Since I live in a country where all that matters is the bottom line, and that’s all that does matter in Amurika, it was refreshing to learn that the protest movement in Russia, currently demonstrating against the Putin regime and the rigged elections that brought him back, has mostly been motivated by political, not economic discontent. The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the US has so far focused on the economic disparities exploited and widened by the banking industry; we wait to see if the protests will actually galvanize political action and change. In Russia, however, the protestors in Russia are mostly well to do, and have materially thrived under Putin. What they chafe against is a society in which they still do not have the certain unalienable rights of man: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
One of the biggest problems in Russia today is that journalists who criticize the regime are often killed by the regime. These protests have given Westerners a unique window into the political climate on the ground in Russia. Without a free press, it’s difficult to assess the nature and quality of dissent in Russia beyond what the Putin propaganda machine wants us to believe: not much. But the protests have given that dissent a public face, many faces, that are young, well-educated, wealthy and artistic. The protestors in Russia are in many ways the crème de le crème of the society – and they are furious about the blatant oligarchy they live under. They can grow rich, but they can’t say what they want.
The OWS movement has been criticized for being composed of hippies who don’t know what to do next, and it’s not clear whether the Russian protestors have a plan either. Nor do we know how the protestors in Egypt intend to go about reform, beyond trying to stop the violence being perpetrated by the military regime that overthrew Mubarak. How did the founding fathers do it? It sounds like a coherent narrative now, but my guess is at the time it looked a lot more like trial and error.
There’s a lot to be hopeful for in times of protest, because it often signals a society in flux. Regime change in Russia and Egypt are necessary: it’s a matter of life and death. The political system in the US has been hijacked by big business, big corporations and big money, creating a stratified society with the wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, not dissimilar to Russia’s oligarchy. Recent statistics show that despite the great wealth of this nation, one-third of its people are in poverty. Can the system change itself? Not according to the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Happy New Year. May it be filled with what matters to you – hopefully it’s beyond the bottom line.