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Faces of Russia’s protest movement – interactive

Max Avdeev (photos); Miriam Elder and Paddy Allen, Guardian
Russia’s opposition involves nationalists, liberals, MPs and bloggers. Here are some of the figureheads of an evolving crusade

Anastasiya Udaltsova
333, spokeswoman, Left Front

My husband, Sergei Udaltsov, is the leader of Left Front and one of the people who made the official applications to hold the recent protests. He’s been in detention since 4 December, the day of the Duma election and the day before the first demonstraion. The authorities wanted to make sure he couldn’t attend the protests so the police just grabbed him on the street. The cases against him were so blatantly falsigied that any ordinary person would recognize it, let alone a lawyer. …
(22 December 2011)

What If We Occupied Language?

H. Samy Alim, New York Times
… It is now nearly impossible to hear the word and not think of the Occupy movement.

Even as distinguished an expert as the lexicographer and columnist Ben Zimmer admitted as much this week: “occupy, ” he said, is the odds-on favorite to be chosen as the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year.

It has already succeeded in shifting the terms of the debate, taking phrases like “debt-ceiling” and “budget crisis” out of the limelight and putting terms like “inequality” and “greed” squarely in the center. This discursive shift has made it more difficult for Washington to continue to promote the spurious reasons for the financial meltdown and the unequal outcomes it has exposed and further produced.

To most, the irony of a progressive social movement using the term “occupy” to reshape how Americans think about issues of democracy and equality has been clear. After all, it is generally nations, armies and police who occupy, usually by force. And in this, the United States has been a leader. The American government is just now after nine years ending its overt occupation of Iraq, is still entrenched in Afghanistan and is maintaining troops on the ground in dozens of countries worldwide. All this is not to obscure the fact that the United States as we know it came into being by way of an occupation — a gradual and devastatingly violent one that all but extinguished entire Native American populations across thousands of miles of land.

Yet in a very short time, this movement has dramatically changed how we think about occupation. In early September, “occupy” signaled on-going military incursions. Now it signifies progressive political protest. It’s no longer primarily about force of military power; instead it signifies standing up to injustice, inequality and abuse of power. It’s no longer about simply occupying a space; it’s about transforming that space.

In this sense, Occupy Wall Street has occupied language, has made “occupy” its own. And, importantly, people from diverse ethnicities, cultures and languages have participated in this linguistic occupation — it is distinct from the history of forcible occupation in that it is built to accommodate all, not just the most powerful or violent.

… In the face of such widespread language-based discrimination, Occupy Language can be a critical, progressive linguistic movement that exposes how language is used as a means of social, political and economic control. By occupying language, we can expose how educational, political, and social institutions use language to further marginalize oppressed groups…

H. Samy Alim directs the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Language (CREAL) at Stanford University. His forthcoming book, “Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the US,” written with Geneva Smitherman, examines the racial politics of the Obama presidency through a linguistic lens.
(22 December 2011)
Similarly, the word “Quaker” for the Religious Society of Friends was originally a term of insult and ridicule, but became adopted by the group. There is a margic to these sorts of linguistic transformations. -BA

The ‘Arab spring’ and the west: seven lessons from history

Seumas Milne, Guardian
There’s a real sense in which, more than any other part of the former colonial world, the Middle East has never been fully decolonised. Sitting on top of the bulk of the globe’s oil reserves, the Arab world has been the target of continual interference and intervention ever since it became formally independent.

Carved into artificial states after the first world war, it’s been bombed and occupied – by the US, Israel, Britain and France – and locked down with US bases and western-backed tyrannies. As the Palestinian blogger Lina Al-Sharif tweeted on Armistice Day this year, the “reason World War One isn’t over yet is because we in the Middle East are still living the consequences”.

The Arab uprisings that erupted in Tunisia a year ago have focused on corruption, poverty and lack of freedom, rather than western domination or Israeli occupation. But the fact that they kicked off against western-backed dictatorships meant they posed an immediate threat to the strategic order.

Since the day Hosni Mubarak fell in Egypt, there has been a relentless counter-drive by the western powers and their Gulf allies to buy off, crush or hijack the Arab revolutions. And they’ve got a deep well of experience to draw on: every centre of the Arab uprisings, from Egypt to Yemen, has lived through decades of imperial domination.
(19 December 2011)

Occupy Y’All Street: Three Generations Try To Escape Poverty Through Occupy Columbia

Sara Kenigsberg, Huffington Post
This is the third in a series of stories and short films on under-publicized Occupy sites. The first is here. The second is here. Stay tuned in the coming days for more from our road trip through the South.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — In the early morning of Oct. 15, Jessica Smith, 29, packed up her mother’s late ’90s Crown Victoria and said goodbye to her mobile home, located on a half-acre off a dirt road. She woke up her 12-year-old son, Dakota, whom she home-schools, for the 20-minute ride northeast to Columbia. She had decided that they needed to join the Occupy group assembling there that morning. Smith wasn’t planning on coming back anytime soon.

Smith’s mother dropped her and her son off at the state capitol. It was 8:45 a.m. The grounds were quiet and empty. A few cops silently walked through the area. The last steady work Smith had was inside the capitol. She had joined on with a small furniture company that repaired antiques and had refinished every desk inside the statehouse. The job ended when they ran out of desks. That was two years ago.

Smith realized that she was the first would-be Occupier on the site. “God I hope I’m not the only one who shows up,” she recalls thinking. “I was hoping to walk up and see hundreds of people.”

… Smith had never been to a protest. Later that day, her mother would rejoin her and her son. “I never felt so important before,” Smith says.

Smith grew up in poverty and hadn’t managed to lift herself out of the temp work, food-service uniforms and double shifts that have become emblems of the anonymous, working poor. At the mobile home, Smith relied on a well for water. She couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t worry about paying the electricity bill.

“When you have to decide whether you eat or pay your light bill, sometimes you have to eat,” she says.

In the previous installments of our Occupy Y’All Street series, The Huffington Post chronicled how the Occupy movement has drawn membership from victims of the Great Recession. We followed a recently laid-off painter and struggling restaurant owner in Gainesville, Florida, and a family whose home had been foreclosed on in the suburbs of Atlanta.

Smith didn’t become another statistic during the Great Recession, however. She had already fallen through the safety net. Before she set up camp on the South Carolina capitol grounds, Smith was just poor.
* * * * *

First came fear. Before Jessica was born, her mother, Gwyndolyn Garner, spent much of the pregnancy at a Columbia homeless shelter. “It was fear every day,” Garner says of her shelter stint. The shelter didn’t look kindly at her, she says, nor did they want her around for so long.
(22 December 2011)