In the News…. September 26, 2011

One step forward…

From The Hindu:

Saudi Arabia: Yesterday King Abdullah announced that women will have the right to vote and run for public office in the 2015 elections. Very exciting news! Women’s groups in the country had been using the momentum of the Arab Spring to stage protests, especially around the ban against women driving. The government has gone easy on these rebellious women, not wanting to inspire a similar uprising like their neighboring countries. Power to the people.

And another backwards…


United States: Georgian Troy Davis was executed last week for allegedly killing an off-duty police officer, even though hundreds of thousands of people petitioned against the execution.  Apparently seven out of the nine jurors changed their verdict after the trial, saying that police had pressured them for a conviction.

In related news, Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry is a big advocate for the death penalty. Under his leadership Texas put 234 people to death.


In the News…Sept 20, 2011

Santiago: The youth of Chile are in uproar. Their leader is a 23 year old named Camila Valeijo who is shaking the country, organizing protests and demanding corrupt and/or inept political leaders to step down. She is only the second woman ever to lead the University of Chile’s student union in 105 years (!).

Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo sits among a peace sign created from empty teargas canisters used by police against protesters.

(Photograph: Roberto Candia/AP)

The protesters’ top target is the unpopular President of Chile, Sebastien Pinera. Students are calling for broad education reforms, more healthcare spending, and the need to address unemployment. These initiatives are amazing when you consider that Chile’s military dictatorship was toppled only 21 years ago, in 1990. Here’s a look at the protests in photos.

When I feel let down with the general apathy of America’s youth, I am rejuvenated to discover that the youth around the world are taking their future into their own hands. Rather than identifying with a generation on a national level, we should consider ourselves members of this global generation.  I am relieved to know that this fire still exists, burning deep within to rebel against the institutions that kept us seemingly safeguarded when we were small, and then we slowly realize that these same structures are often a mess of greed and shortsightedness.

You have as much power as you take. Strangely, the more you push, the louder you squawk, the more people take your demands seriously. The youth have the energy, the hope, and the unabashed courage to push national leaders to do better. It only takes a few that are crazy enough to go for it.

I can only smile sardonically at the perpetual paradox of student protests. Do we not learn in kindergarten to share with others, to have patience and a loving heart? Why do we demand more from six-year-olds than we do from our chief ministers? When we reach secondary school, we take history, science, philosophy and literature classes that feature the works of the few people who questioned the status quo. Then why are students who are taking the initiative of change rewarded with tear gas and arrest? I can only hope that history will remember these bold youth more fondly than will their scars and scratches from the streets.


Peaceful Protest Against Govenment Corruption

from the Aug 16th New Indian Express

New Delhi:  The longtime Gandhian activist Anna Hazare has started a hunger strike on the anti-corruption bill that is in Indian Parliament now. This stand-off has grabbed headlines for a few weeks now, with Hazare threatening to hunger-strike. He started yesterday on Independence Day. Passerbys were surprised to see Hazare quietly meditating in the light rain, and quickly thousands of people gathered on the lawns of Gandhi’s samadhi in New Delhi. A few hours later, he was ‘preventively’ arrested by police, to the outcry of major political parties, NGOs and thousands of citizens, including the crowds outside the prison where Hazare is being held. By nightfall, the government backpedaled, issuing Hazare’s release. Parliament and the Prime Minister are in a tight spot, sitting on their hands for now.

The country is blowing up, with protests and demonstrations happening in cities everywhere. “Team Anna” is calling for government workers to not go to work today, while the government is predictably labeling this call to action as ‘the wrong call.’

In his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh challenged Hazare’s tactics in his annual address to the nation, saying that  “We are taking the swiftest possible action in cases of corruption that have surfaced…we will put an end to such powers whenever possible…Hunger strikes do not solve the problem of corruption.”

Ok, then what will exactly? If the people do not put external pressure on their government, what will make legislators raise their heads and look up from their own self-interest and petty quibbles? I understand that doing things the right way, that the process is important, but sometimes a bit of urgency is necessary. Parliament wants Hazare to go away and let them do their jobs, but I would argue that paying some heed to the civil disobedience of the people is their job. This reminds me of the time that ASUO Senators got annoyed by OSPIRGers lobbying them for funding. It is your job to listen to your constituents, not only when you agree with them. I find it ironic that a day after celebrating India’s peacefully-won independence, the government is so quick to condemn the actions of someone who walks in the same footsteps as the freedom fighters of the 1940s.

Peaceful disobedience is much more powerful and scary for governments than violent riots, like those that have taken place in London.  Violent protesters do not hold much long-term credibility. In peaceful protests, all can participate, lving their enemies at the same time that they are pushing the envelope. Police efforts to subdue a peaceful crowd are seen as oppressors. Gandhi speaks beautifully of this power. From my new favorite book, Autobiography of a Yogi, the author Swami Yogananda talks to the Mahatma, or ‘great soul’:

“Non-violence is the natural outgrowth of the law of forgiveness and love. If loss of life becomes necessary in a righteous battle, one should be prepared, like Jesus, to shed his own, not others’ blood. Eventually there will be less blood spilt in the world.” 

He celebrated the beauty of President Wilson’s fourteen points, but said that he would reverse Wilson’s qualification that ‘we have our arms to fall back upon ‘if post WWI peace were to fail.’ “Our armaments have failed already. Let us now be in search of something new; let us try the force of love and God…we shall want nothing else.” 


Terrorism and Tea

Every morning I read The Hindu on the guesthouse veranda. I love reading news in Oregon, (print over online, all the way) especially state and local news. You can learn so much about a foreign place’s culture from reading their newspaper.

The caretakers of our guesthouse bring you chai tea before breakfast, which is lovely. The tea here is unbelievable, milky and strong and sweet. I used to hate tea. I thought it was bitter water, and I didn’t get the point of it. I’m a coffee drinker, but my mom drinks chai tea twice a day every day. I have since grown to like chai, especially with honey in it. Before I left the States, my good friend Shab’d who went to boarding school in Punjab told me, “Yeah, but you’ve never even had chai before. You’ll see.” Now I know that he was right.

Today I read about the three sequential Mumbai bombings, which feel incredibly far away in this indolent, cheerful town. With good reason, Indians are feeling increasingly unsafe, and the government and police are not doing enough to respond or prevent future attacks. The perpetrators of the 2008 and 2010 bombings have still not been found. Here’s a bit from an opinion piece on the Indian government’s response:

It is…imperative to develop the capacities our police and intelligence services desperately need: better training, better skills, better working conditions. Instead the focus has been on raising special forces and acquiring cutting-edge technology, assets which the existing system simply does not have the foundations to use to good effect… The nation’s counter-terrorism establishment needs to stop focusing on appearing impressive on television, and buckle down to the task of serious, system-wide reform.” (The Hindu, editorial, July 15, 2011)

Until there is the backbone to support basic investigative work with integrity, shiny new toys will not provide real help.

In other news, 20,000 citizens in Malaysia gathered in peaceful protest on July 9th in the city of Kuala Lumpur to protest a long list of grievances, among them “mooted early elections, spending cuts, political upheavals in neighbouring Thailand and Singapore, establishment cronyism, curbs on public assembly and debate, and state-imposed censorship considered draconian even by regional standards.” (The Hindu, Simon Tisdall, “Malaysia’s Hibiscus Revolution,” July 14, 2011). Thousands of protesters had their freedom of assembly stolen when police began teargassing and baton beating participants in an attempt to break up the protest.

( Protest rally in Kuala Lumpur, July 9, 2011, File Photo, AFP)

Apparently many of the protesters were first timers. Marimuthu Manogaran, a leader in the Democratic Action Party, said “young people [are] coming out there to demand their rights… and I think that is a good sign for Malaysia.” Woot, woot!

(Lai Seng Sin/AP)

You gotta organize… I’m sending Malaysia prayers of empowerment and healing.