September 2, 2015
Welcome to the 2012 Hunger Games
Posted on May 1, 2012
By Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch
If you want to talk about hunger, talk about the unprecedented flooding that’s turned Pakistan from one of the world’s breadbaskets into a net food-importing nation, with dire consequences for the agricultural poor. Talk about China’s many impending ecological disasters, its degraded soil, contaminated air and water, its many systems ready to collapse. There’s more disruption of food production to come, a lot more, and lots more hunger, too.
Around this point in science fiction books and even history books, a revolution seems necessary. The good news I have for you this May Day is that it’s underway.
2011 was the year of strange weather, but it was also the year of global uprisings, and they’re far from over. They erupted in Russia, Israel, Spain, Greece, Britain, much of the Arab-speaking world, parts of Africa, and Chile, among other spots in Latin America (some of which got their revolutions underway earlier in the millennium). Uprisings have blossomed even in what the rest of the hungry world sees as the elite Capitol, the United States, and much of the English-speaking world, from London to New Zealand.
Square, Site wide
Remember that revolution doesn’t look much like revolution used to. That might be the most retrograde aspect of the very violent Hunger Games trilogy, the way in which the author’s imagination travels along conventional or old-fashioned lines. There, violence is truly the arbitrator of power, along with cunning, whether in the ways the teenagers survive in the gladiatorial arena or the Capitol, or how both sides operate in conflicts between the Districts and the Capitol. In our own world, the state is very good at violence, whether in its wars overseas or in pepper-spraying and clubbing young demonstrators. You’ll notice, however, that neither the Iraqis, nor the Afghanis, nor the Occupiers were subjugated by these means.
Violence is not power, as Jonathan Schell makes strikingly clear in The Unconquerable World, it’s what the state uses when we are not otherwise under control. In addition, when we speak of “nonviolence” as an alternative to violence, we can’t help but underestimate our own power. That word, unfortunately, sounds like it’s describing an absence, a polite refraining from action, when what’s at stake—as demonstrators around the world proved last year—is a force to be reckoned with; so call it “people power” instead.
When we come together as civil society to exercise this power, regimes tremble and history is made. Not instantly and not exactly according to plan, but who ever expected that?
Still, many regimes have been toppled by this power, and the capacity to do so is ours in the present. As Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan point out in their recent Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, since 1900 people-power campaigns have been successful in achieving regime change more than twice as often as violent campaigns.
It’s May Day, a worldwide General Strike has been called, and last week tiny Occupy Norman (Oklahoma) announced that it “had won a major battle”: their city is moving all its money out of Bank of America into a local bank. Last fall’s Move Your Money campaign included city money from the outset and quiet victories like this could begin to reshape our economic landscape. Activism in the streets is so intimidating that next month’s G8 Summit scheduled for Chicago will hole up at Camp David instead.
Meanwhile last week, both the Wells Fargo and General Electric shareholders’ meetings were under siege from Occupy activists. The Wells Fargo meeting and protests took place in San Francisco, and afterward an arrested friend of mine posted this on Facebook: “I forgot to mention that Max gave me the Hunger Games salute in jail today. It was awesome.”
In this way do fiction and reality meld in misery and triumph as, this very day, janitors in California go out on strike, and even Golden Gate Bridge workers will be protesting. May Day actions are planned across the globe.
Still alive and kicking, Occupy is chipping away in a thousand places at the status quo. 350.org, the little organization that defeated the Keystone XL Pipeline (so far), is holding a global Climate Impacts Day on May 5th and plans to take on the petroleum industry in its next round of actions.
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