“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.” So go the lyrics to Buffalo Springfield’s late 60’s protest song ‘For What It’s Worth’. The song was apparently written about riots between police and hippie groups on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, California. However, it also perfectly captures the mood of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and the general changing political climate of the time. It could also be applied to the recent rising tensions in the Middle East.
What we have been seeing lately on the news, especially in Tunisia and Egypt is nothing short of amazing! When you have citizens of a country that are willing to take the effort, voice their opinions and even go so far as to sacrifice their lives, the president or head of state has no choice but to sit up and take notice. If certain things are driving a group of people to such desperate acts of selfless courage, then surely something is wrong. Somebody somewhere is doing a terrible job at governance. And we see this kind of people power emerge in yet another prominent area of daily life: the service sector. I see that this is especially prevalent here in South Africa. When I first got here to this country to work for a local company here, I was expecting a package from home in India. But as luck would have it, we were in the midst of a postal strike. Post Office employees would not work unless and until wage negotiations were done and salaries were increased. And it lasted for more than a month! Several mail parcels were delayed. Later on when I got married and was trying to get my wife’s visa processed, I was told that there was an immigration workers strike going on and that I should expect delays. This was the last thing I wanted; to not being able to get her visa approved on time and having to leave her behind in India so she can follow later once it is approved. But thankfully it all came through on time. Now, I am hearing of a truck driver strike and violence associated with it. In the end who are the losers?? Common people or civilians like us! Where does that limit exist when people power generated to cause a greater common good turns into plain inconvenience for the same public?!
Generally, we seem to be a pretty unhappy species. Most people seem to be unhappy or frustrated with their daily lives. And others also end up suffering in cases like the ones I mentioned above. Who is right and who is wrong? Well, in Egypt or Tunisia’s case I suppose it is pretty obvious that the people are justified in being fed up of the tyrannical dictatorship that has gone on for years and years with unfavourable results! But in the case of a public sector strike, are the employees being too difficult or are they really getting short-changed by their employers? I do not know the answer but I will just say that despite the inconveniences it causes, people power is definitely a necessary force to reckon with in today’s society. I will also quote Eddie Vedder from the band, Pearl Jam as a parting shot: “There’s no wrong or right. But I’m sure there’s good and bad. The questions linger overhead.”