The rise of resistance to repressive regimes is revolutionizing the Middle East and North Africa. The protestersâ€™ insistence on political and economic freedom from despots who have ruled for decades resonates around the globe. Although Americans arguably enjoy unrivaled freedom, and may not see the relevance of the revolutions, we can all learn at least three lessons from the protesters responsible for changing their history.
First, we can learn from the protestersâ€™ vehement resistance to unchecked authority.
The revolution began when citizens would no longer tolerate regimes that asserted unabridged power without accountability. In contrast, the U.S. has a system of checks and balances. However, that system only works if citizens take the initiative to dictate the political agenda, instead of allowing representatives to dictate agendas to the people.
U.S. citizens have a responsibility to demand accountability in government. That duty begins with voting. We take voting for granted, but the protestors in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are fighting for that basic right. On average, less than 50 percent of the eligible voting U.S. population actually votes. Americans must utilize the rights enumerated to them, or risk losing them to a powerful and unfettered government.
Second, we can learn from the protestersâ€™ demand for economic freedom.
The Tunisian revolts began when a young college graduate â€“â€“ who had supported his family of eight with an unlicensed fruit stand â€“â€“ had his stand taken away by a policewoman who demanded him to present a license for selling the fruit. After the stand and fruits were confiscated, he had no means of caring for his mother and siblings, so in defiance of the governmentâ€™s overbearing policy, he lit himself on fire in front of a federal building.
In the U.S., upper-class citizens enjoy economic freedom, but citizens in the lower and middle classes arguably do not. There is no freedom in debt. Corporations dominate the market with monopolies and duopolies, making it increasingly difficult for small and locally-owned businesses to succeed in the nation that boasts of being the land of entrepreneurs.
Even worse, although ruthless business fraud committed by banks, lenders and mortgage companies cost millions of Americans their homes and life savings in the recent economic meltdown, nothing has been done to ensure that they discontinue those duplicitous practices. Debt-financed consumption, deregulation of banks and devious lending practices catalyzed an economic collapse, to which government responded by subsidizing and bailing out corporations and banks but not a single individual citizen.
It is naÃ¯ve to think that government and corporate corruption only occur elsewhere in the world; unbalanced power always leads to corruption. Americans have a duty to stand against their governmentâ€™s corporate welfare system that supports the few at the expense of the many.
Third, we can learn from the protestersâ€™ ability to organize and make their voices heard.
Despite the commonly held belief that revolution requires monetary support, an effective resistance movement primarily requires a large group of people united for a common cause. In fact, it is the lowest and most oppressed who are fueling the revolutions.
Admittedly, in the U.S., those with the fattest wallets have the highest efficacy in politics, but it is time to correct that. The most underprivileged groups in the U.S. are perceived to have low efficacy due to lack of money. But, if enough disgruntled people rise-up, their voices will be heard.
Grassroots organizations can successfully inspire policy modifications. Americans witnessed the success of revolutionary ideas from the inception of this country in the Revolutionary War, through the Civil Rights movement and hopefully through the movement for gay rights.
Ultimately, the protesters who catalyzed the revolution have shown us how to exercise and demand the rights that we, as Americans, already enjoy. In order to make sure those rights are ensured for future generations, it is our duty to rise-up and demand accountability, now.
Courtney Stuard is a senior journalism major. Her column appears on Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.