Civil Society Versus the State

Civil Society Versus the State

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August 11, 2012

Freedom is not a state project. Rather, it is a project of civil society networks–mostly in the form of non-profits and individuals involved in research, analysis and activism opposing state oppression. As evidenced by the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi Freedom Summer, as well as in the movement against South African apartheid, it was these civil society networks that overcame the power of the state that had long denied freedom to its citizens. Even after reluctantly supporting racial equality in Mississippi, the Government of the United States — along with the State of Israel — backed the apartheid regime in South Africa, a footnote to history the government would like us to forget.

With the mobilization of states against freedom on behalf of market interests worldwide,  freedom is an elusive project, one that frequently involves intense psychological warfare aimed at co-opting civil society organizations and marginalizing individuals who exhibit leadership in the form of research, education or organizing skills. It is perhaps a sign of their success that state propaganda and market public relations has convinced many consumers of mass communication that states — through warfare — are promoting freedom, when nothing could be further from the truth.

With the advent of indigenous revolutions (like the Zapatistas in Mexico) that rely on civil society networks for protection from the aggression of market-oriented states, freedom is again on the horizon. Watching the student-led rebellions in Quebec and Chile, and the anti-austerity protests from Frankfurt to Barcelona, perhaps a new era of #Occupy will capture our hearts and imagination–propelling us to act on our conscience. Before we can live free lives, though, we must free our minds.


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