Just like the Arab Spring now, the late 80s and early 90s were a pivotal time for people movements around the world. From Asia to Latin America to Eastern Europe people came together to clamor for an end to authoritarian regimes. Burma’s 1988 uprising forever changed the social and political landscape of the country. It is today, August 8th, that Burmese and supporters around the world recognize the sacrifice so many have made in the effort to bring freedom and justice to the country.
8.8.88 was the declared day that people would go on strike and take to the streets in mass. Burma’s students had been rallying and organizing for months, and through their actions were able to bring people from all walks of life into the struggle. They were buoyed by the calls of student leaders like Min Ko Naing:
“We, the people of Burma, have had to live without human dignity for twenty-six years under oppressive rule…Only “people power” can bring down the repressive rulers…If we want to enjoy the same rights as people in other countries, we have to be disciplined, united, and brave enough to stand up to dictators. Let’s express our suffering and demands. Nothing is going to stop us from achieving peace and justice in our country.”
Hundreds of thousands of people did take to the streets in cities throughout Burma – government works, monks, teachers, soldiers, workers, all come to the streets. However, soon soldiers were ordered to fire at the crowds and a blood bath ensued. People took care of wounded and kept on marching.
Despite people’s best efforts, the old military regime was replaced with a new one, and many will say that things have not changed in Burma. Tens of millions of Burmese are still suffering under military rule. Many of the leaders of the 1988 uprising are in prison for long sentences. Nevertheless, 8.8.88 has remained a potent turning point that continues to affect the country.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners of Burma released a special report today about the role of students in the 8888 people’s uprising. In it they declare:
It was not until student leaders began reaching out to ordinary individuals that ordinary Burmese began to understand how the daily problems they faced were part of a larger system of injustice deeply rooted in the governing regime. In the lead up to the protests, those in Burma looked at the glaring poverty that engulfed them and the strict limitations on their freedoms and thought, this is not just. For the first time, a sense of injustice empowered those affected by the regime’s suffocating policies, instilling them with the confidence they needed to undo countless wrongs.
There has been no turning back for many people who were a part of that movement, and they are still active in educating and organizing people, as well as training a new generation. People point to the 1988 uprising and the 2007 Saffron Revolution as the only points of resistance in Burma’s recent history, but the reality is that people of all walks of life are resisting every day, in various creative ways. What people have carried with them is the spirit of 8888. That energy that social justice, democracy, and a functioning economy are worth fighting for.
Lessons from 8888 are still relevant for activists from Burma and around the world. It was not politicians who led the movement, but students and many other regular citizens. It also takes unity, a cohesion of people and ideas. It’s no wonder that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called more unity in the movement.
The spirit of 8888 is still alive. Today events were held in Rangoon Burma, as well as in cities around the world. People haven’t stopped demanding justice for Burma.
To show how this spirit is strong – this blog will be doing a series of articles about how resistance is alive amongst various groups in Burma