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Missive #146

The story of the recent uprisings that sought to change the world – and what comes next

From 2010 to 2020, more people participated in protests than at any other point in human history. Yet we are not living in more just and democratic societies as a result. If We Burn is a stirring work of history built around a single, vital question: How did so many mass protests lead to the opposite of what they asked for?

This is a good book for what I label as current history. The story line is a little disjointed with quick transitions from one country to another but not a serious fault. The author had a media basis imposed by the main stream newspapers that he worked for during the period of the story but he has held it in check rather well for this book. From the so-called Arab Spring to Gezi Park in Turkey, from Ukraine’s Euromaidan to student rebellions in Chile and Hong Kong, acclaimed journalist Vincent Bevins provides a blow-by-blow account of street movements and their consequences, recounted in gripping detail. He draws on four years of research and hundreds of interviews conducted around the world, as well as his own strange experiences in Brazil, where a progressive-led protest explosion led to an extreme-right government that torched the Amazon.

Careful investigation reveals that conventional wisdom on revolutionary change is gravely misguided. In this groundbreaking study of an extraordinary chain of events, protesters and major actors look back on successes and defeats, offering urgent lessons for the future.

These quotes are my first attempts to select the text from Kobo Libra 2, Export and then Copy/Paste the text into WordPress. I had one or two other quotes that got lost along the way but I think I now know what I need to do.

No media distortion, no focus on empty spectacle, no twisted corporate agenda is required to generate the feeling that politicians do not fully represent their constituents. By all accounts, they do not. There is widespread agreement that the political systems in advanced societies have become distant from the sovereign people that putatively grant them their power. In the United States, so often a default reference point for liberal politicians in Latin America and the rest of the Global South, one famous study indicated that “economic elites and organized interest groups play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.”

In this book, we looked closely at ten mass protest explosions: in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Turkey, Brazil, Ukraine, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Chile. While Occupy Wall Street, Spain, and Greece were important for shaping the rest of the decade, the protests themselves did not dislodge the respective political structures from their foundations, or generate an institutional rupture; likewise, the Indonesian case changed politics in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but the system itself was not disrupted by the street movement. While mega-protests elsewhere helped cause the events in Libya and Syria, armed intervention began to shape outcomes at least as much as any broad-based demonstrations.… If we view the outcomes from the perspective of what the mass protests asked for (and this is complicated, though I think it is crucial), then seven of these countries experienced something even worse than failure. Things went backward.

The idea is that if you blow a hole in the center of the political system, taking power away from those who have it, then someone else is going to enter the empty space and take it. Unclaimed political power exerts an irresistible gravitational pull on anyone who might want it, and at every moment in recorded history, someone has wanted it. Personally, in the years since 2013, I would often use the language of a theatrical performance to say something similar. If you want to knock the main players off the stage, you should be paying attention to who is going to take their place. These might be local or foreign actors. If is not going to be you, then you had better like the people who are waiting in the wings.

Safelite showed up early Saturday morning and had the windshield replaced in about an hour. The only problem was the ‘office’ had prepared my bill wrong but the installer had that corrected very promptly. I sat in my usual chair directly behind them as they worked with Erik looking over their shoulders as well. They said that I had to wait for about an hour before I could drive anywhere. This is a BIG difference from the shop that said I could not stay in Desperado while they did the replacement and I would have to leave the vehicle with them all day for the windshield to ‘set and cure’. Glad I went to Safelite!

A few memes from Mostly Cajun Ponderbles. There are a lot more there that are just as good.

There’s a fine line between a numerator and a denominator. Only a fraction of people will find this funny.

When I lost the fingers on my right hand in a freak accident, I asked the doctor if I would still be able to write with it. He said, “Probably, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Someone said, “Nothing rhymes with orange.” I said, “No, it doesn’t.”

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.

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