May 15, Nakba Day, marked the anniversary of the dispossession and forced displacement of the Palestinian people. Dhikra al-nakba, literally “memory of the catastrophe,” commemorates not only the destruction of a society and loss of home, but also the continuous struggle that Palestinians have since waged for the recognition of their rights.
The current bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli military, which has targeted residential buildings and left scores of Palestinians dead and many more without homes, and the thinly veiled project of ethnic cleansing and land grabbing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, are not exceptional but rather exemplary of the Israeli settler colonialist state and its apartheid policies. This intensification of the ongoing violence in occupied Palestine underscores the need for vocal and visible international solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Many protests and other acts of solidarity are being planned worldwide in the coming days; you can find partial lists here and here; checking social media of local Palestinian advocacy organizations should provide the most up-to-date information. Tuesday, May 18 has been named a day of action in solidarity with the Palestinian uprising and general strike.
Barricade stands in solidarity with GSOC members and their families who are currently on strike to fight for equitability and standards of care in their working conditions.
After ten months of bad-faith negotiations and stonewalling by the NYU administration, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC-UAW 2110), NYU’s Graduate Worker Union, has been left no alternative but to strike. NYU has refused to adequately respond to the most pressing matters to rank and file GSOC members, including: a living wage, robust healthcare, childcare subsidies and parental leave, financial and legal support for international students, and stronger workplace health and safety regulations — crucially, protections against power-based harassment and the removal of NYPD from campus.
For a cogent statement of the stakes and of cross-faculty support from the NYU chapter of American Association of University Professors, see here. The NYU chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America also stands in solidarity with GSOC members and affiliates.
For information about the demands of GSOC related to healthcare, living wage, and workplace safety, seehere. If you are interested in supporting GSOC, please learn about potential actionshere or sign a letter of supporthere. Click here to read GSOC’s response to President Hamilton and Provost Fleming’s offensively misleading email to the entire NYU community, mischaracterizing GSOC’s position. Join the virtual picket line here.
Bilingual poet and scholar Patrick Sylvain’s book-length collection of English/Haitian Creole poems — Unfinished Dreams / Rèv San Bout — from which the following sequence is drawn “investigates the unrealized personal and sociopolitical aspirations of Haitians, both at home and in the diaspora,” writes Sylvain. The motivating figure that limns and permeates these poetic reflections is the “unfinished.” Through it, Sylvain elaborates a range of historical, political, social, ecological, and formal poetic claims and wagers. The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) — an impertinent attack on global capital for which, Sylvain explains, the Haitian people continue to be punished — haunts this work, as a paradigmatic forbearer of all that remains to be done. Utilizing a wide array of formal constraints and poetic conceits gleaned from a variety of literary and cultural traditions, Sylvain is writing against enforced and encrusted ideas of prestige and class that obstinately attach to Haitian Creole as a language of aesthetic and intellectual production.
The following poems are interspersed with excerpts from Sylvain’s essay “Bilingual Existence and the Portals of Translation.” Listen to Sylvain reading his poems in both languages on the barricade/ramparts SoundCloud.
More selected poems from Unfinished Dreams / Rèv San Bout will appear in Barricade’s forthcoming Summer 2021 issue, where Sylvain will discuss his poetic engagement with historical and contemporary Haitian life.
Following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the main part of which proceeded in several stages from 1980 to 1992, the newly minted independent countries were granted the opportunity to try their hands at democracy.
The year 1992 saw the first parliamentary elections in Croatia, which were held in the approximate form as they still are today—i.e., citizens voted to fill the seats of around 150 representatives or deputies to serve in a unicameral parliament, the so-called Sabor. These seats would be re-filled every four years by direct popular vote. The aforementioned number of representatives is the first burning issue regarding the Croatian political system; specifically, for a country that is roughly the size of New York State and whose total population is estimated at just over 4 million, the figure is a tad too high, leaving plenty of room for (or perhaps occasioning) manipulation and corruption.
January 20, 2021, a new president—an old politician—is peaceably inaugurated in Washington, D.C., against a backdrop of proliferating fears, lurid fantasies, familiar rhetorical flourishes, fatiguing analyses, blurry concepts, and weird events. Partisans and observers leverage the language of exceptionalism (‘this is unprecedented’) and inevitability (‘this is a logical culmination of…’) in an attempt to get a grip on what is, what has been going on. What to call the actions of a collection of citizens who broke and entered upon what is ostensibly their own property, with the aim of interrupting the affirmation of what is also ostensibly their own will? ‘This is unprecedented’—but then again, no: these griefs, this disunity is nothing new. These are the energies summoned and solicited by the democratic organization of a polity, a polity that has never been united, and they are not unusual. The ordinariness of sometimes, often, incandescent divisions is one thing that we had hoped to elaborate in the context of this election : series. To move beyond the defensive posture of jaded wonder coupled with a smug ‘I told you so’ at the state of things. That, and to gather together as broad a picture as we could of the overdetermined fulcra that democratic elections are: the fierce, anguished, conflictual, historically determined energies that are brought to bear on a week, a day, a decision, a draft legal document, a legislative body, and that are meant to result in a series of actions and policies that answer, mollify, or reward these energies.
A society of solidarity and care emerging in response to state incompetence and repression enters the stage of military dictatorship at the outset of 2021. After five months of sustained peaceful protests, the number of people taking part in weekly marches is now waning as a result of poor weather, exhaustion, emigration, and pandemic spread; increasing are the networks of horizontal organization and solidarity initiatives from below. From August 2020 to January 2021, the Belarusian state and society have undergone several rapid metamorphoses: on the level of the state, a shift from state-capitalism with soft-authoritarian constitutional rule to a military dictatorship; on the level of civil society, a mass transformation of individuals into citizens and political subjects, active in a horizontal self-governance without leaders; on the level of gender relations, a crack in the hegemony of patriarchy; on the level of the protest movement, a morphing of an uprising into a revolution. If the August election presented an occasion for this process, prepared by the global context (such as the COVID pandemic and economic crisis) and local forces (such as the erosion of the welfare state and generational change), it was an event following that election that spurned this sustained protest movement. The riot police and other forces of the repressive state apparatus unleashed a wave of terror unprecedented in post-Soviet Belarus. What followed was a sustained act of defiance and resistance. A protest against fraudulent elections turned into a revolutionary resistance because in the terror actions that followed, the state authorities became identical with its repressive apparatus. It became clear that the police forces, riot police in particular, have been trained, sustained, privileged, and subsidized in the society with the sole purpose of doing exactly what they did—exercise brutality on the citizens—while fully believing themselves justified to do so, seeing themselves as the true citizens and rulers of the country. As it turned out in retrospect, protesters’ demand for the end of police violence and to hold those responsible for the crimes accountable amounted to a demand to overturn the entire system, because the system based on police violence was built in the course of the past 26 years since the democratic election of Aleksandr Lukashenko in 1994, who has retained the office of presidency since then. In other words, the Belarusian protest expressed a refusal to live in a country in which such terror is a possibility at all, which was tantamount to a revolutionary demand to remake a society as a whole.
At the time of this writing, over thirty thousand people have been detained (most on charges of violating the law on mass gatherings stipulated in Article 23.34), countless people have either left or were forced to leave the country, over 150 people are considered political prisoners, and several are dead since election day on August 9, 2020. The demands of the protesters have not changed: end police repression; release all political prisoners; hold new, fair elections. In the past five months, the protest movement has adopted neither a cohesive political program nor a geopolitical orientation. The world, and the post-Soviet sphere in particular, is following with a keen eye and a series of questions suspended in the air: Is governance without legitimacy, based solely on a repressive apparatus, possible? If so, how? Is peaceful protest insufficient for revolutionary transformation? When the times comes, will the forms of protest, characterized by solidarity, horizontality, and leaderlessness, subordinate or be subordinated by the content of oppositional politicians with the hegemonic neoliberal agenda waiting at bay? The Belarusian revolution has provided an alternative to the color revolutions in the region in the mode of its protest; will it provide an alternative in the mode of its politics? In what follows, I provide a timeline of the events, not so much from the point of view of heroes, a series of heroic actions, or sacrifices by the Belarusian civil society—of which there are many—but from the point of view of the dynamism of the protest with respect to the repression of the authorities that both suppresses and stimulates it. The meaning of these events, no doubt, is determined retroactively from the standpoint of January 2021—i.e., the events that appeared decisive from the standpoint of September have changed their meaning by January—and the current standpoint is characterized by the stalemate between the oppressive apparatus and peaceful protest. While the record of these events also serves an archival purpose, the standpoint of dynamism of the mass movement from which this story is told also serves as a reminder that any stalemate or disappearance of resistance is only apparent, so long as the causes of the resistance persist.
In 1998, the Green Party in Germany ran an election campaign with the slogan “New majorities only with us.” But what kind of majorities can elections create? I might be asking the obvious, given that elections are decided by majority votes channeled through an elaborate system of representatives. The elections in Germany in 1998 provide a case to complicate this notion of political and consequently national majority, because the Green Party and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) campaigned by centering social justice and by addressing the politically marginalized and ethnic minority segments of the populace, specifically German-Turks. A new political majority was constituted in 1998, and old convictions of an ethnically homogeneous nation were challenged through several statements, policies, and ultimately legal reforms. The figure of the foreigner (Ausländer) was deployed productively by all parties and ultimately facilitated the shift into a new national self-conception within a neoliberal Europe. In fact, I think, more than “new majorities,” a new minority emerged in the years after the 1998 elections—a Muslim minority. And for this minority to emerge and remain productive for political purposes, a longer history of migration built on the logic of return had to be undone.
How so? Let me explain through a personal-political account of ever-shifting Turkish life in Germany.
(adapted from Kamara’s article “Burkina Faso: Nothing will be as it was before,” published in Africa is a Country, October 2019)
A few years after the Jasmine Revolutions had shaken up North African countries, events came to a boil south of the Sahara in Burkina Faso. On October 31, 2014, massive street protests toppled President Blaise Compaoré who was in power for 27 years. Revolutions, uprisings or insurrections, whatever label you give them, tend to be presented as clear-cut turning points in history books, but the truth is that the first few years after such upheavals are often confused, complex, and sometimes downright demoralizing. It is still not clear how the outcome of the 2014 Burkina Faso insurrection will go down in history books—indeed, there is not yet even consensus on how the events should be referred to, though with time, the term “insurrection” has come to displace the term “revolution.” Awaiting the clarity of hindsight, here is a look back through the eyes of an ordinary bystander to the extraordinary events that occurred at the end of October five years ago.
Kenya was established as a republic in December 1964 after gaining independence from British colonial rule, and Jomo Kenyatta was elected Kenya’s first president. In 1969, Kenyatta transformed the new nation into a one-party state, leaving the Kenya African National Union (KANU) as the sole party that won all parliamentary seats through 1997. Kenyatta died in office in 1978, and Daniel arap Moi—then vice president—continued the presidency, becoming the country’s second president.
When fierce democratic pluralism swept across Africa in the late 1980s, Moi restored multiparty politics in 1992. Amid an outcry of election rigging, he won that year’s elections, as well as the 1997 election. In 2002, he declared that he would retire from the presidency and groomed Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Jomo Kenyatta, to lead KANU and take over the presidency. However, Uhuru Kenyatta was to face fierce competition from Mwai Kibaki, who campaigned on the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) party—a coalition of several small parties—promising new constitutional reforms and an end to government corruption. The outline below details the events that led to a new constitution and a new era of democracy in Kenya. Continue reading “election : kenya 2002 . . .”
The Zimbabwean elections in 2008 arrived during total economic disrepair and a peak moment of national frustration with the government, which had been controlled by Robert Mugabe and his party Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) since the country’s independence in 1980. This nominally socialist party that won the right to Black-majority rule decades prior was faced in the 2000’s with resistance to the violent strong-arm tactics Mugabe used to establish single party rule, conduct unsuccessful land reforms, and retain power. Electoral resistance to the regime had been raised before, with a contested election in 2002. At that time, however, Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party remained in power with the support of the African Union (AU), despite condemnations of misconduct from international observers and the opposition party: the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which was founded in 1999 by members of Zimbabwe’s trade union alliances in opposition to a constitutional referendum giving powers to the government to conduct land reforms. The AU’s support in 2002 is one of several markers showing that at the start of the decade, despite corroborated reports of political violence and social upheaval, Mugabe’s hold on the presidency was strong enough that challenges to its legitimacy—however valid—could be easily put aside (especially by other national leaders whose power may have been more or less democratically established). However, by 2007, with the environment of corruption, the growing inflation escalating from 8,000% to 100,000% by early 2008, and unemployment reaching throughout the country, the citizens of Zimbabwe were increasingly desperate for a change in regime. Continue reading “election : zimbabwe 2008”