When compared to the last four years, America is quiet at the moment--likely just for the moment. Unfortunately, that's not true of the rest of the world. From the military coup in Myanmar, to police violence in Mexico, unrest in Colombia, and the recent asymmetrical warfare waged against Palestinians (among many, many others), we need to be aware of rising political temperatures across the globe, and what they might mean both as bellwethers for the future, and for the condition of the people worldwide.
Despite conservative narratives that try to drive an isolationist view of America--and other countries, for that matter--people the world over are more united than ever. We see commonality in our problems, and I think many are beginning to realize that it's not one regime, president, or dictator that's the source of our ills--they're just a symptom. So it's our duty, at minimum, to be knowledgeable of the struggles everyone is facing, and if possible to provide solidarity and support.
I wanted to make mention of Hong Kong, as we can thank their protesters for many of our protest techniques, borrowed or refined from the 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests.
Hong Kong is a "special administrative region" of China, due in part to it having been a British Colony for over one hundred years. This means Hong Kongers enjoy a certain independence from China that has become more and more precarious in recent times. Hong Kong has its own government, and its own roaring economy. China, however, has sought to undermine this independence through imposition of laws like the most recent extradition amendment, which would permit fugitive residents to be extradited to China. This bill touched off the 2019-2020 protests, the largest the country has ever seen. The protestors used brilliant, fresh tactics against the police, often flummoxing them and overcoming superior forces. In response to the protests, police cracked down hard, arresting over 10,000 protestors and escalating use of force.
After tumultuous fighting in the street, the occupation of universities, the injury of thousands and death of two people, elections were held in November of 2019, which resulted in a landslide victory for the pro-democratic party. Progress was made, and then quickly reversed, as the COVID-19 pandemic gave authorities the excuse to clamp down on protests and otherwise reach toward authoritarianism. A primary election had a slate of pro-democracy candidates disqualified, and the election was then delayed until later this year. Most recently, China has imposed a new law on Hong Kong that outlaws dissent. This law is of particular acuity as the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre looms.
On February 1st, 2021, after a contested but overwhelming victory for the ruling party of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in November, the military of Myanmar (the Tatmadaw) arrested the Counsellor and other members of her party, placing themselves as the de-facto leaders just ahead of the swearing-in of Suu Kyi and the official recognition of election results. Overnight, internet and banking services were suspended, and cell phone service was disrupted. Hundreds of officials, activists, and parliament members were detained and placed under house arrest. The next day, the leader of the Tatmadaw announced that they had taken control of the government for one year under an emergency declaration.
The coup did not go over well with the people of Myanmar, who began to immediately express their displeasure by staging collective pot and pan banging demonstrations, a traditional means of driving out evil. Hundreds of thousands of officials, medical staff, teachers, and others struck, and a boycott of military-affiliated products and services was enacted. A mass vehicle "breakdown" clogged streets and highways.
More traditional protest methods were widespread, and despite martial law, curfews, and severe police and military violence, hundreds of thousands have protested the military coup. Myanmar is a country of many ethnic minorities, and many active militias, and in that environment the military responded quickly and viciously. Over 800 people have been killed, and that violence has only served to further intensify civilian and militia response. A counter-coup government has been formed, and the military by no means has an iron grip on control of the country, though the costs of resistance are high.
For decades, Mexico has struggled with the femicides; thousands of women have disappeared, or been outright murdered, in a dominant culture that is redolent with misogynistic violence. This issue is inter-related with the persistent impunity of the various cartels in the nation, but not entirely explained by it. Rather, femicide in Mexico is an issue both larger and more nebulous than cartel violence, the drug trade, or immigration through the country. Mexican authorities are infamous for their lack of concerted response to violence against women, and their inability or lack of initiative to solve the thousands upon thousands of murders, kidnappings, and rapes. This protest in particular has some of its roots in Cancun, in the previous year, when protestors were arrested, beaten, and sexually assaulted by police. Populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has been sluggish to respond at best.
This vacuum of justice came to a head in March, when, on International Women's Day, protestors gathered in Mexico City to call out leadership on the issue. Much like in America, the police had barricaded the walls of the Capitol and used shields to keep the protestors back. The protestors, mostly women, set fire to the shields and barricades, injuring many police while suffering only a few injuries themselves.
Colombians took to the streets last month in the wake of the mishandling of COVID-19 by the government, and a proposed tax bill that would have placed a higher burden on individuals. While the bill was rescinded, protests have continued, and the police and military crackdown has been vicious, with over 60 protestors killed and journalists also in the line of fire.
Of particular concern is the impunity with which police, and now the military, act against civilians. An undercover officer opened fire on protestors, killing several and wounding more, before being overpowered and killed by the crowd. Elsewhere, a store owner was permitted by onlooking police to shoot at protestors. The increase in state presence is not likely to control matters, and negotiations are deadlocked.
The most recent spate of violence in Israel began when Israeli settlers made moves on the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, seeking to oust the Palestinians living their and to move in themselves. In addition, Israeli police forces raided the Al-Aqsa mosque following an impromptu "protest" in support of Sheikh Jarrah from congregants on their way to the mosque. Police filled the holy site with tear gas, and shot those at prayer with rubber bullets and sound grenades. All this, during Ramadan. These actions touched off the one-sided war that, until days ago, was still raging.
The current situation in Israel is labyrinthine, and I won't attempt to come close to describing it. Suffice to say that Palestinians have been pushed out of their homes by Israeli settlers for years in a nearly century-long act that the UN and others have described as apartheid. Those who equivocate with arguments of "both sides" and touting the complexity of the situation (most US media outlets) are finally beginning to release more balanced, if not unvarnished, coverage. There is a lot to educate yourselves on, and I was, admittedly, woefully undereducated on this issue until recently. Robert Evans released some great coverage of the Netanyahu family last week on his podcast, Behind the Bastards, that will help get you up to speed.
This most recent spate of violence against Palestinians, and the condemnation it has drawn, underscores a moment of global solidarity against oppression. It is far from perfect, and it is far from total, but I hope that we're witnessing a time in which people are beginning to see that despite all the wedges driven between us by nationality, race, and religion, most of us have one thing in common: we've been ground down by the State. There is no global cabal, no network of underground villains, but we are nevertheless subjugated by a system that supports a select few.
There are dozens of other conflicts I could highlight, but there's only so much I can write, and you all can google. We need to keep apprised of these struggles, and support those fighting oppression, while at the same time being present in our own fights and being mindful of the struggles in our own backyards that we might not be giving proper attention. Rather than a practical prep today, I would urge that you look into your local causes, that you make yourself aware of the fight across the globe, and, particularly, that American readers educate themselves on, for starters, Land Back, and throw your support behind indigenous causes. We're likely only days away from a crisis in Oregon over indigenous water rights, as a severe drought has forced the government to close off the Klamath Basin to farmers, infuriating locals and attracting the attention of Ammon Bundy, the figurehead behind the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge several years ago.
My time is still tight and my nerves still a little fraught, but I will try to be more consistent with the newsletter going forward. There's still plenty to talk about.