Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Five "Other" Protests That Rocked Our World (2011-2012)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about a woman who created an online petition calling on FEMA to deliver health insurance to disaster workers responding to Hurricane Sandy. Last week I was handed an assignment to write a follow up: the government had responded immediately, the petition had worked.

I see a lot of reluctance when it comes to publicizing dissent and calling for change. And hesitation to translate comments from personal Facebook pages to the public realm can reek of complacence and cynicism. But, I think our generation is reclaiming the power of thoughtful civil disobedience, embodied in several instances of people-driven, grassroots movements in the past couple of years.  

Here's a quick rundown of some from 2011-2012, written with the disclaimer that I don't (necessarily) support or advocate for them:

1. Israel's Social Justice Protests: Israel is on a lot of people's minds these days, but last year the narrative was a little different. It started with a girl pitching a tent and creating a Facebook page during the summer of 2011. Then, a quarter of a million people took to the streets of Jerusalem, demanding that their government address the rising cost of living and weakening educations system. I spoke to an Israeli professor in NYC last year who called the movement a surprising success, one that brought together people from every age, lifestyle and income group. Government responses include introducing a new housing plan and appointing a committee to oversee socioeconomic issues.

2. Susan G. Komen Foundation Tries The Pull Out Method: When America's sparkliest women's health foundation tried to stop supporting Planned Parenthood this year, the online community spoke out immediately. Since the funding was used to deliver breast cancer screening and prevention to poor women, the issue struck a chord with people on both sides of the aisle. In defense, the foundation pointed to a new rule that forbade it from support organizations under federal investigation. But when their public support turned sour, Komen quickly reversed the decision, restoring the $600,000 annual donation. But not before losing a top official. 

3. Killing Keystone Pipe Dreams: The Keystone XL Pipeline is a controversial project designed to bring crude oil from Canada to the U.S. if expanded. Activists like Tim DeChristopher and Bill McKibben are doing their best to make sure it doesn't happen, saying it would most likely affect the country's biggest fresh water, cause air pollution and harm several delicate ecosystems that we currently rely on. Last year DeChristopher went to jail for eight months for pretending to bid against oil industrialists with money he didn't have as an act of resistance. McKibben, leading hundreds of thousands through the 350 climate change movement, has helped mobilize protests against Keystone XL ever since. So far the Obama administration has indefinitely delayed the project.

4. A Chilly Winter: In the summer of 2011,  hundreds of thousands of Chilean university students marched and occupied at least 100 schools across the country to speak out against one of the least publicly funded higher education systems in the world. Less than half of Chilean students attend public universities, and very few receive scholarships, subsidized loans and grants. On August 1 last year, the Pinera administration responded by introducing a proposal to guarantee state-led education, from primary to higher level. The student groups did not accept the first version and have continued to protest. The third iteration is currently on the table.

And then there's this guy.

5. Stop, Frisk and Racially Profile: Two years ago, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said he hoped to "instill the fear in black and Hispanic youth that every time they leave their homes they will feel that they could be stopped." This summer, 17-year-old Alvin, a teenager living in New York City, recorded his interaction with the NYPD when they stopped him  in accordance to the controversial Stop and Frisk law. The police said it was a safety measure -- that Alvin looked suspicious in his hoodie, turning back to look at them as he walked by -- but the recording tells a different story. After publicizing the racial slurs, police aggression and provocation during their interactions, Alvin's story caused an uproar this summer, with thousands of people speaking out against a controversial rule. The most recent trial against the law was held on Nov. 13. 

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