Good Points Gathered from Random Sources

New Orleans    I find that people are working hard to figure it all out these days. In the way that squirrels gather acorns for the winter, I find myself nodding with interest and often approval at random comments that seem worth picking up as excellent points worth remembering and advice worth taking.

Walking Lucha this morning I noticed a sign in the window of an apartment on the block nearby that fits this description.  It simply said, “Where are the cages for white immigrants?”  Bon point, as my friends in France say.  It is a mistake to assume that all of the undocumented immigrants in the country who have overstayed or are seeking asylum are brown or black, but where do you hear that story?

I have trouble focusing on the full score of candidates in the Democratic listings for president at this point.  No one has voted.  We surely have all learned by now that the so-called “money” primary cannot elect a candidate, as the close scare Clinton had from Sanders in recent memory.  We must know from Trump’s success that the “media” primary of pundits and political talking heads can’t do so either.  Still we are being herded into handicapping winners and losers, those ahead and behind in these early days.  What do we make of shooting stars like Mayor Pete, and what are his real positions, anyway?  Or, the falling star of Beto O’Rourke.  I found a point made by Natalia Salgado, the political director of the Center for Popular Democracy Action, insightful when she was quoted int the Times saying, “Charisma will get you so far, it’s important obviously, that’s the sort of thing that can get you to float above the rest, but what is the thing that brings it home? Ultimately a movement cannot be built on something as fragile as another human being.”  Important question?  Valuable insight!

And, from Daniel Victor, a reporter for the New York Times, we learn something about tactics from the current Hong Kong protestors.  He was asked, “How did the marchers use tech?”  His answer was a door opening to a better understanding of the tactics of the future as he described the Hong Kong demonstrators, saying,

“The demonstrations thus far have been mostly leaderless – there’s no single person or organization deciding what comes next.  Instead, they’re directly voting on what actions to take by participating in online discussion forums….  An individual will post with a suggested course of action, like protesting outside a specific building or at a specific time.  Other participants will upvote or downvote the post, and when a post gets enough attention, they solidify those plans,

Another key difference is in how they have a far more hands-off approach to social media than any comparable effort in the United States would.  Whereas a lot of demonstrations in the United States would be grist for selfies and Instagram-ready signs, protestors here are very concerned the government could identify their faces in photos and later charge them with crimes.  Many hide behind surgical masks and would never post evidence of themselves taking part.  They discourage people, even news photographers, from taking photos where faces are identifiable.  It’s not built for gaining likes, and they trust exposure will come through the larger messaging.”

This is helpful as we read about drones and airplane surveillance by police in Baltimore and face-recognition software being used by security forces domestically and internationally.  It is hard to imagine how organic, and I dare say, democratic, action planning is in Hong Kong if Victor is correct in his observations.  In Hong Kong they are absolutely right to let their actions speak for the movement, not social media, so they may understand this better than others.

Is this the future?  I don’t know, but in this work – and world – we learn something every day.  We better pay attention in class, because the lessons are everywhere, if we are open to learning.


Curious Tactics of Anti-Government Protests in Albania

Tirana   You first feel the tear gas in your eyes, but quickly a small cough hacks away, as you put a handkerchief over your nose and mouth to breathe more easily.  Standing back from throng so we could observe clearly, we knew the tear gas was coming even before we felt its effect.  A surge of the crowd to the left of us swept nearby toward a street along side of the Parliament building and across from the Prime Minister’s offices.  Earlier, we had observed the security forces with their cameras from the tops of both buildings monitoring the crowd.  When flares and Molotov cocktails were thrown from the crowd over the police line towards the scaffolding covered in a green shroud in front of the main doors, and the first protestors broke through the thin police line, the security at the top of the Prime Minister’s building seemed to have left their posts.  When they returned, we could see them hoist their tear gas launchers and repeatedly fire straight down at the crowd, setting off sharp explosions and billowing clouds of gas.

Strangely, this seemed the point of the protest itself.  We had watched it gather before the announced time of 11 AM.  The small groups of mostly men had milled around for some time, as we watched the thin police line form along the edge of the streets bordering the building.  I would estimate no more than 500, none with guns or outfitted with riot gear, but all simply uniformed with tear gas masks connected to their belts.  There were no barricades, which would have been a common feature in the US and UK, especially for a protest so well advertised around the country.  The police were the least intimidating I have ever seen.  Fifty kindergarten children running at play would easily have broken through the line at many points.

This was simply a demonstration and a dance that both sides knew would start with the first movements and end with tear gas and tedium.  There was never a chance that protestors would breach the building.  There were no speeches.  There were a few signs and some Albanian, and, even American, flags hoisted by the protestors.  There were perches built for the TV cameras and media aplenty.  There was some momentary excitement as the lead line marched up the street but that stalled once they arrived in front of the building.  With a crowd I would estimate at perhaps 10,000, though some later news reports said it was “tens of thousands,” they then seemed to wait until most had assembled to go through the motions of seeming to assault the building.

The Prime Minister was in the south, though there were rumors he was in the nearby port city and protestors had surrounded him.  This was part of the jab and feint of opposing parties that had been seen in Albania for decades.  The current ruling Socialist Party in several elections, some very controversial, had finally unseated the Democratic Party that had ruled for years since the fall of Communism.  The SP had boycotted Parliament frequently in protest as it increased its numbers behind Edi Rama, who had finally also won election as mayor of Tirana, where more than a third of the country lives.  The Socialist Party became dominate in 2013 and then finally won an outright majority of 75 of the required 70 seats to control Parliament in the 2017 elections.  The next elections are in 2021, but the Democratic Party is unhappy at the current situation and using these protests to demand new elections for parliament now.  There are wide accusations of corruption and connections to drug trafficking, but a quick reading of national press doesn’t seem to raise these concerns past a modest level.  Public employment is huge in Albania, and the “in’s” push away the “outs” without anything resembling civil service protections, so much of this seems to mostly be the “outs” trying to stage a comeback and prove their relevance to the public while gumming up the works with a measure of gridlock in legislation to block reforms protested by Prime Minister Rama and his party in the meantime.


We walked past the tear gas into fresh air, spring-like temperatures, and a beautiful sunny day by noon, along with thousands of others, leaving the rest for what reporters wrote ended many hours later until undoubtedly another day.