Peter Beaumont writes: The demonstrations in Brazil began after a small rise in bus fares triggered mass protests. Within days this had become a nationwide movement whose concerns had spread far beyond fares: more than a million people were on the streets shouting about everything from corruption to the cost of living to the amount of money being spent on the World Cup.
In Turkey, it was a similar story. A protest over the future of a city park in Istanbul – violently disrupted by police – snowballed too into something bigger, a wider-ranging political confrontation with prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has scarcely been brought to a close by last weekend’s clearing of Gezi Park.
If the recent scenes have seemed familiar, it is because they shared common features: viral, loosely organised with fractured messages and mostly taking place in urban public locations.
Unlike the protest movement of 1968 or even the end of Soviet influence in eastern Europe in 1989, these are movements with few discernible leaders and often conflicting ideologies. Their points of reference are not even necessarily ideological but take inspiration from other protests, including those of the Arab spring and the Occupy movement. The result has seen a wave of social movements – sometimes short-lived – from Wall Street to Tel Aviv and from Istanbul to Rio de Janeiro, often engaging younger, better educated and wealthier members of society.
What is striking for those who, like myself, have covered these protests is often how discursive and open-ended they are. People go not necessarily to hear a message but to take over a location and discuss their discontents (even if the stunning consequence can be the fall of an autocratic leader such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak). [Continue reading…]