This time last week I was waking up in Tbilisi, a tad dusty from an extended evening’s drinking with a colleague of mine, a Dutchman named Gerard, who has been living there for a while, and who naturally felt it appropriate to show me a variety of places, for the short time I’d be staying in “his town”.
We begun the night hosted by CARE’s local team, at a Georgian restaurant, where each new plate of food was brought out under a fanfare of live music and dancing, along with rounds of increasingly hearty toasting.
Post-dinner, and several watering holes later, I found myself sampling the country’s famous “cha cha” – a sweeter version of the grappa I’ve had in Italy – which came as a welcome tonic, given my stomach walls were still adequately fortressed with cheese and carbs, enough to keep out the most stubborn of digestifs.
We decided, bleary-eyed at this stage, to hit up one more venue close by – a favourite “low-key” bar of Gerard’s. Upon arrival we found it morphed into a darkly lit techno den, complete with strobe effects and a whole new type of Georgian dancing, quite distinct to what we’d witnessed over dinner. Nonetheless, we indulged in a nightcap, and then left for home, our ears ringing.
Wind forward a few days, I’m back at home in Saigon, and Gerard got in touch to share the news that the main street – in Rustaveli – where I’d been staying last week, had been locked down by protestors, the police, and right-wing groups, over the weekend. The protestors were marching against a government crack down on drug usage. The far right groups mobilizing against the protestors. The police stuck in the middle.
It transpired, of course, that our final drink of last Tuesday’s adventures had taken place in one of the nightclubs raided a few days after we were there.
Alas, I’d missed out on my first raid, and my first overseas march.
Having been living in Vietnam for the past 7 years (not yet made famous for its regular street protesting) the last time I marched anywhere for a cause was in 2009, in London, with my daughter, Flo.
Climate Change was our agenda. Blue our chosen face-paint. And I recall taking her afterwards for ice-cream.
Being more connected as a planet (and perhaps more malleable and agile, as a result, when it comes to action and replication) continues to invoke different societal movements and, as we are seeing in many countries, marching.
The act of marching is by no means new.
CARE UK hosted what has become a regular ‘March 4 Women‘ event, earlier this year, coinciding with the centenary anniversary of the Suffragette movement, a campaign that still inspires many today because of the cause itself, and the nature of the risks suffragettes took at the time to secure women a vote.
Thanks to such movements, marching has become an ingrained part of how many countries today unite and build solidarity.
Over the past 8 years (in some ways galvanized by the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2010, and the ‘viral’, social media dependent nature of how protestors mobilized their movements around this) there have been multiple high profile movements and marches, including: numerous climate justice campaigns (such as the Our Power Campaign); collective action around issues of inequality (including the Movement for the 99%) and diversity (Black Lives Matter); and, more recently, advocacy around sexual and gender based violence (via the Me Too Movement). #MeToo itself has catalyzed related efforts – CARE went on, for example, to launch #thisisnotworking to further lobby at the institutional level, for adoption of international standards addressing violence and harassment against women in place of work.
Over the past year, I’ve (coincidentally) travelled through various cities during their country’s own elections (Barcelona, Cairo, Nairobi) and witnessed throngs of people standing up for their right to speak out about many of the serious issues they were experiencing, as citizens of these countries.
I happened, also, to be in Jerusalem the day before Donald Trump visited there, almost exactly a year ago, for his first time since taking office. I spoke with Palestinian and Israeli shop-keepers at the time about both the rationales for public protesting, as well as the implications in many parts of the world of doing so.
That, over the past 48 hours, we’ve bore witness to some of the most jarring, shocking displays of the risks associated with protesting, along Gaza’s borders, only compels me more, as I type this, to support the notion that every citizen should have the freedom to support public movements, as well as those institutions whose missions are to champion social, economic and environmental causes, particularly where the aims are to bring about equity and justice.
This shift towards movements and marches is having significant implications on the popularity of previously less supported political groups and, in some cases, altering the political sway of entire countries.
All the more reason, in my opinion, for the more liberal flavoured efforts out there to be doubling down at every opportunity to speak out and speak up. Be that on the streets of Tbilisi, along the Gazan border, or elsewhere.
And be that as individuals, organisations, movements or, simply, as Dads.