As I write, immense protests are taking place in India against the new anti-Muslim law and Hong Kong activists, who have been protesting for their own rights for months, stand in solidarity with the Uighur people being persecuted on the other side of China. The decade will end in protest. But who can look back a decade when a week in Trump time is like a century, and hardly anyone can remember the overstuffed chaos of the month before, let alone 2017, to say nothing of the remote era before he was president?
Seriously, people keep forgetting what came before, which is why they fail to recognise patterns, consequences and the real power of movements. For instance, the wave of feminism called #MeToo is often treated as a sudden eruption out of nowhere when in fact it came out of a very specific somewhere: a ferocious upsurge of global feminism over the past decade that had been spawning news, protests, hashtags and action about feminism before #MeToo in 2017. That upsurge was itself the culmination of feminist analysis and action for decades before. All that happened in October of 2017 was that movie stars got involved.
But my real fear is that the 2010s will, like the 1980s, be misremembered through oversimplification. People dismissively say the 1980s were “Reagan”, as though several billion people on several continents were one reactionary old white man in America. Ronald Reagan was horrible, and his regime launched the reversal of decades of progress towards economic equality and security in the United States. But beyond and all around, the 1980s saw remarkable activism with immediate consequences – the overthrow of the Marcos regime in the Philippines through people power in 1986, the overthrow of the South Korean military dictatorship in 1987, the toppling of the whole eastern bloc of Soviet states in 1989, the beginning of the end of the apartheid era in South Africa (and powerful but unsuccessful uprisings in Burma and China).
But a lot of groundwork was also laid for what was to come, with feminism, Aids activism and queer rights organising, and the beginning of a profound shift toward recognising racial and social issues in the environmental movement. Even deeper than that was the evolution of new, inclusive, less hierarchical, nonviolent organising strategies that rejected some of the failed tactics and principles of past activism and have been important ingredients in movements ever since. [Continue reading…]