The Opposition

2021 took one look at 2020 and said, “Hold my beer.”

In the first five weeks of the year, we’ve already witnessed three monumental events on the world stage. So monumental, in fact, that it beggars belief that all three things could happen consecutively with a global pandemic still raging on. We’re all tired.

The three events I’m talking about are:

  • The insurrection on Capitol Hill on January 6 viewed through the experience of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her IGTV Live in which she shared her fears that she expected to die that day
  • The return of Aleksei Navalny to Russia, his detainment upon landing, mass protests in hundreds of cities across Russia, and his subsequent arrest
  • The military coup which ousted Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her subsequent arrest for “illegal imports of walkie-talkies”

With these three events unfolding in rapid succession, I’ve felt increasingly wary, worried in that way that plagues your mind and causes you to clench your jaw as you doomscroll Twitter. And the reason I feel wary is because all three events are clear attacks on democracy.

I’ve spent the last week thinking a lot about what it must be like to be in the position of being the “Opposition.” Aleksei Navalny of the three aforementioned leaders has emerged in recent years as a clear opponent to not just Putin, but also corruption within the Kremlin more generally. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi lived most of her life in exile and despite holding a near-goddess reverence as the Bringer of Democracy was still overthrown by the more-powerful military. And finally, AOC, is portrayed as the enemy of not just conservatives, but also capitalism, “tradition”, “American values,” FOX News, that coffee you spilled on your laptop, whatever you want to blame her for.

My thoughts on this are still loose, but from where I sit there are two interesting themes that jump out. First, there is a moral clarity required to consistently and steadfastly defend democracy. It means living exiled for decades, sacrificing being with loved ones, living in constant fear for your life (whether that is poison by nerve agent or having your colleagues [in the US Congress] or the media suggest that you deserve to be assassinated). There is no glamour in being the champion of democracy when those in power are determined to subvert that which you aim to protect and preserve. It means choosing and committing to one’s moral compass every day.

Second, it is fascinating to see the way that those who try to stymy or quash their opposition often inadvertently give their opposition greater voice and power. Forgive my clumsy metaphor, but it feels a lot like Voldemort imbibing Harry with special powers. By trying to censor, jail, kill, threaten, etc. their Opposition, those in positions of power amplify the Opposition’s message. One need only look at the response from supporters: protests popped up in hundreds of Russian cities from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea across all 11 Russian timezones; supporters of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, while fearful, participated in civil disobedience in coordinated activities as small as merely honking their car horns; and finally AOC’s IGTV on her experience at the Capitol has been viewed over 4 million times and many more congresspeople have shared their stories.

It makes you wonder, perhaps having a moral compass is frightening to those without – perhaps moral clarity is a super power.

Post-clicking publish, the wonderful Sharon Kimathi sent me a link to Aleksei Navalny’s Wikipedia page which details his links to neo-Nazi groups. This was new information to me, and of course I should have read up a bit more on him. I was previously aware of his homophobic stances, but not about his links to neo-Nazi groups and the Stop Feeding the Caucuses group. I should also note that I do not condone and in fact condemn Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence and complicity in the genocide of Uighur Muslims in Myanmar. As Sharon put it, “I just hope these [countries] can get freedom without these so called “leaders” who have their own bizarre ideologies.” Agreed.

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