Earlier this year, the United States declared it would pull its military out of Afghanistan, after nearly two decades of involvement in the country, and more than 10 years of a sustained campaign under which U.S. forces trained the new Afghan army. Nuanced feelings of relief and fear in both countries emerged regarding what the decision might mean for human safety. Journalists and scholars alike recall the direct ways the U.S. military created the Afghan security apparatus, and wonder about the sustainability of what was created: an amalgamation of police and military officers formed in the likeness of the United States.
Known more formally as “foreign military training,” the case of Afghanistan is just one on a long list of countries whose security forces are learning how to use violence from the U.S. military. With more than 800 bases abroad, the U.S. military is the largest spender and farthest-reaching security system of the world. These placements aren’t benign. The United States is involved in training security forces in nearly every corner of the globe, from the Middle East, to the Balkans, and across Latin America. But the exchange does not work in only one direction. According to a report from Amnesty International, countless U.S. police departments are trained by Israel’s military.
Sustained protest movements are ripe with the opportunity for activists to evolve and learn, just as the state has been doing internationally for decades.
Taken together, these examples make it clear that tactical knowledge is shared across both states and sectors. It’s for this reason that the strategies of repression used against Palestinian protesters are familiar to those resisting the violence of the state in Hong Kong, the United States and elsewhere. State coercion and its mechanisms evolve unrestrained across borders.
Yet, the same apparatus which teaches violence around the world condemns the transnationalization of resistance, finding ways to censor, block or minimize the information-sharing activities conducted by protesters seeking freedom around the world. Leaks on Twitter reveal texts from various U.S. mayors that show how they use shared tools of surveillance to prepare for protests when they fear movement between cities will lead to larger crowds. Instagram stories are rumored to be censored when they contain words relating to Palestine’s freedom. During large-scale protests in major capitals, like those erupting in Delhi in 2019, the state blocks access to Wifi and internet services in a blackout that prevents communication and documentation of what’s happening on the ground.
Despite these challenges, it is necessary to work toward transnationalizing the struggle against state violence. Who benefits from a globalized world if it is one that allows coercion and capital to move freely across borders, but prevents the world’s people from unifying in a struggle against domination, violence and exploitation?
Creatively, and against the odds, activists do find ways to share the tactics of resistance. Hong Kong activists circulated videos and graphics that allowed others around the world to learn how to prepare for tear gas exposure, including how to use street cones and water to douse newly-exploded canisters. They also innovated and shared ideas on how to build a mobile wall against pepper spray, by collectively using umbrellas to deflect the liquid. This method was later adopted by protesters in Portland, Oregon in the summer of 2020.
Sustained protest movements are ripe with the opportunity for activists to evolve and learn, just as the state has been doing internationally for decades. Formal programs of study are dedicated to examining social movements, tactics and their efficacy. Rigorous data collection undertaken by social scientists is just one repository of information about movements, spanning years and geographies to make sense of how and when protesters’ goals are realized. The labor of memory, and a commitment to learn, might bring the world’s people closer to freedom. Knowledge sharing, in formal and informal channels, can be applied to global resistance against systemic harm.
Just as a road cannot separate those who call for the end of state violence against their homelands, imaginary political borders should not separate the call to act.
What kind of world could we share if we eradicated the systems of harm that govern us, and in their place, forged a solidarity that stretches across land and ocean, in protection of the human dignity each of us around the world ought to inherit?
That new world is already being generated. Examples abound of successful transnationalization, from multi-ethnic protest posters to murals of George Floyd painted around the world. Recently, a protest in San Francisco for the liberation of Palestine took place only a street away from one calling for freedom for Myanmar. A prominent Burmese activist held a sign that read, “Burma stands with Palestine,” and crossed the road to lead chants for the Free Burma rally. In solidarity, countless pro-Palestine protesters crossed into the street, and the chants merged into shared slogans against military violence. Traffic was blocked by the bodies who stood bravely for the recognition of one another’s freedoms. Just as a road cannot separate those who call for the end of state violence against their homelands, imaginary political borders should not separate the call to act.
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