On Wednesday we marched from zainab market to the press club, the long route. Flood affected haris and uprooted small farmers marched with us, men, women and children. Once at the press club, we burned an effigy of a man personifying the IMF, and listened to speeches. To many, the press club march is dead politically, and a waste of energy. If the protesters are lucky, they may get a small line here and there. We got a few hundred words.
There is even more skepticism about what a particular group or political party can achieve because of its in inherent lack of organization and good internal politics.
But skepticism aside, the old art of chanting on the streets, even if it is on the tired old path to press club, is still a politically viable tool -- still better than political inaction, and desk jockeying your position on email lists or blogs - or in the opinion page of Dawn. Its a more emphatic statement by a collective of people, inconvenienced a little more than by hitting the "like" button.
Lets just be real though -- no press club march is going to accomplish anything unless it is part of a long term campaign that uses the march as one action in a larger political strategy. A culmination of weeks of mobilizing and awareness raising Of speaking to the easily radicalizable -- students without a future, housewives dying of apathy, people who can teach us a thing or two -- landless peasants who have been uprooted and are sitting in camps and by roadsides. Of building educational materials - like an idiot's guide to poverty in Pakistan. Of spreading your message far and wide. Of talking, and then, walking.
The street protest has been seriously redefined by the lawyers. The power of walking - taking their black coats to the heated asphalt, bypassing court dates, long marches, atop vans with bullhorns, blasting through cordons, blocking roads to greet the CJ. This was the movement. What would the lawyers movement be without the show of this street power, but a bunch of bar council meetings, cases and political wheeling?
Also gender: So important for the women to reassert that respectable ladies really do belong on the streets next to their sisters from rural villages, like the woman in the picture below. She is a flood affectee and marched in the first time in Karachi.
Women reclaiming the public spaces, challenging class and rural/urban boundaries is an important political statement in and of itself in a state that actively promotes their invisibility and subjugation. A student distributed flyers to people in cars, and felt empowered and energized. I am quoting her facebook status:
"I felt a complete change in myself. It was good to learn that people can give good vibes."
The good vibe, I suspect, she got, was walking next to a three year old child from Makli who marched holding her mother's hand, with the most determined step. And then those who rolled down their tinted windows to find out more about why we must cancel debt and cut military spending. I think we as activists underestimate how many new young people are waiting by the sidelines, willing to join the cliched march to the press club. The reason they do not come is because nobody asked.
And yes, to my other young friend, we got to include dance, music, theater and puppetry. The march to the press club should be an event, and nobody said it has to be dull and unforgivably boring. But some old school wisdom - the fun shouldn't be the be all and the end all like those anti war annual matches in america.
And lastly, we can take the most articulately stated political positions, study socio political phenomena - but until we take it to the people, either though political discussion, movement building, or through NGO (sigh) work that may impact change on the ground, really what use is it?
As one activist says: Aap yeh bataain, aap ki is baath ke pichay kitnay log karha honay ko tayyar hain?