If 2011 could be remembered for anything, it should surely be the year that people around the globe registered their displeasure. It has been exciting, frightening and brought new concepts into the public conscience. My review will not be exhaustive, however these events are those that have captured my attention.
On 19 December 2010, 27 year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after fruit and vegetables that he was selling were confiscated by police. Bouazizi died on 4 January 2011 and never saw the astonishing “Arab Spring” that this would trigger. On 14 January after massive protests, Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down after 23 years in power.
On 25 January, protests begin in earnest in Egypt which would result in President Hosni Mubarek’s resignation being announced on 11 February 2011. Protests continue throughout the year as slow progress towards democracy frustrates the Egyption public.
On 16 February protests begin against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime which would spark a bloody conflict between government forces and rebel groups. On 26 August 2011, the rebels move their government to the Libyan capital, Tripoli after Gaddafi is ousted.
Throughout the year, protests and rioting occur across the Middle East, including Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain and Palestine often in the face of vicious methods of control by government.
On 18 March demonstrations begin in Syria with protestors demanding political freedoms. Protests continue throughout the year and many protestors are killed and injured in attempts to quell the unrest by government forces.
On 26 March, up to half a million people take to London’s streets to protest the Government’s plans to implement massive public spending cuts and demand a Robin Hood tax on the banks, closure of tax loopholes and policies for jobs and green growth. The day is a resounding success although disappointing media coverage is disproportionately focussed on the criminal actions of a minority.
On 30 June 2011, at least 12,000 schools are closed or partly closed as Teachers go on strike over proposed pension reforms. On 30 November up to 2 million public sector workers go on strike over the plans.
No review of social unrest would be complete without an acknowledgement of the UK riots between 6 August and 9 August during which thousands took to the streets in an orgy of destruction and criminality. Initial explanations by leading politicians are proved to be inaccurate by later analysis of the demographic of those involved. The proof of social exclusion of those involved is disorganised and violent symptom of a society creaking under pressure of inequality.
On 17 September Occupy Wall Street protests begin in New York demanding social justice and equality. After global media reporting of 700 arrests at Brooklyn Bridge on 1 October, the movement proliferates, reaching 951 occupations in 82 countries with many continuing at the year’s end. The slogan “We are the 99%” enters the worldwide, public conscious.
On 9 November students take to the streets once again to protest against increased tuition fees. In contrast the student demonstration in 2010 when Tory headquarters were invaded and disorder included the now-notorious fire-extinguisher incident, this passed off largely peacefully although undercover police tactics are captured and criticised after publication on Youtube.
Financial chaos and policy proposals in Europe results in anti-austerity protests and riots in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Economic powerhouses in the eurozone make desperate attempts to save the euro and come under increasing domestic pressure. This results in the resignation of Italian, Portugese and Greek Prime Minister’s.
Throughout the year the public profile of UK Uncut continues to grow with creative civil disobedience actions that capture media attention and campaign against tax avoidance. Local and specialised groups form such as Art Uncut which receives significant media attention during an action at Glastonbury Music Festival.
It’s been an eventful year. Some of these events have resulted in tangible changes to society, most notably the regime changes in the Middle East. Others, the results are less clear.
The most exciting thing about this year is how people have become politicised and increasingly socially aware. Student activism, considered dormant for some time, is particularly exciting; those who were involved are developing and refining their political ideas, one can only hope that they maintain the ideals that took them onto the streets, they are our future political leaders. However, any event that catches the attention of the wider public, as the March for the Alternative has and how UK Uncut and Occupy continue to do, is of benefit. Anything that sparks debate and discussion of the issues, has the potential to inspire opinion and action. Without these things, the world will never change. Those who believe that change is not possible should regard the Arab Spring as evidence to the contrary. For anyone that desires change, we should take the persistence and extraordinary bravery of those on the streets in the Middle East, as inspiration.
Many of those involved may never know what results there were of their actions, or what the knock-on effect could be. The results may be distant and they may not even be realised. However every little bit, done by every individual, brings social justice and equality just a little closer.