We want Justice! We want Peace! Spain, Africa, the Middle East!
On Saturday, May 21st, protesters converged in Boston to support popular uprisings across the globe that are rejecting dictatorships, phony democracies, and the austerity measures they impose. Demonstrations began simultaneously at noon in Harvard Square, Cambridge, and Copley Square, Boston. The Harvard Square rally represented Iranian, Amazigh, Egyptian, Libyan, Moroccan, Syrian, Arab and Muslim community groups in the Boston area. The youthful crowd of about fifty protesters carried flags and banners representing their respective countries and movements. With the aid of bull horns and boisterous voices from the ISO, protesters chanted for people to join in solidarity with the ousting of dictatorial regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
A flyer being passed out read:
What started out as peaceful demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, has turned ugly and dangerous in Yemen, Syria and Libya. These are just three countries within the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region fighting for their rights, hoping for a free, secure future. Iranians who have been protesting the fraudulent election of June 2009 which forced Ahmadinejad on them, have been severely suffering from the dictatorship of [the] Kahamenei regime since then.
We are protesting today in solidarity and support with the people of the MENA region; we protest here today to raise awareness, and help the voices of the oppressed to be heard. We are uniting to echo the voices of those who are living through terrible conditions but strive to have Democracy, Freedom, [and] Human Rights.
A similarly sized protest of Spaniards and their supporters in Copley Square called for solidarity with the May 15th movement, which like many of the new uprisings around the globe, is named after the date protests began there. In Spain, daily protests are rejecting the two party system and their attacks on public services. They are also raising deep questions about the structure, values, and priorities of consumer culture. Protests have reached such a level that they are stealing headlines from the May 22nd municipal elections.
Popular signs included “#spanishrevolution”, which is a also a key to following relevant discussions on twitter. Another sign read “toma la plaza” (take the plaza) which is also a Spanish language website, tomalaplaza.com, where protesters in Spain are coordinating and sharing information. Side by side in English and Spanish, the manifesto of a new broad unity formation, Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now), was read to an attentive crowd on the steps of the Boston Public Library. Included among the points made by the manifesto was:
• The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare and people’s happiness.
• Democracy belongs to the people (demos = people, krátos = government) which means that government is made of every one of us. However, in Spain most of the political class does not even listen to us. Politicians should be bringing our voice to the institutions, facilitating the political participation of citizens through direct channels that provide the greatest benefit to the wider society, not to get rich and prosper at our expense, attending only to the dictatorship of major economic powers and holding them in power through a bipartisanism headed by the immovable acronym PP & PSOE.
• The will and purpose of the current system is the accumulation of money, not regarding efficiency and the welfare of society. Wasting resources, destroying the planet, creating unemployment and unhappy consumers.
• We need an ethical revolution. Instead of placing money above human beings, we shall put it back to our service. We are people, not products. I am not a product of what I buy, why I buy and who I buy from.
On Dartmouth Street, a police truck with flashing blue lights kept an unsubtle eye on us.
The Spanish protesters then voted to wait for the MENA protesters who were en route to Copley Square in order to join forces. While many stayed and engaged in conversation, others lost patience and left. When the MENA protesters finally arrived, the combined numbers were not more than 70. But the unity chant, “We want justice, we want peace: Spain, Africa, the Middle East” re-energized everyone.
We were also briefly joined by a feminist march calling for abortion rights and the rejection of misogynistic culture. Chants of “One struggle, One fight!” briefly brought everyone together, but there was a lack of clarity about what to do next. After a few minutes the feminist group left while organizers of the merged MENA/Spain group attempted to mobilize a temporarily disengaged crowd to begin marching again. Eventually the joint MENA/Spain group crossed Dartmouth Street, marched down Boylston Street, around the Boston Common, past Government Center, ending at Fanueil Hall under the bewildered gaze of mostly tourists. With a final speak-out the rally concluded under the watchful eye of Faneuil Hall security forces.
The May 21st action was relatively small in comparison to the earlier rallies in solidarity with Egypt before Mubarak conceded power. But politically it was a breakthrough for unity to have common demands being made by a consciously international movement against multiple regimes, and an international economic and political system.
While we met many positive responses from people in the street, and very few negative ones, most onlookers seemed confused or indifferent. Many protesters bemoaned the media blackout which has kept people unaware of international events – especially in Spain, which is a society with many similarities to the US. During the show down in Madison between massive demonstrations and Governor Walker, solidarity demonstrations in Boston and across the country numbers in the thousands, joining Wisconsin's rejection of budget cuts and in defense of union rights. At these actions a rhetorical connection was made with the struggles in Egypt and Tunisia, but a real international perspective has yet to sink into popular consciousness.
International solidarity activists have shown that they can unite and create energetic protests with a politically sophisticated agenda. If these activists can create an organizational structure to sustain their unity, there is potential for joining forces with the mass struggles of native working class people. Such unity could inspire a more global and radical analysis of the economic crisis and the failures of US democracy, strengthening our domestic movement and ultimately providing more substantive solidarity to our brothers and sisters abroad.
Video clips of the march: