The world’s media went strangely silent about Tunisia after that small country began the Arab Spring. We weren’t able to follow the waves of intelligent mass action that not only evicted the dictator Ben Ali in January after 23 years in power, but then continued through the next two months to dismantle many of the old structures of dictatorship. It was a countrywide training in creative self-organisation, with a new openness which made it vividly exciting to visit.
In May the old regime started to strike back. A popular minister Farhat Rajhi, sacked from the Interior Ministry for refusing to shut down Facebook campaigners, raised the prospect of a coup plot by the old dictator’s party to take over the country after July’s elections. In the demonstrations that have followed, protestors have been fiercely beaten and journalists – male and female – singled out for particularly disabling attacks. It emerged that a censorship law had been secretly rushed through by the interim government; unbelievably, sites have started to be shut down in the birthplace of revolutions which use the internet to such stunning effect.
But once people have started to take control of their lives they are not going to lose that vision. Not all are involved in street confrontations any more: they see a range of strategies for going forwards. Below are some of the voices of the Tunisian revolution. Independent, skilful, courageous, well-organised, far-sighted, generous voices which are recognisably voices of the new social movements worldwide.
A solidarity trip to ‘the land of free people’
We stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere. High on a hill was a message in Arabic spelled out in white stones: ‘Welcome to Regueb, the land of free people’. Around the next corner we came to Regueb itself, a town of only 8,000 and the most fully mobilised, creative political space I have ever experienced.
Its tiny hall was filled with the spirit of early trade unionism. You could imagine Chartists and Jacobins speaking like this, as the speakers launched poetic internationalist visions under the linked-hands red-crescent logo of the UGTT, the General Union of Tunisian workers which had brought us here. Two young women and three young men were killed by police bullets in these streets.
‘The tragic force of this uprising belongs to all humanity. That’s why we gave our kids. Your visit shows that the revolution continues, it isn’t just for Regueb and it doesn’t stop there. In this little hall you see pictures of martyrs of 1952, people from here who died in the anti-colonial struggle; then you see our hand-painted Palestinian banner. This little hall is part of our daily life, home for our activists whether from Palestine or Regueb.’ The syndicalistes spoke from a stage carrying hand-painted portraits of past labour heroes, while all over the ceiling and side walls were dotted far more recent images, CGI collages inspired by the Palestinian intifada and increasingly the Tunisians’ own.
Because Regueb is so small and the moment so intense, there didn’t seem to be the usual gap between generations or classes. When young people left the meeting it was to go outside and sing ‘songs of the revolution’. We came out to find them under a magnificent photocollage of their lost friends. As we walked out through Regueb an elderly woman in traditional dress came up to me, embraced me personally and asked me to stay. She was speaking Arabic but we understood each other. It is my final memory of the unique political space in Regueb, ‘the land of free people’ where every single person seems to be finding a new voice.
It came as no surprise to hear that one week later Regueb’s citizens came together and created a new town council to represent them in this dangerous gap between the fall of the old dictatorship in January and the new elections in July. Nor to see pictures on Youtube of Regueb women from all ages and backgrounds filling their streets at the start of the Arab Spring, under banners spelling ‘Je suis Femme, ne touche pas ma Liberte’. All sorts of ideas for solidarity actions have already started and can be seen and joined through the links below. It took another guest from Dakar, Demba Moussa Dembele, to add ‘We witnessed’.
This is what the people we met are expecting from us: ‘a proof that you care about the Tunisian revolution and the weaponless people who faced a criminal dictatorship, and sacrificed their lives and were injured, so that we can raise our voices today and say what we think should be said.’ These are the words of Mohamed Salah Abidi, whose son Shady Abidi was at the heart of the ‘internet revolution’ in Regueb and was disabled by bullets from a police sniper.
Those of us who visited from Europe have another obligation, to keep the gates of the fortress open. Leading trade unionist Alessandra Mecozzi from the radical Italian union, FIOM told our hosts in Regueb: ‘We’re here to thank you for this revolution, we have great, great trust in you. We’ll push our governments to freeze bank accounts and repatriate the money stolen from you. We are with you; we don’t want a closed Europe. We are ashamed of our government saying it wants to deport young Tunisians. Europe must welcome all these people. ‘ We must keep our ears open as well as our borders.
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry