arab spring tunis
arab spring tunis

Tunis - where it all began for the Arab Spring

What does it take for us to risk our lives in defence of what we value?

We’ve seen protesters in the street across the Arab world in 2011, risking beatings, torture and death to challenge brutal regimes. At what point does someone decide to leave their house and stand up for what they believe in despite the consequences?

Or take the movement in Mexico rising up against the kidnappers that have made life a misery for so many – documented here by Mark Vicente. Imagine the courage needed to not pay the ransom for your kidnapped children because you know that you would be financing several more abductions as a result.


In the landmark novel Catch 22, the protagonist Yossarian insists that he doesn’t want to fly any more missions, that he’s risked his life enough.

“From now on I’m thinking only of me.”

Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.”

“Then,” said Yossarian, “I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?”

If no one protests, nothing will ever change. But the first ones to do so stand a high chance of getting a bullet in the head. Yet most people want change and realise that if enough people were to demand it, it might just happen. It needs only a critical mass of people in support of a movement to make it easier to join than to stay at home.


I always felt vaguely foolish on the protests I went on as a teenager in England, shouting at slogans against student loans, tax breaks for the royal family, the news laws removing the right to silence. It was exciting, sure, to be among so many people holding placards, like being part of a river flowing in one direction. I was just never sure which direction and I couldn’t be sure if what we were doing made the slightest bit of difference.

I don’t know if the people occupying plazas in Madrid or the financial district in New York and St Paul’s Cathedral  in London will effect any kind of change. I can’t think of any instance of a revolution in a democracy and the capitalist economy is such a fundamental part of the way the world goes round it’s hard to see any of the 1% giving up their vested interests.

But maybe that’s not even the point.

indignados protest

Indignados in Madrid

Talking with indignados here in Spain, one of the most striking things to come out of the peaceful assemblies in the public squares here was the sense of community people felt. Drawn out of the cozy boundaries of their private lives, people of all walks of life began to meet, talk and share. They learned that, whatever their social class or background, they had much more in common than anyone had previously thought.

And we can all take courage from that.