Monday, March 21, 2011

Viva the Peaceful: 9/11 and Libya

There is certainly the danger that this blog post gets a bit rambling. However, I have been dealing with many threads of thought with the recent events around the world especially those of North Africa (note - that Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco are all in Africa) and Wisconsin.

My feeling from the start has been of total awe and true support - despite what might emerge from these attempts at political revolution - for these local democratic efforts. All of these uprisings have essentially swelled up - though not without many decades of tyranny and abuse by the targeted regimes - without clear leadership, without a coherent plan and without violent aims. These movements remind me of what was going on around the globe with the rising international movement of activism at the turn of the end of the 20th century. These efforts focused on the multi-lateral institutions of the world that seemed to only pander to the interests of the elites. The lack of many of these institutions at having any kind of social voice was one of the biggest complaints. People felt that the interests of communities, of locals, of underprivileged and poor were not being heard or acknowledged. This led to the organic rise of a non-hierarchical globally connected movement. This movement was what created the Battle for Seattle in 1999 (an event that I had the privilege to attend as a photojournalist for the Independent Media Center), and the growing World Social Forum in Brazil and many such efforts.

Then came 9/11 and we had war! And our movement was derailed, our focus shifted, government now had increased power to crack down on demonstrators, to block access to countries and use new surveillance tools. At the time - and I think maybe somewhere on this blog - I wrote about how I felt that 9/11 was as much about our history in the Middle East as it was about ending the rising social movement. 9/11 became an excuse to crack down and switch our focus to a debate over violence - and acceptable forms of violence and war and more.

I bring 9/11 up because I believe in many ways what is going on in Libya is another example of this. The movements in Tunisia and Egypt, the ongoing demonstrations in Yemen, Morocco and those of Bahrain were movements focused on peaceful demands. Many of these efforts first met with violence and harassment, many of these movements were against US supported dictators. But, most importantly they were non-violent, they were spreading organically, they had no leadership and there seemed no way to stop them. Enter the use of violence - the effort to stop Qaddafi - who conveniently is an enemy of the West so we have a good excuse and a good history of indoctrination in the mind of Westerners to his evil ways (and I am not saying that he is not a tyrannical leader that should leave immediately). But, note that there was and still is no mention of protecting demonstrators in Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain. I don't need to get into the geo-strategic questions of this reasoning. Rather, what I am trying to draw attention to is the way in which the use of American (and Western) violence has again come to control the debate. It has meant that the movements in these countries are now faced with the prospect of violence and of the divides between the West and Arab worlds. It returns us to the same rhetoric of violence, and us verse them, while moving us away from the awe-inspiring, hair standing up, immense voices of democratic peoples movements.

My point is that there seems to be a connection here. In both instances violence was inserted into the global conversation around the power of peaceful movements. It is as if we are being reminded, dis-empowered almost, by the fact that violence will inevitably enter the picture and that violence is the solution in the end - that peaceful movements (and by peaceful I don't mean that there won't be violence in the form maybe of self-defense against government forces - the same thing happened in Seattle and hence became the Battle of Seattle, but again in this instance the government inserted the violence and changed the debate) can't solve the problem.

The attacks on Libya deeply concern me. Yes, it is true that maybe Qaddaffi would have attacked and slaughtered people in Benghazi, maybe he would have retained power. But, in the end maybe his legitimacy would have been so weakened that he would not have been able to hold onto power. Now, we are at war, now we see the splintering return the Middle East verse the West - the insertion of US military power. Why in this instance is technology not all powerful? Why in this instance are the people not empowered? Is it because Qaddafi has chosen to use force? Has he not done this before? Did not Mubarak or the leaders of Yemen, or the leaders of Tunisia or other countries use violence and oppression?

I think that this decision to bomb Libya is the right decision for the elites and political powers of the world - because it returns the debate to a terrain they know and understand well. A terrain of violence and overwhelming force. I think this decision is aimed at ending the spread of these movements around the world. Leaders never know what to do with non-violent demonstrators. Thans Gandhi, thank MLK, thank Mandela for showing us this.

Viva the peaceful.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Japan and the need for Scenario Thinking

I am sitting listening to the radio about what is going on in Japan. There is much being said about how the government is not helping the local authorities around the nuclear power plant, how the American's are not playing a bigger role in providing food and other goods to stricken communities, and why there isn't a greater presence of the global nuclear power authorities housed in the UN.

And, there was one thing that each expert on the panel mentioned, the fact that there was no preparation for this scale of disaster. They said repeatedly that this "scenario" had not been thought of. This puzzles me in several ways - surely the global nuclear authorities would run a set of scenarios that would look at multiple environmental disasters - or was it just assumed that such a conflation of events would never happen? The American's obviously have no plans in place for helping Japan, or any other country that they have a large military presence in, for helping that country in the throws of a major catastrophe. And, there was obviously no plan within the Japanese government for a nuclear meltdown in a region that may not be accessible via road.

This event in Japan follows quickly on the heals of the series of North African revolutions. Again, here we see a bunch of events occur that no one had thought of, or had considered as within the realm of reality. We see this is in the failings of the American's to have any clear response to the revolutions - they failed to know where to stand with Mubarak, they have miss-stepped a couple times in Bahrain - between supporting the monarchy and now dealing with Saudi Arabia's military arrival.

All of these events over the past couple of months point to the need to fully explore multiple futures, and to take into consideration wild card futures (very unlikely) and other possibilities in a way that allows us to build resiliency into our system. The need to consider the range of unexpected events and the possibility of increasing convergence between environmental and human disasters - as our populations grow so will the devastation be increased.

At my company, Adaptive Edge <>, we work to provide this to companies and governments. We explore ways in which these entities can learn to adapt to unexpected events while helping to be part of the already existing shifts in our global political-economy. Ideas of involving stakeholders, engaging unexpected realties, and exploring the impact of already existing trends on our possible futures.

I think the big message here for people, governments and businesses, is that they need to prepare for multiple futures and possible scenarios of what could occur. Having those futures on their shelves with associated strategies is something that we all need - it is a way of being prepared, agile and resilient.

My prayers are with the people of Japan, New Zealand and North Africa as they all deal with the arrival of unexpected events and the sudden emergence of new futures - futures that many may not have ever thought possible.