A Charter for the 99 Percent

After November 6, 2012, the big sound rippling around the world was not a chorus of bipartisanship, not a whoop of euphoria, but a collective sigh of relief. Still, it must not be forgotten that nearly half of America’s voters were sulking. The party that represents them with retrograde doctrine skulks and schemes to tie President Barack Obama up in knots. Thanks to gerrymandering, it controls the House. Thanks to its bulldozer strategy of automatic filibusters, it will obstruct a Senate majority if it can. The battles over plutocracy and government will continue.

Now, the next phase of a 99 percent movement needs to get—and keep—busy. Why do I say “next phase”? Because the Occupy movement that came about in 2011 has, for now, most likely accomplished close to its maximum, given its style of organization. In effect, whatever its evenhanded contempt for conventional politics, Occupy did great good work for Obama and the progressive cause. Not least, the movement had the effect of encouraging Obama to run a head-on campaign against a vulture capitalist. Whether he follows through depends not only on his resolve and acumen but on the wind at his back.

Now much of the initiative may pass to the outer movement, that much larger penumbra of Occupy’s supporters in unions and membership organizations who turned out for the large demonstrations and, in fits and starts, jolted much of the country to its senses. Even though the Occupy core took it as a point of principle to disdain specific demands, they actually didn’t need demands in 2011 to focus the sluggish public mind on vicious inequalities and a botched political system. And demandlessness paid an unintended dividend: Occupy saved itself some bitter fights over what any hypothetical slate of demands should look like. The movement, at its best, was inclusive enough to become a center of energy, and to change what we are pleased to call the national conversation. Now what?

There must be a persistent, independent movement capable of winning tangible political-economic reforms—reforms that change lives and encourage newcomers to join.

With Obama back in a place where he can be pushed, let the push proceed—smarter, more accelerated, more cogent. There must be a rebuilding, and it must go deep. There must be a persistent, independent movement capable of winning tangible political-economic reforms—reforms that change lives and encourage newcomers to join. A focused common program for the long haul—a decade, say—would make sense to millions who know that plutocracy threatens decent livelihoods, shared growth, and a sustainable planet. However short of the millennium, a specific program would be a magnet and a beacon. We need a reconfiguration powered by people of many sorts and networks and organizations of many sorts, cohering around a reform program that is at once ambitious, urgent, and achievable.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.