That wasn’t really true. They had changed Putin, just not in the way they had hoped to. He went from being a non-ideological, pragmatic kleptocrat to a revanchist, nationalist neo-tsar. He passed laws making it harder to protest, to express dissent online, to inhabit one’s sexuality. And after similar protests sprung up in Kiev and helped overthrow the Ukrainian government two years later, he invaded the country, in part to show his citizens that they should stay unheard. And when his agents, masked as rioters, protested in the country’s east, they didn’t bring witty posters and sandwiches; they seized government buildings and the television towers, much like Bolshevik revolutionaries had made a beeline for the telegraph posts in 1917.She's absolutely right that the US opposition movement should focus like a laser on key points: organized pushback on targeted members of congress (and that means republicans) to sway their votes our way, organized planning for the 2018 midterms, organized message discipline. I suspect this won't be effective, and we will end up seeing in the US what Ioffe saw happen in Russia---a increasingly fascist state (strange to regret leaving behind the good old days of mere theft, bribery, and corruption, but these are the times we live in.) Still, it is the best of the bad options on the table.
Protests are a tricky thing, and America isn’t Russia. Protests can bring change, like Black Lives Matter did, and they can topple governments, as they did in Egypt. But in the case of the former, the protests became a movement that reached off the streets and into the presidential race, in part because there was a White House and Justice Department willing to take their concerns seriously. In the case of the latter, there was a political movement—the Muslim Brotherhood—that had been preparing for the moment for decades. Even those cases have proved fleeting: The Muslim Brotherhood took its own authoritarian turn after gaining power in democratic elections, and along with the Tahrir Square movement has since been crushed by the revanche of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Black Lives Matter, vilified by the Republican Party and the Trump campaign, will now potentially face a Justice Department headed by an Alabaman who has been accused of going after black civil rights activists. Both may end up back where they started: on the streets and unheard.
Talking to the protesters in Washington today, it was hard not to hear the echoes of the weakness of the Moscow protests five years ago: a vague, unstructured cause; too much diversity of purpose; no real political path forward; and the real potential for the meaning of the day to melt into self-congratulatory complacency.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
The women's counter-inaugural: next steps
Seeing the millions marching around the US and the world (even Antarctica!) in yesterday's counter-inaugural was heartening, but, as Julia Ioffe reflects, based on her experience with the anti-government demonstrations in Russia in 2011, be wary. Sometimes protest movements have no impact, and sometimes, as she points out, they push the government in even worse direction.