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Geração à Rasca – Precarious Generation

by on March 13, 2011

Tens of thousands of young people marching through tree lined streets, filling historic, centuries old squares from one end to the other. This isn’t a Cairo square or a majestic boulevard of Tunis, these are the streets of Lisbon and the people filling them are Portugal’s Geração à Rasca, the Precarious Generation.

The scale of the protests are hard to overstate. Over 300,000 people took to the streets in a country of 10,000,000 people. The spark for the protests was just a plea originating from Facebook for unity and protests against economic deprivation. The plea was answered enthusiastically across Portugal. In Lisbon, Porto, Faro, and Braga, thousands of young people rallied peacefully. These protests weren’t limited to the mainland, either. Both island regions of Madeira and the Azores saw strong mobilization by youths, youths quickly joined by families and pensioners.

The protests helped highlight the indispensable role of artists in social struggle. Arguably the chief catalyst of the movement was a musical performance by Deolinda back in January. Their song, “Parva Que Sou” (Dumb am I) absolutely stirred the audience, reaching and bringing forth their common discontent toward national economic conditions. The crowd interrupted with applause after the line: “what a dumb world where to be a slave you have to study.” After the song finished, and the crowd rose for an emphatic standing ovation, the sense was undeniable that everyone in the theater shared an indignant sentiment: Basta! Enough of the economic deprivation.

Sensing this Geração à Rasca existed, four people on Facebook put out a call for protests on March 12th, and in a few weeks, 65,000 people would pledge their participation. To have the actual attendance far exceed the pledged attendance is a remarkable accomplishment for a movement without any organizational infrastructure that a political party or labor organization has at its disposal. This demonstrates the widespread discontent within Portugal and may signal the messaging needed as the economic crisis batters nations the world over.

The tens of thousands of protesters were brought onto the streets against the economic crisis, rather than in support of any sort of existing institution, leftist or otherwise, within Portugal. In absence of an alternative, the protesters have broadly called for “politicians, employers, and ourselves,” to respond to the “unsustainable” reality. Judged by the turnout on the streets, this broad appeal by the protesters won the sympathy of the country. The question is whether this strength of the movement starts becoming a weakness as the government continues to accuse them of nihilism.

Some have rightly feared we live in “An Age of Revolt – In an Age Without a Left,” and the Portuguese protests may go on to reinforce those fears if they remain vaguely apolitical. I do not fear the absence of an alternative to unite around so much as I fear an unwillingness to unite exclusively against neo-liberalism.

To build an alternative and to win it popular support takes far more time than the crisis affords us. From Wisconsin union busting, to French pension reform, to student fees in the U.K., the intransigence of policymakers frustrates any opposition, formal or informal. Walker, Sarkozy, Cameron all seemingly read off the same script: “there is a crisis, there is no money, we have no choice.” And in a few weeks, these policymakers get their austerity despite large scale mass protests.

Already in Portugal, on the eve of Friday’s mass protests, Prime Minister Sócrates announced a fourth round of austerity as the international markets target that country as their next victim as they did Greece and Ireland before. The Portuguese government, like those of Ireland and Greece, may proceed with austerity despite the unprecedented, spontaneous protests on March 12th.

With governments subject to international bond markets rather than popular social movements, the protests themselves have to become coordinated internationally as well. The Precarious Generation that exists well beyond the borders of Portugal must rise against neo-liberalism, to strike against the failsafe to democratic reforms that is neo-liberalism built into the Washington Consensus. Only when governments are again more concerned with crowds filling public squares than the latest swings in the bond markets can we consider the policies we want in place of austerity.

From → On the Dole

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