As all eyes turn to Myanmar with brutal crackdowns by the military junta (including reports of a Japanese reporter murdered and school children being fired upon), international condemnations, speculation of a “saffron revolution,” and China caught between a policy of noninterference and brutal crackdown on its borders that could turn into a public relations disaster, there are stories at the micro-political level that deserve to be highlighted for the inspiration they might offer.
First, the role that technology has played in both mobilizing and broadcasting this information to the rest of the world through cell phones and the internet. News reports abound on the process of gathering reports in Myanmar as much as the actual reports of the brutal crackdowns by the military junta. The Democratic Voice of Burma has been praised for its role at the helm of collecting, hosting, and distributing information from the myriad of reports electronically smuggled out of the country. Despite the internet crackdown which The New York Times The Lede is reporting on, information is still apears to be making its way through to blogs like Global Voices and the Cbox aggregator of on-the-ground reports.
Just like the protests against a chemical plant organized by text messages in China a few months ago, this is not the story of technological triumphalism, but rather, of little victories that are applying pressures and compelling governments and international actors to move in certain, sometimes constructive ways.
The second story that needs be told (and I hope gets reported on more) is the bonds of solidarity formed between the monks and local residents. The lead editorial of the Asahi Shimbun reads:
Sharp increases in the prices of gasoline and other items on Aug. 15 sparked the demonstrations. The price hikes caused bus fares and other fees to soar, hitting the pocketbooks of ordinary citizens. Monks who rely on alms stood up in protest on behalf of the citizens. (…)
In Myanmar, it is customary for men to enter the priesthood at least once during their lifetime. As writer Michio Takeyama (1903-1984) described in his novel “Biruma no Tategoto” (The Harp of Burma), Buddhism is the spiritual mainstay of the people. The fact that monks, who distance themselves from mundane affairs, stood up in protest shows just how precarious everyday civilian life has become.
In return, DVB is reporting that local residents of all religions have been defending Bhuddist monks and thwarting attacks on monasteries, which have been targeted by the military:
In Rangoon, troops encountered resistance from local residents as they approached Sasana Alin Yaung, Sanana Wuntha and Min Nanda monasteries in Daw Pon and Tharkayta townships.
At Min Nanda monastery, which backs on to Pazuntaung creek, troops tried to approach from both land and water but retreated when they saw the strength of local resistance.
“There were not only Buddhist people but also Muslims, Christians and Hindus defending the monasteries,” said a resident of Tharkayta township.
A similar story has been played out in other townships in Burma, as residents take action to resist government raids on monasteries.
Despite the much ballyhooed cedar, rose, and orange revolutions that turned out to be far more complex power struggles rather than purely democratic revolutions, there appears to be something qualitatively different about what is happening in Myanmar right now — a much more organic galvanization of the population — though I think we lack sufficient information to substantiate it. Nevertheless, the accounts above should provide sufficient cause to hope that a new social contract will arise out the battle unfolding in the country.