Can social movements keep the social when they take over power and government? The example of Syriza, the Greek Progressive Alliance has lessons to teach progressives. The Movement for Black Lives is a case in point. Should it ever run candidates? If not, what? Joining me this week, Irish author and scholar, Helena Sheehan and Natalie Jeffers, one of the organizers behind Black Lives Matter in the UK. We'll also take a look at Stop and Frisk, UK style, and have a few words on right-wing bread and Trumpian circuses. This is The Laura Flanders Show, a place where the people who say it can't be done take a backseat to the people who are doing it.
Laura Flanders:At the cutting edge of both the austerity crisis and the alternative, the rise of the Greek Left Alliance, Syriza, a few years ago sparked progressive excitement around the world. "What if? What if social movements on the left could successfully move into government?" That bubble burst not long after Syriza actually took office. The next tremor to shake Europe came from the other direction with the momentous vote on Brexit, the vote in the UK to leave the European Common Market. Since then, elections have come and gone. More loom this summer. What is to be made of it all? Especially when it comes to that sticky question of the relationship between social movements and government and, dare I say, power.
I'm joined today by Helena Sheehan, author of a new book, The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left, and Natalie Jeffers, an organizer with Black Lives Matter UK and founder of Matters of the Earth, an education and design collective. Welcome both. Glad to have you.
Helena Sheehan:Thank you Laura.
Natalie Jeffers:Thank you.
Laura Flanders:Let's start with the book, Helena. You call Greece a crucible. A crucible of what? What draw your interest to it?
Helena Sheehan:I felt that during the crisis, Syriza represented all the forces in motion at a really high energy level in confrontation with each other. As you said, it was the cutting edge both of the crisis and of a possible alternative to the crisis.
Laura Flanders:I think I got it from you in the book.
Helena Sheehan:Yes. That's what attracted me, and also the nature of Syriza itself attracted me because I felt it represented a best possible synthesis of the forces of the old left and the new social movements.
Laura Flanders:We'll get more into that, but take us back just a minute. We're going back to a period where austerity had been raging for a while. In your country, or adopted country, of Ireland there was an austerity scenario that people were said to be not resisting all that much. Greece was held up as the great alternative of resistance. You say it's not that simple.
Helena Sheehan:No, definitely not. It was not true that Irish people didn't protest and weren't resisting. That makes me furious that so many people were saying and thinking that, but at the same time, we looked to Greece and there was a higher level of resistance that we did envy. We wished that we could have brought our level of protest to that level. The level of protest has been there from the beginning of the crisis, and it's been very steadily rising. Even now when it's crashed in Greece, it's still rising in Ireland.
Laura Flanders:What was your impression of all of this, watching from the UK, Natalie?
Natalie Jeffers:We had an immense amount of respect, as always, for the social movements that are happening within Ireland and inside of Greece. I think Syriza was deeply inspirational for how that informal social movement power can actually penetrate the formal realms of power.
Laura Flanders:Talk a little bit about what your experience was, Helena, of actually going there, being in Greece for a lot of the key moments. You describe a fabulous ... I would, of course, resonate with this ... Takeover of the public broadcasting channel, ERT. Do you want to talk about that?
Helena Sheehan:That was absolutely amazing. There were just all of these forms of protest and resistance and then these prefigurative projects. Some of them were in planning for a long time. Other ones just happened like that. This was a day in June 2013, where it wasn't part of my plan for the day, but in mid afternoon, there was an announcement by the government that they were taking the national public broadcaster, the equivalent of BBC.
Laura Flanders:Or PBS in the US.
Helena Sheehan:Exactly. Taking it off air that very day at midnight, which was an absolutely shocking thing. Can you imagine if it was the BBC?
Helena Sheehan:It was an absolutely shocking thing to do. They were calling people to come to the station and to demonstrate and to resist it.
Laura Flanders:The austerity government was saying, "Enough of this public broadcasting. We're pulling the plug," and the movement, Syriza and the others, brought people to protest. Then what happened next?
Helena Sheehan:It wasn't just that. It was actually to meet Troika targets of eliminating public sector jobs and to take out the whole public broadcaster meant 2,000 some in a go. That was a lot of what it was about. Actually, ERT wasn't as resistant as it should have been, but it became very resistant against the government and against Troika rule on that day.
Laura Flanders:For a while, they were playing amazing stuff.
Helena Sheehan:It was amazing. First of all, on the day, there were thousands of people there singing these traditional Greek songs of resistant in the open air. Then there was broadcasting still going on. It wasn't so much Syriza, as Syriza as part of the larger Greek left, and even the Greek people beyond the left. There was massive resistance to the closure of ERT. We had this expectation that at midnight the riot police will come and these thousands of people would teargassed actually and somehow they would forcibly take over the station.
That didn't happen. What happened was they closed down the mass, but ERT continued broadcasting originally with the support of the EBU, the European Broadcasting Union, with various channels on the internet and other Greek channels. The Communist Party had its own channel and rebroadcast ERT on it. They continued to broadcast for two whole years. Two whole years. The riot police did come some months later, but they still continued to broadcast.
Laura Flanders:It stuck with me just as one example, and there were many, of the kind of thing you see in a movie and you wish would happen. You've been part of some experiences like that too, Natalie, in your Black Lives Matter work, where you had that feeling of, "Wow, this is the way we could move into a different kind of future."
Natalie Jeffers:Definitely, the Black Lives Matter network and the movement is a reimagining and visioning project. Us looking at the world that we were born into, the one that we inherited and the one that we want and one that's inclusive of LGBTQI community, putting black, brown, indigenous leaders at the forefront, looking at what it means when we center our voice. We always say, "There's nothing new under the sun." There's nothing that we're saying that hasn't been done by others or hasn't been done by our ancestors. We definitely have some new tools and new ways of connecting that's allowing us to push those boundaries a little bit more. Very much so, some of the direct actions that we have done and the strategy that we've been building has been really innovative and has been able to shake the foundations of some of the traditional spaces.