- breaking the fear barrier: John Lewis describes that the first time he got arrested was the first moment he felt free.
- fill the jails: Mississippi state government officials believed they had snuffed out the 1961 Freedom Rides by arresting and jailing over 300 Riders in the notorious Parchman Prison. Instead, they provided the activists with an experience which not only hardened their resolve but radicalized enough who then provided the crucial leadership for the success of Freedom Summer.
- good theory allows one to anticipate what will happen so you have strategies lined up already to go. The Nashville Movement knew, from their research, when the police would start arresting them. And they anticipated that the beatings and arrests of "nice, well dressed and well behaved college students" would arouse the outrage of the black adults. They also anticipated that they could leverage this outrage by getting the adults to participate in a boycott. It was the boycott that convinced the business owners to desegregate.
- the poor, women, and youth: "Life as Politics: How ordinary people change the Middle East" -- ordinary, everyday people make up the local leadership and the power of a social movement. see: Lessons from Freedom Summer: Ordinary people building extraordinary movements.
. . . . Those early [nonviolent Syrian] demonstrators broke the fear barrier. And once the momentum caught on, there was no stopping the “people power” that filled the streets, that mobilized citizens of different backgrounds and persuasions, and that powered the creative energies that kept people organized, cooperative, and ready to meet whatever challenge the regime fired at them.
Was this creativity, determination, and bravery spontaneous? What unleashed such popular resistance in such a disciplined and non-violent fashion so quickly and for so long? Part of the answer is that, despite their best (and most violent) efforts, the Asad regime never completely snuffed out the will to resist. The notorious political prisons of Mezze and Tadmur were always chock full of resisters. . . .
. . . . The most compelling analysis of the background to the Arab Spring as a whole with obvious implications for– if not direct evidence from– the Syrian Spring comes from a 2010 publication by the sociologist Asef Bayat titled Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East. Bayat’s theoretical approach and the evidence it is based go a long way toward explaining what otherwise might have seemed as spontaneous a year ago. That he was working out this explanation of popular resistance over the previous decade is a testament to his ability to anticipate what caught most observers (and participants) by surprise.
Based largely on examples drawn from Egypt and Iran, Bayat characterizes this phase of political activity at the grass roots as one of “social non-movements”. Unlike the more explicitly political movements that most observers look for in their research, “non-movements” are not guided by ideologies or leaders or institutions. They represent collective action by actors who are not consciously acting in unison [yet] but whose combined efforts and practices shape social change. He focuses on three specific groups that typify this kind of politics: the poor, women, and youth. One specific example that resonates with the Arab Spring, is the tendency among street sellers in urban areas to encroach on public space and to occupy it for their own purposes. Bayat calls this the “quiet encroachment of the ordinary”. Given this analysis, it should not have been surprising that it was the action of Muhammad Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who was pushed from his perch by the police, that set the whole region on fire.
The lens of current events may obscure the fact that there was a Syrian Spring during which a people reclaimed their humanity from the clutches of regime intent on crushing the popular tide at any cost.