18 June 2013: Tom Gatehouse reports on the movement sweeping Brazil
An increasingly vocal movement against fare increases on public transport has swept Brazil in the last two weeks, resulting in street demonstrations in several cities and angry confrontations between protestors and police. In São Paulo, Thursday night saw the fourth demonstration in the space of a week, drawing a crowd of almost 10,000 people. Nearly 130 people were arrested and 105 people were injured, according to the organisers of the march, the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL).
Likewise, in Rio de Janeiro, more than 2,000 people took to the streets. Both demonstrations ended in violent clashes with the police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, some of whom responded with rocks and fireworks. Smaller demonstrations have also taken place in the capital Brasília and in Porto Alegre, in the south of the country.
Demonstrations of such strength have not been seen on the streets of Brazilian cities since the movement to impeach the then president Fernando Collor in 1992. However, the current protests involve a new generation, for the most part too young to have participated in the earlier movement. Many are university students. They are politically conscious, well organised and extremely frustrated with the current political landscape in Brazil.
While the fare increase of R$0.20 (6p) might seem trivial to city dwellers in the US or Europe, it is the spark which has ignited longstanding public anger about the poor quality of public services in general, political corruption and even the preparations for next year’s World Cup, which are badly behind schedule and way over budget.
The protests have also highlighted the gulf that exists between most Brazilians and their elected representatives. While police and demonstrators clashed in São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, the mayor, and Geraldo Alckmin, the state governor, were in Paris, promoting the city’s bid to host the 2020 Expo World Fair.
The protests will have been highly embarrassing for both men, not only given São Paulo’s Expo bid but especially considering the need to promote Brazil as a safe tourist destination ahead of the World Cup and the Rio Olympics in 2016. Alckmin has reacted angrily to the protests, dismissing those involved as ‘troublemakers’ and ‘vandals’, and suggesting that the demonstrations are nothing more than the actions of ‘a few small but very violent political groups’.
However, the number of protestors involved suggests that Alckmin has badly misread both the situation on the ground and the broader public mood. According to opinion polls 55 per cent of the public in São Paulo support the protestors, despite initially negative coverage in much of the national media.
Early reports tended to emphasize acts of criminal damage committed by a minority of the demonstrators. Now, however, most of the national media is beginning to strike a more balanced tone, not least because reporters from both of São Paulo’s two main newspapers, O Estado de S. Paulo and Folha de S. Paulo, were attacked by police during Thursday night’s demonstrations on, despite having identified themselves as press. Seven journalists from Folha were injured, with one reporter pictured bleeding from the eye after being hit by a rubber bullet.
Policing has been heavy-handed enough to provoke criticism from Amnesty International which condemned ‘the alarming discourse from the authorities, which has encouraged greater repression and the detention of journalists and demonstrators.’ Indeed, the events of Thursday night forced Haddad to admit that the police may have used ‘excessive force’. ‘On Tuesday the enduring image was one of violence on the part of the demonstrators,’ he said, ‘unfortunately today [Thursday] there is no doubt that it is one of violence on the part of the police.’
While Haddad’s tone has been more conciliatory than that of Alckmin, he has also reiterated that will be no reduction of the fares. ‘I do not intend to revise the transport fares because an enormous effort was made over the course of the year to ensure that the increase was well below the rate of inflation,’ he said.
More demonstrations have been scheduled for the week ahead, and protestors have insisted that they will continue until fares are reduced to their previous rate or lower. Haddad has invited representatives of the MPL for talks, in which he will outline a series of measures aimed at improving public transport in the city, and explain in detail how the new fares have been calculated. He will also show how state subsidies for public transport have developed over the years.
However, given that neither side appears willing to compromise on the main issue, more disruption is almost certain in São Paulo and in other cities across Brazil in the coming days and weeks.
This article was first published by Latin America Bureau
18 June 2013: Holly Rigby reports from the launch of a new radical media project in Scotland
Radical and independent media platforms have flourished in recent years; however these are often produced by the movement, for the movement, and can have limited impact on wider public consciousness.
If we are to have a strong anti-capitalist movement, we must seriously compete with the existing institutions of the capitalist class – mass media, corporate advertising and social networks - finding new ways to communicate our narratives in a fresh and relevant fashion.
Communique is a new media project launched by the International Socialist Group in Scotland, which is attempting to redefine radical media practise as the heart of a strategy for new Left renewal.
It recognises that in addition to creating our own independent media platforms, we must be highly-skilled at seizing existing media and social networks to our own advantage.
In order to develop these skills amongst activists, Communique recently held its first ‘Skillshare’ event, which included workshops on ‘Branding’, ‘Press Strategy’ and ‘Social Media Engagement’. The workshops were not just about how to use a hashtag or create a logo; instead, they focused on how we conceptualise radical political ideas using these tools.
The Left has a problem with aesthetics
How many times have you had a crumpled black and white A4 flyer, filled with illegible text, shoved into your hands at a demonstration, with the word ‘RESISTANCE’ in huge bold letters at the top as a summary? How many placards, flyers, websites, posters, banners and logos have you seen with a big, red, clenched fist?
When Nestle creates a new product, it doesn’t say to its consumer, ‘This is just another product which will give you nutritional sustenance.’ Each new product has its own brand that explains why not only will the product satisfy your hunger, but why your whole life will be considerably better for having purchased it.
Mahmoud Mahdy, brand designer of the viral ‘We are all Hana Shalabi’ campaign, explained in the branding workshop how we must think like Nestle – branding, packaging and selling our radical political ideas - if we are going to seriously compete.
He argued that we must challenge the traditional imagery and out-dated language of the Left, and imagine that we have to communicate anti-capitalist ideas to someone standing 5 feet away from us using only images and text.
What press strategy?
The Left has a problem with press strategy – it doesn’t have one. In some campaigning circles, engaging with the mainstream media has come to be seen as a bourgeois activity, with any journalists who do take an interest being held under great suspicion. When big actions or demonstration take place, we fire off generic press releases at all times of day to as many news desks as we possibly can, with the hope one will bite.
Robin McAlpine, former Press Officer to the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and now editor of the Scottish Left Review, ran a session on the day that was less of a skill-share, and more a rattle-speed tour of just exactly how much we didn’t know about media strategy.
He explained that few people really understand the process of putting a daily newspaper together, have a good feeling for the news values of a specific newspaper, know how to develop an idea in a way that gets it in the right form for that newspaper and then have decent contacts to actually make it happen. He emphasised that it was essential to have a dedicated press contact for any new campaign, who can manage relationships with journalists and maintain a consistent narrative that the media can use.
The left has a problem with Twitter – it is active, but its interventions are inconsistent and incoherent. Campaigners simultaneously proclaim that Twitter was the driving force behind the Egyptian revolution, whilst bemoaning that political apathy is caused by the new ‘clictivism’.
As an activist within the International Socialist Group who has written on the role of Twitter in social movements, I hosted a Twitter workshop that encouraged people to see beyond Twitter as an organising tool, and to understand its power as a creator of meaning and narrative.
A successful Twitter strategy must recognise that we are competing with both the ‘conscious’ right-wing, and the most ‘common sense’ reactionary views in society. I explained how in the aftermath of the Woolwich attack, the EDL peddled their narrative that this was not an attack on just one soldier – but instead Islam’s attack on us all. This narrative has stuck and galvanized the EDL’s street movement, as we have seen in the recent attacks on the Muslim community.
Twitter has been called ‘the first draft of the first draft of history’ – if the Left is going to intervene with our narrative of history, it ignores Twitter at its peril.
With thanks to the speakers and participants of Communique Skillshare, whose lively participation and debate helped inform this article. For more information on Communique, visit our Facebook page and watch out for our new website coming soon.
17 June 2013: Davy Jones, a yoga teacher and political activist in Brighton, draws an unusual link
Photo: Ian Usher/Flickr
Yoga and politics: these are two words we don’t often see together.
This week Turkish riot police stormed Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where pro-democracy protestors have been demonstrating. Taksim Square backs on to Gezi Park where the protests began. Here, we have seen yoga and politics come together in a dramatic fashion as protestors held a mass yoga demonstration in the park.
As pro-democracy activists around the world seek new ways to promote non-violent protests, might this be a foretaste of things to come?
More than exercise or escapism
For many political activists, yoga may seem the antithesis of political activism: sitting cross-legged, chanting ‘Om’ and meditating while the class struggle passes you by. And there can be more than a grain of truth in such an observation. Many people, especially in the West, who practise yoga see it as just a form of exercise or as escapism from the stress of modern life.
And within some yoga philosophical traditions, you will find an apolitical stoicism. There is a Sanskrit saying: ‘As the mind, so the man: bondage or liberation are in your own mind’. If you feel bound, you are bound. If you feel liberated, you are liberated. Things outside neither bind nor liberate you: only your attitude towards them does that. Try telling that to those being tear-gassed in Istanbul!
But it doesn’t have to be like that. And for many yogis, it isn’t. I have been practising yoga for 14 years now and teaching regularly for the past six. I’ve found that the yoga philosophy is sympathetic to and compatible with a compassionate, radical and environmentally sustainable politics. In my experience, the majority of experienced yogis are broadly sympathetic to progressive and radical thinking.
Debates within the yoga world
I have noticed increasing interest from yogis to be involved in charitable and low key (non-party) political campaigns. At the same time, yoga has now become a multi-million pound business. Inevitably, this has led to more scandals about the commercialisation of yoga and of sexual exploitation by some of its well-known ‘gurus’.
The media’s focus on the growth of yoga in the relatively privileged and affluent Western world has tended to identify yoga as a very personal, even slightly self-indulgent, pursuit of physical and mental perfection. At a time of unprecedented economic and environmental crisis, it is time for the yoga community to stand together and to reassert its fundamental values – on the mat AND in society.
I have written a further article about Yoga and Politics, which has been published in the latest issue of the British Wheel of Yoga’s magazine, Spectrum. You can read more here: Yoga and Politics.
7 June 2013: The government plans to make up to three quarters of the UK's renewable energy target with biomass – but it falls short of the mark, says Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch
Most people’s image of renewable energy is a wind turbine or solar panel. Few are aware that the government’s ‘renewable energy’ vision consists in large part of burning carbon-based fuel in power stations. In 2011, 77 per cent of all renewable energy ‘inputs’ came from burning biomass and according to the government’s 2012 Bioenergy Strategy, up to 11 per cent of all the UK’s energy could come from burning biomass by 2020.
This would be almost three-quarters of the UK’s entire renewable energy target. The figure includes biofuels such as soya and palm oil that are linked to large-scale deforestation and land grabbing. However, the largest share is to come from burning wood, both in purpose-built new power stations and in coal power stations that are being fully or partly converted to wood pellets.
Can’t see the wood
If the true purpose of the government’s renewable energy strategy was to reduce carbon emissions and promote more sustainable types of energy then their priorities would seem senseless. Energy companies have announced plans to build or convert power stations which altogether would burn 81 million tonnes of wood every year. The UK’s total wood production (for all purposes) is only 10 million tonnes annually. Planning consent has been granted for five coal power stations to partly or fully convert to wood. Those power stations alone will burn almost five times the UK’s annual wood production every year.
Not surprisingly then, the UK Bioenergy Strategy confirms that 80 per cent of biomass is expected to be imported. Most imports so far are from British Columbia and the southern US, two regions where highly biodiverse and carbon-rich forests are being clearcut at an ever faster rate. US campaigners have proven that the pellets come from whole trees, not just residues as companies like to claim. And one scientific study after another confirms that burning trees for electricity results in vast carbon emissions which cannot possibly be absorbed by new trees for decades or centuries, if ever. Meanwhile in the UK, figures commissioned by the last government showed that 1.75 million life years could be lost in 2020 as a result of bioenergy expansion – or rather due to just one of the dozens of different pollutants released from burning biomass.
So how did electricity from biomass come to take centre stage in the government’s renewables policy when it is clearly disastrous for the climate, for forests and for people’s health? The answer is lobbying – primarily by the Big Six energy companies and Drax. All of the coal-to-biomass conversions are for power stations which would otherwise have to close under EU legislation because they breach sulphur dioxide rules (and biomass, though overall much as polluting as coal, releases less sulphur dioxide).
To keep those power stations open, energy companies have demanded – and received – guarantees of long-term subsidies for burning biomass paid under the Renewables Obligation – as well as other investment support. This includes loans by the Green Investment Bank, which are informed by government priorities. Their first big loan went to Drax, and secretary of state Vince Cable has praised their vital role in stopping Drax from shutting down. Thanks to the Green Bank, Drax can keep burning vast amounts of coal as well as imported wood for years or decades to come.
Documents received by Biofuelwatch through a Freedom of Information request illustrate the degree of collusion between Drax and the government. Drax were satisfied with government guarantees of long-term support for biomass conversion well before the crucial subsidy rules were proposed to parliament.
Without breaking big energy companies’ hold over government policy, even its renewable energy strategy will continue to make climate change, deforestation and air pollution ever worse.
7 June 2013: Ece Bulut gives us the latest from Istanbul’s Gezi Park, and looks at how the movement is organising – and changing people
The Gezi Park library
Day 11 of the protests. There are thousands of people still in Gezi Park and Taksim Square, and hundreds staying overnight in tents. The same goes for other cities across Turkey. Everything seems quiet and peaceful, for now – but we know there is a long way to go.
Taksim is now closed to traffic. Barricades are still standing where they were built, blocking access to the city centre except by foot. Ironically, the renovation plan that sparked the protests included making the square a pedestrian area – yet they probably didn’t imagine it happening this way. Nor did the people.
The new unity
Everyone was taken by surprise by what has happened over the last ten days. We never expected such a big uprising from an ‘apolitical’ generation. Even the people taking part in the demonstrations have been shocked by their own attitude. It seems the police attacks on the park occupiers were the straw that broke the camel’s back.
People have been given plenty of reasons to stand against the government over the last few years. The ban on abortion and morning after pills. The prohibition of alcohol. The Roboski massacre. Rising violence against women. Hundreds of arrested journalists. Thousands of arrested students. Police violence. The privatisation of nature. The Reyhanlı bombing.
Now all political groups are together in the park, except the AKP supporters and Islamist extremists. Even conflicting groups like Kurds and Kemalists are sharing the same ground and working on ways to co-exist.
The great shock of the media blackout has woken up some middle and upper class people to what they have been missing on the Kurdish issue for the last 30 years. Kurds have some anger about this late-coming sympathy – and many Turks criticise Kurds for waiting five days before getting involved in the movement – but still, this collectivity can be a big step towards co-existence.
In these days, Turkish people have experienced something very strange to them: people resisting without a leader, trying to stand together and show respect to one another. Even if white collar workers don’t come to the park every day, they protest in the malls and boycott the financial supporters of the government.
In the park there is free food, medical care, a kids’ area and a library. Young protesters’ mothers have started to come along to the park instead of begging the kids to go somewhere safe. Volunteers work hard to keep Taksim and Gezi clean. Artists, NGOs, unions, some political parties, and different working groups all give support.
The resistance has also created its own sense of humour. I feel sorry for the non-Turkish speaking rest of the world – you’re missing out! This is the supposed ‘me me me generation’ of Turkey showing how powerful they can be.
Despite the calm in Gezi Park, people are reminding each other that this is not yet a celebration, especially not with police brutality continuing in other cities. The government is still denying the resistance’s demands – and Erdogan, still prime minister, has not stopped his provocations.
Brazil: protests highlight the gulf between politicians and the people Tom Gatehouse reports on the movement sweeping Brazil
Why we must intervene and compete with the capitalist media Holly Rigby reports from the launch of a new radical media project in Scotland
Yoga and politics Davy Jones, a yoga teacher and political activist in Brighton, draws an unusual link
Biomass: the trojan horse of renewables? The government plans to make up to three quarters of the UK's renewable energy target with biomass – but it falls short of the mark, says Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch
‘In Gezi Park there is free food, medical care, a kids’ area and a library’ Ece Bulut gives us the latest from Istanbul’s Gezi Park, and looks at how the movement is organising – and changing people
Video: The story of the No Dash for Gas 21 In November 2012 twenty-one environmental activists shut down and occupied EDF-owned West Burton gas fired power station. For 8 days they remained on top of two chimneys, stopping 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide being emitted. This is their story
No Dash For Gas activists told to do (more) community service Joel Benjamin reports as climate campaigners avoid jail sentences
This is the week Labour turned its back on the welfare state As Ed Miliband backs a cap on benefits spending, Tom Walker says that the more you read of Labour’s new welfare policies, the worse it gets
Erdogan and the ‘looters’: what’s behind the protests in Turkey Ali E Erol gives some background to the Turkish movement, and how it is challenging the prime minister’s version of ‘ethics’
Video: the first week of resistance in Istanbul An activist video summarising events so far at the Gezi Park occupation - and how it sparked a mass movement across Turkey
North Korea: War games gone wrong Tim Beal examines the US ‘playbook’ miscalculations that underlie the current US-North Korea crisis
The day Greece’s TVs went dark Hilary Wainwright reports from Thessaloniki on what happened when the state ordered Greece’s state broadcaster to shut down
Winning at Walmart The OUR Walmart campaign has been shaking up labour organising in the US. As they prepared for their current strike, Alex Wood spent a month with the people behind a new kind of fightback
Toxic gas: why we need to stop fracking Tony Bosworth and Helen Rimmer report on plans to expand fracking across the UK and look at why we need to leave shale gas in the ground
Rio’s iron heel As host of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, the Brazilian government is trying to ‘pacify’ the gangs in Rio’s favelas. But, Mike Davis reports, the needs of the favelados have taken a back seat