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.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant