Recent days have seen citizens of Minsk, Belarus, taking to the streets in popular protests against reckless government spending and a stolen election. The protests are reminiscent of the unrest that swept North Africa and the Middle East in January of this year, and have been largely organized through social networking sites. Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s bereft and irritated president, has responded by authorizing hundreds of arrests and detentions.
Protesters have been undeterred, and in an irreverent and stylish retort, have resorted to hand-clapping instead of shouting the slogans which lead to arrest. When Vitaly, an accountant who joined the protests, asked why he was clapping, he said ‘to annoy the president.’
The Economist reported that protesters who were being filmed by security forces pulled out camera phones and filmed right back.
The popular revolutions which characterized the first half of the year of Our Lady of Blessed Reforms, 2011, have been nothing short of astounding. Fueled by technology that is easy, cheap, and available, popular movements spurned by discontent and powerlessness, suddenly find themselves empowered, and delivered a platform that acts like fifty million megaphones and blasts their message of frustration across the seas, to expectant and ill-informed ears everywhere. Morocco, Spain, Greece, Bahrain, Belarus, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, like dominoes are inspired by each other’s refusal to acquiesce to the abhorrent status-quo. When previous acts of defiance would have been met by indefinite detention in some concrete hell, cell phone cameras act like impartial third party observers, documenting injustice and spreading it around for independent critique.
The critical point now, is what all these people will do with their dismantled governments and sudden liberty. Historically, the American government has shortsightedly insisted that stability is an acceptable consequence of repression. The shaking off of the fetters of dictatorships will, and have, inevitably melted into varying degrees of chaos on all fronts. With the tremendous upheaval, many countries have found themselves with energy and momentum, but no clear and simple new direction. The African revolutions of the 60’s remind us that the work just begins once the villain is deposed; and the real task lies in the evolution, not the revolution. The solidarity that comes with rallying against a joint oppressor often dissolves once the newly liberated begin to clamor for power, and differences of opinion as to the methods of successful nation-building cause disharmony among groups once united against a clear and common enemy.
I find myself warmed by the glow of technology’s recent good samaritanism. Admittedly, I’ve been known, in earlier years, for rants and resistance regarding the over-teching of our lives; I assumed that the sterility of the systems, the impersonal communication, and the cheap and easy information would make us less human, less connected, less awake. The splendid upheavals across the world right now indicate otherwise. It suggests that technology, like everything else, is what we make of it.
Clap your hands say yeah, indeed.