Protests are kicking off all around the World. In Lebanon, Chile, Iraq, Hong Kong, Spain, Ecuador, Bolivia, Pakistan and Russia and in many other places there have been anti government demonstrations. The school strikes and extinction rebellion movements touched nearly every country on Earth, with their demands for action to be taken over the ecological and climate crisis. Most of the media reporting covers each demonstration as a separate story and the focus is usually to magnify visually photogenic dress or on any violence, however tiny this is in relation to the total event. Serious analysis of what impels all these many millions of people to take to the streets and what links all the various actions seems very inadequate.
The BBC in a rather bland and disjointed article did try and make a few linkages about people’s frustration over inequality and government corruption, and mentioning in a rather disconnected way the climatic and ecological emergency. Will Bunch, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, gave some good historical background on Chile and the malign influence of American foreign policy, and how both countries now have such dangerously high levels of inequality as a direct result of a toxic economic ideology.
Francisco Anguitar, a demonstrator in Chile said “We’re asking for justice, honesty, ethical government”, a sentiment no doubt shared by many. The question is what does ‘justice, honesty and ethical government’ look like in the current global situation? Recent revelations about the extent to which Exxon knew about the dangers of climate change and then systematically organised a massive disinformation campaign over several decades come as no surprise to many of us. Governments consistently promote corporate interests over public health. Air quality in our cities is atrocious, but nobody expects governments to take the required action. Inequality grows ever more extreme. Governments may come and go but the ruling oligarchs and the corporate interests they represent remain unchallenged. They control the media. Public frustration and anger grow ever greater, opening up dangerous possibilities.
The vast majority of the people demonstrating all over the world want peaceful change. They want a degree of social and ecological justice simply beyond the scope of anything that gets much coverage in the media. If change does not come quickly and peacefully the ever growing levels of public frustration and anger could led to violence and chaos. Recent Syrian history is a warning.
During the Arab Spring peaceful protesters in Syria were met by ever greater levels of repression and violence by the state. People felt impelled to protect themselves and their communities. The violence escalated into a multi-sided and intractable civil war. Some increasingly credible visions of a dystopian future see such strife escalating to become a totally global phenomenon.
Private jet aircraft embody social injustice and climatic destruction. Sales of such planes are increasing. In any conceivable future that is both ecologically and socially just they simply could not exist. The co-existence of billionaires and the very poor is the result of an economic system that was designed to create inequality. Taxation systems need to be redesigned to create radically greater equality both within and between countries. Any billionaire anywhere on Earth is evidence of a failure of economic justice. What the people are demanding is for the austerity that has been directed at the poor be redirected towards to the rich, and the affluence and resources that has flowed to the rich be redirected to the poor until some degree of economic justice is established. And to do all this while rapidly cutting carbon emissions and all other forms of pollution, and restoring the Earth’s wonderful biodiversity. A big ask, and one that requires system change, globally.