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Young People’s Leadership in Global Uprisings Since 2011

Youth-Led Recent Global Uprisings

Gayle Kimball, Ph.D.

Abstract: interviews and surveys with 4184 young people from 88 counties and interviews with youth activists, raised the obvious questions why and how were youth-led uprisings able to topple entrenched dictators and their violent security forces? This article addresses youth demography, why ageist scholars ignore youth activism, and asks why youth were able to mobilize large masses of contentious direct actions. Some of the answers are they’re brave because they don’t respect traditional authority, are influenced by global media and access to ICT. They value horizontal democracy that aligns with female socialization to be cooperative and focus on relationships. More input from youth is found in a trilogy of books in progress on global youth activism, the global girl revolution, and global youth culture. The author invites readers to critique chapters of interest via email. gkimball@csuchico.edu

 

The article is available at:

http://www.heathwoodpress.com/why-recent-global-uprisings-are-led-by-youth-gayle-kimball/

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Why youth-led global uprisings?

A summary of global youth uprisings
http://www.heathwoodpress.com/why-recent-global-uprisings-are-led-by-youth-gayle-kimball/

Books about the Arab Spring ignore youth

A series of books examine the Arab Uprisings, but not with a focus on youth except for Youth and the Revolution in Tunisia (Zed, 2013). Arab Spring Dreams consists of young adult’s fiction and non-fiction, written before the uprisings. Arab Youth is an edited collection written before the uprisings.

Ashraf Khalil. Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation. ST. Martin’s Press, 2011.

Marwan Bishara. The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolutions. Nation Books, 2012.

Bassam Haddad, R. Bsheer and Z Abu-Rish, eds. The Dawn of the Arab Uprisings. Pluto Press, 2012.

Nasser Weddady and Sohrab Ahmari, eds. Arab Spring Dreams. Palgrave, 2012.

Gilbert Achcar. The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Spring., University of California Press, 2013.

Layla al-Zubaidi and Matthew Cassel, eds. Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution: Voices from Tunis to Damascus. Penguin Books, 2013.

Paul Danahar. The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring. Boomsbury Press, 2013.

Alcinda Honwana. Youth and the Revolution in Tunisia. Zed, 2013.

Global youth are 1/4 of the world’s population. Who are they?

The major difference between young people today is not their nationality but whether they’re urban or rural. Illiterate villagers live in a past century. For example, I interviewed village kids in Indonesia, India and Pakistan who had never heard of global warming (see the interview with an illiterate Pakistani girl in Chapter 13). Middle-class urban young people share a youth culture with its own music (hip-hop), clothes (jeans and T-shirts), slang (cool), social networks (Facebook and Twitter), and electronic pastimes (video games, texting, movies and TV). However, almost half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day and about one billion people are illiterate.[i] When around 5% of the global population receives 40% of world income,[ii] rising expectations fuel discontent.

Global youth live in rural areas, in urban slums, or urban and suburban middle-class families—in that order. Middle class young people are the ones who have the opportunity to get an education and access the Internet, either at home or in Internet cafes. Only a fifth of youth live in upper-middle and high-income countries. Globally, 31% of females and 28% of males are enrolled in higher education,[i] while about 8% of boys are illiterate and 13% of girls.[ii] Illiteracy is highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia. Globally, about 150 million children live on the streets, some without any parents to care for them.[iii]

The interview with Mashal in Chapter 14, a rural Pakistani teenager who lives in a mud brick hut, conveys the pain of spending all your time working to try to feed the family, being illiterate and having no control over your own life. She only saw her fiancé once and hopes he won’t insist on gold jewelry for her dowry that her family can’t afford. Photos of the one-room apartment I visited in Shanghai covey what their life is like. The little girl, age 8, said her parents argue all the time over lack of money. They can’t afford to get medical care for a burn scar that bothers her, but she is going to school.

Photos of the favela I visited in Rio de Janerio reveal bullet holes in walls from gun battles between the young drug lords who control the favela and the police. A study of one favela found the average school attendance was for four years–20% of Brazilians live in favelas.[iv] The young men sat on their motorcycles guarding the entrance to the favela, knowing they will probably die in their 20s. The woman who showed me around Rochina has staph sores on her legs because of the human waste in floodwaters that flow in the narrow alleys between houses when it rains. Because of poverty and drug use, families are unstable with children growing up without their fathers.

Katherine Boo reports on the grim details of children’s lives as trash pickers in a Mumbai slum in her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012). Rubina, the child star of Slumdog Millionaire also grew up in a Mumbai slum. She told her story to a French writer when she was nine (although she doesn’t know her exact birthday).[v]  Rubina described the children playing along the railroad tracks, because it’s dark and damp in the shacks, so close together they don’t allow sunlight, similar to the slums I saw in Rio. Her extended family sleeps next to each other on mats in one small room with no window, and their only luxury is an old black and white TV.

Rubina explains there is no privacy in the slum and people insult and shout at each other “all the time.” Boys harass and chase the girls. Kids have to get up early to wait in line to get water for the day before the water stops at 10 am so they can’t go to school. During monsoon season, the slum floods with dirty water as it does in Rochina. There’s a toilet area with three holes that don’t get pumped out. Rats and mosquitoes cause diseases; “every year children die of malaria in our slum,” she reports.

The poor don’t have the resources to pull themselves out of poverty and their governments are in debt. Economic development moves from agriculture in rural areas to light manufacturing and urbanization, to high-tech services in cities, but poor counties don’t have the basics to get the evolution started, explains economist Jeffery Sachs.[vi] He breaks down the numbers of global poverty this way:

1 billion: About one sixth of the world’s people are the extreme poor who live in developing countries and earn pennies a day. In India, about 836 million people live on less than 50 cents a day. They are not on the ladder to development and progress, caught in a poverty trap. For example, two-thirds of India’s population of a billion people lives in the nation’s 600,000 villages. Despite India’s economic growth, the disparities between wealth and poverty are enormous. Many villagers migrate to the cities in search of work and end up begging on the streets.

Most of the poor live in rural sub-Saharan Africa, and East and South Asia. In Latin America, the extreme poverty rate is stuck at around 10%. Globally, a record 1 billion people went hungry in 2009, with parents cutting back on school and health care to give their children a meal once a day, according to the UN Food Agency. A child dies every six seconds of malnutrition, so investment in agriculture needs to be increased. Thirty countries require emergency aid to feed people, including 20 African nations. I asked Hassan in Pakistan to interview a village girl so we could have an insight into the life of one illiterate girl who spends her days working without hope for a better life, in the next chapter.

 

1.5 billion are poor who have food but may lack safe drinking water and working latrines, as in Bangladesh. Together with the extreme poor, they make up 40% of humanity. Approximately half the world’s population of 7 billion (as of 2011) now lives in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) were living in slum conditions.

 

2.5 billion are middle-income. Most of them live in cities, but wouldn’t be considered middle class by rich countries. They may be able to purchase a scooter and send their children go to school. About 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty, according to the National Academy of Science in 2009. MAHD doctors report 50 million Americans don’t have health insurance, 14,000 lose coverage each day, and 120 die daily due to lack of health care. [vii] The US lost 15 million jobs since the Great Recession of 2008, so many Americans also struggle with food shortages—about 5.6 million households had chronic struggles putting enough food on the table in 2009.[viii]

 

1 billion, about one-sixth of the world, is high-income. The richest countries, in terms of average earnings of the population, are Luxembourg, Norway and the United States. The most expensive countries to live in are Japan, South Korea, and Russia. The countries with the most billionaires are the US, Japan, and Germany. (aneki.com)

 

Improvement is occurring in some areas. The UN reported in 2010 that the extreme poverty rate (earning less than $1.25 a day) fell from 46% in 1990 to 27% in 2005, and is expected to fall to 15% by 2015, mainly because of gains in Asia.[ix] Deaths among children under five years of age have been reduced from 12.5 million per year (1990) to 8.8 million (2008).[x] However, hunger and malnutrition are increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and gaps are widening between rich and poor and between urban and rural areas. Women are more impacted by poverty: A girl who lives in a poor households is four times more likely than a similar boy to not be in school. In some African regions, less than half the women are assisted by skilled health workers when they give birth.

 


[i] http://www.prb.org/pdf13/youth-data-sheet-2013.pdf

Population Reference Bureau, “The World’s Youth 2013 Data Steet.”

 

[v] Rubina Ali. Slumgirl Dreaming. Delacorte Press, 2009.

[vi] Jeffrey Sachs. The End of Poverty, 2005

[viii] A 2010 report by the US Department of Agriculture. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/FoodSecurity/food_frequency.htm


[i]Anup Shah, “Causes of Poverty,” Global Issues, March 24, 2013.

http://www.globalissues.org/issue/2/causes-of-poverty

[ii] Catherine Rampell, “Thy Neighbor’s Wealth,” New York Times, January 28, 2011.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/books/review/Rampell-t.html?pagewanted=print

Women Lead Revolutions

Women use blogs, videos and cell phones to publicize events and educate people about revolutionary issues. Asmaa Mahfouz, 26, is called the Leader of the Revolution because of her famous video appealing to men’s honor to come to Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Her family forbade her to demonstrate on the street and cut her off from the Internet, so she used her phone to organize from her bedroom. Libyan women lawyers were pioneering organizers against Gaddafi in Benghazi and women started uprisings in Lebanon and Israel. Natalia Morar, 25, a Moldovan journalist organized a protest against rigged elections that attracted 20,000 people storming the parliament building in 2009. This was called the first “Twitter Revolution.” Like other organizers she was surprised at the turnout of young supporters.

Young women’s courage is astounding: Anyone who follows world news has heard of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani advocate for girls’ education since she started writing a blog for BBC at age 11. She represents a pattern of outspoken first-born women who were encouraged by their fathers. When her teacher father was asked about his influence, Ziauddin said, “You should not ask me what I have done. Rather you ask me, what I did not do. I did not clip her wings to fly. I did not stop her from flying.”[i] A traditional stimulus for women’s leadership was belief that holy spirit was guided them, like the teenage Joan of Arc, or the 19th century women founders of US religions Christian Science and the Seventh Day Adventists. Today the inspiration for young women and men activists willing to put their lives on the line is justice, freedom, and dignity rather than the holy spirit, political party, union or class.

Youth-Led Revolution in Tunisia, critique of social movement theory

In the only book about youth’s role in a Middle East uprising (Youth and Revolution in Tunisia, 2013), Mozambican scholar Alcinda Honwana analyzed the Tunisian youth movement that displaced dictator Ben Ali. She points out that the research on social movements that began nearly a century ago is biased towards Western Europe and North America, with some research on South America. Also, studies of non-violent movements have neglected Africa with the possible exception of South Africa. Post-Marxist European research studies the New Social Movements that began in the 1960s such as environmentalism and feminism. In the Global South, movements are more interested in jobs than human rights. Since the 1990s North Americans were interested in what makes a movement succeed, using Resource Mobilization and Political Process (PP) models that looked at the structure and organization of movements. Applying PP to the Tunisian movement, as to why Ben Ali couldn’t maintain power, Honwana points to economic crisis, unemployment especially of young college graduates, and splintering of the elites, plus widespread anger over police violence and censorship. In terms of framing the uprising to get broad support, the demand “Ben Ali leave” had broad appeal. But she finds the PP limited because youth aren’t involved in the old political process; they’re making a new politics outside of political parties. She observed that SMT hasn’t looked closely at post-revolutions that are developing a new form of politics. In summary, with a few exceptions, “these theories have failed to take account Southern realities.”

Young leftist Greek leader called the most dangerous man in Europe

A rising political star is Alexis Tsipras (born in 1974), the young leader of the SYRIZA coalition of small leftist groups. Referred to as the most dangerous man in Europe, he wants to cancel the €240 billion bailout agreement with the Troika and stop cuts to social programs. He stated in 2012, “The rotten and reliant establishment is making its last stand. Their dominance is ending after they looted the country and saddled it with debt.”[i] He explains, “Our political plan is to effect alternative policies that will efficiently address the crisis and kickstart the economy by supporting the weak, creating new employment and supporting basic incomes. Greece’s reconstruction will come from a fresh developmental plan, one that is aimed at income redistribution, decent jobs and the enhancement of public goods.”[ii]

As a high school student (age 16) he led student protests against education reforms, appearing on TV as a spokesman and he has a photo of Che Guevara on his office wall. He was a member of Communist Youth where he met his partner and mother of his sons. Unlike many other Greek politicians he isn’t a member of an elite family and is rarely seen wearing a tie. He campaigned to be head of the European Commission in 2014, causing some leftist philosophers who opposed participating in meaningless elections to support Tsipra. Philosophers Antonio Negri and Sandro Mezzadra explained essential issues can “only be addressed at a European level. Outside of this sphere there is no such thing as political realism.”[iii] While French philosopher Alain Badiou advocated “subtraction” from the state and denigrated the uprisings in Egypt and Greece as “communist invariants,” Negri believes It’s possible to create a “new political grammar” working with European organizations.


[ii] Lynn Stuart Parramore, “Exclusive Interview: Meet Alexis Tsipras,” AlterNet, February 12, 2013.

http://www.alternet.org/world/exclusive-interview-meet-alexis-tsipras-most-dangerous-man-europe?page=0%2C2

[iii] Srecko Horvat, “President Alexis Tsipras: Is that a Joke?” The Guardian, January 21, 2014.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/21/alexis-tsipras-european-commission-president-syriza

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