for now but Occupy Madison is working around this obstacle by connecting with churches willing to share their parking lots and surrounding land.

How did Occupy Madison shift from encampment to construction?

“Our encampment was one of the longest,” Occupy Madison’s Bruce Wallbaum said. “It was about 580 days. We found that people that camped and were part of the political protests joined with people who didn’t have homes.“

When Occupy Wall Street was in full swing and energy flowed towards occupations movements nationwide, Wallbaum says, their focus was the “greater political protest”. Special communities had developed within Occupy Madison and lasted after “greater political protests” under Occupy’s banner were pressed until dissolution under the boot of the all-knowing State. Small communities within communities, which had orbited within Occupy Madison at its encampment, were all seeking ways to create a better world with the collective energy they found together occupying. Several people from OM travelled to Eugene, Oregon and learned from a tiny house project there. Wallbaum recalls they found the same narrative there: collective growth during occupations and a shift from greater protest towards creating another world. Because Occupy Madison became a combination of occupiers with homes and Madison’s homeless, their shift from encampment towards building another world for the homeless was simply their group dynamic manifested into an idea.

The homeless population in Madison faces a hostile real estate owner’s market hell bent on constant production of high-end residential buildings with little consideration given to ensuring balanced growth for people from diverse economic circumstances. The city has a 2% real estate vacancy rate, which is only 1% higher than New York City. This creates a top end expensive housing market for owners and renters. It also exacerbates homelessness. The city briefly had more sway over development which ensured real estate plans included affordable housing . This attempt at balance came from legislation championed by future Occupy Madison activists.

Building a solution has been easier than challenging powerful local real estate developers with legislation. Support for OM’s tiny houses has been overwhelming, according to Wallbaum, who says the group struggles to plug in all who want to volunteer. Fundraising events have also seen overwhelming response. Still, OM’s vision faces a myriad of local zoning laws as well as the not-in-my-backyard syndrome which plagues many attempts at empowering, or even sheltering, people who find themselves homeless.

The tiny house movement is an escape for the homeless. Other models of alternative housing gaining popularity focus on building escapes from mortgages and and escapes from rent. Bruce Wallbaum says younger activists joining the tiny houses project see it not only as a solution to homelessness but as a solution to their own crisis of how to survive against the pressure of debt, against a flood of low wage jobs, against widening economic inequality. Escape from standard residential space, which demands its owners or renters play the game out of fear of homelessness, as well as escape through solutions to homelessness, could reach a depth of transformation comparable to any other powerful social revolution.

Too often “home” is narrowly defined by square feet, location, and income from full-time work. Too often “home” is defined by what we are told we deserve if we just work hard enough. Cracks in the illusion our system rewards hard work will not be repaired by raising more expensive condos or denying suffering under the thumb of capitalism all around us. Cracks in the illusion of our dominant order should be encouraged, not repaired, until the illusion shatters and leaves us free to redefine living on a large scale we can only begin to glimpse in projects like Occupy Madison’s Tiny Houses.

Damien Crisp is an artist, writer and activist. He has lived in New York City, Guadalajara. Mexico, and currently lives in southeast Tennessee. His writings can be followed on social media and blogs. He was a body, voice, and citizen journalist during Occupy Wall Street's time at Zuccotti Park, as well as a coordinator for Occupy Sandy.

18 Comments

Dear Occupy, I'm ready to proceed. #YouAreNeeded

Posted 1 month ago on Feb. 22, 2014, 12:11 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: ReadersWrite, You Are Needed

We received this dispatch from an occupier

Good afternoon all,

My name is Tracy and I would like to get involved in the Occupy movement. But I don’t know how to proceed.

I am what you might call an “Average American” in that I am married, my husband and I both work ( he in sales and me for American Airlines until I was injured on the job), we have two cars and a motorcycle, a house, one child in college which we struggle to help pay for and another child in high school. One might consider my husband a “conservative” as he has guns and believes in that as a right and he has voted Republican for his entire adult life. I am decidedly liberal. One might even say socialist. The point is, we both know that the deck is stacked against us no matter what our political persuasion. We will always be “working class” and all the corporations we deal with have a vested interest in keeping it that way. So when the big Occupy protests began a few years ago, my husband encouraged me to join in the local activities as much as I could. And I did. I found the movement locally disorganized, fragmented, and lacking in a mission statement and leadership.

Unfortunately, I think that regardless of intentions, the Occupy movement has also alienated many of the so called “average Americans”. Sure, there needs to be a consciousness change for many Americans to embrace anything not spoon fed to them by the media but I think the lack of the “average American” visible in the movement only served to keep the perception of the movement as one of “intellectual elites” or “disaffected youth”. This was another problem I saw with the movement. It did not address those issues central to getting the movement into the “mainstream”. For example, many people could not come to protests because of jobs or taking care of their children etc. Protests could’ve been scheduled throughout the day so people could come whenever they had the chance; there could’ve been activities for the children; there could’ve been more networking with more organizations who have similar goals. Catholic Charities would have been great to reach out to in my community as they run the largest homeless shelter network in the city. All this general disarray led many people to think this was just about young people pissed off because they hate rich people. I gave food and handed it out to the Occupiers and protested in my city but, obviously nothing has changed except the movement is not active in the public. With the possible exception of those deeply entrenched in the movement, it has all but disappeared in my city and indeed in the national news as well.

Income inequality is not going away unless ALL the 99% use their voices. I would like to help find a way to bring more of those people into the light. The government, with complicity from the media have divided and conquered Americans. Places like FOX and MSNBC (among many) keep us fighting amongst each other to divert our attention from issues that are pertinent to all of us.

I am not an articulate intellect, a disaffected young person, or a savvy blogger. I am a wife and mother close to retirement who is tired of being taken advantage of. I’m sure that most of the people in Occupy are “average Americans” as well; the rest of the country just needs to see that and know that speaking up isn’t a privilege, it’s a right.

Thanks for your time.

Regards,
Tracy

Justine's response

Hi Tracy,

Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story. I agree with many of your criticisms. One of the things we have to do if we move forward is accept everything good about what we've done in the past... as well as the bad. That's the only way we're going to learn.

Right now the most important thing you can do is to continue to take care of yourself, your family, and your community. These are tough times for everyone, regardless of belief (as you mentioned.)

But if you're sure you still want to get involved with the movement, we'd need to know more about you, where you live, and what skills you have. Resumes are always a good way to do this if you have one. We're also going to be doing a "census" of the movement in March and you should hear from us when that happens.

Until then, stay strong :)

Justine Tunney
The Occupy Solidarity Network, Inc.
https://occupywallst.org/about

Yo Occupy! Please post your own response to Tracy below. What are the projects and initiatives that you are most excited about in 2014?

12 Comments

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