What would you give up for change?

I have a short story to share with you. Several years ago, at the airport, I was finishing my coffee while the passengers started boarding. A police officer passed by and lit a cigarette. The airport was already a non-smoking place so, without thinking much, I rose up to remind him of the rule. But before reaching the man, I thought a little more and considered the risk of the officer not liking my comment and getting me into some petty trouble. I had an important meeting on the next day and couldn’t afford to miss my flight so I decided to keep silent.
I chose the status quo over change after weighing the pros and cons. The risk, tiny as it was, of missing my flight was big enough to hinder my initial action. Today, there are still a few airport employees and some passengers who smoke in non-smoking areas.
Someone even told me she saw policewomen smoke in Houari Boumediene airport’s bathrooms.

I think that most people are ready to give what it takes to defend themselves and their close ones. Time, money, job and even life are sometimes very easily given (up) for the sake of close family members, honour or possessions. I cannot tell for sure, but I don’t think I would have hesitated to speak to the policeman had I, or a family member, felt discomfort because of his cigarette.

So things are only different when it is at the level of a group, a community, a society or a nation. And this because the cons list must be almost empty for the people to act.

It is admitted that revolutions/revolts are carried by people who have nothing to lose. This is probably why it is important for any system to create and preserve a relatively happy middle-class. A satisfied middle-class, which clings to its possessions, being a very effective stability factor.

During the French occupation, most Algerians were poor, illiterate and lived under very tough life conditions. They were ready to revolt at any time as they had nothing to lose and they believed their lives couldn’t worsen. Only lacking were organisation and a dedicated leadership which came to maturation by November 1954. What’s interesting about the Algerian revolution is that some of its leadership and of the ordinary fighters gave up financial and social statuses which, in ordinary situations, would have pushed them to keep silent. And indeed, there were many men and women who had comfortable jobs, were wealthy and were among the “Algerian bourgeoisie” but who just couldn’t ignore their compatriots’ situation. Same thing for those pupils and students who abandoned their studies after the FLN’s call. One must realise the sacrifice it was.

Examples such as the Algerian war can be found elsewhere but not quite in our current time. When I think of the “Arab Spring”, and let’s go as back as Saddam’s removal, part of those who supported the change and became the new political leaders of these countries were in comfortable situations which they didn’t give up. Living (exiled if you wish) abroad, they risked nothing while their people were risking everything. Things were simple to them, at worst they could still enjoy their lives abroad and at best they’d become the leaders of the new system. And considering other examples, we can see that some of the exiled leaders are ready to give up their principles and their countries’ sovereignty and wealth for the sake of change, and getting to power. You may want to watch this documentary.

But let us not go as far as violent change or big political change and remain in the dull “relatively peaceful” Algerian environment.

In his autobiography, Gandhi related how he encouraged the richest and educated Indians to give up some of their comfort and time by travelling third class (instead of first class trains) in order to help improve its quality so that the poor Indians could travel decently. He wrote

The third class compartments are practically as dirty, and the closet arrangements as bad, today as they were then, There may be a little improvement now, but the difference between the facilities provided for the first and the third classes is out of all proportion to the difference between the fares for the two classes. Third class passengers are treated like sheep and their comforts are sheeps’ comforts […] I can think of only one remedy for this awful state of things – that educated men should make a point of travelling third class and reforming the habits of the people, as also of never letting the railway authorities rest in peace, sending in complaints wherever necessary, never resorting to bribes or any unlawful means for obtaining their own comforts, and never putting up with infringements of rules on the part of anyone concerned. This, I am sure, would bring about considerable improvement.

And more than political change, I think this is the kind of change we need in Algeria. We basically need to stop el hogra, and more the one that is inflicted by normal citizens on other citizens than the Pouvoir‘s. In this post, I had mentioned how many Algerians copycat the Pouvoir and live in a “el hout yakoul fel hout” jungle; and a few days later, with less metaphors, a commentator said a similar thing.
So yes, this is what I believe is the most important thing. The day the people respect each other and defend one another, the day every Algerian’s life becomes worth to live, the Pouvoir will no longer hold any power over us. And to achieve this we need everyone to act and refuse the current situation, regardless of what this refusal may cost.

Last June, public transportation companies in Bejaia decided a unilateral 50% increase on the ticket fare. Everyone was unhappy but some inhabitants accepted it as having no choice. But very quickly, the word spread and the users decided to boycott the buses. The companies started then a strike and the people suffered as they had to walk or take the taxis (who, surprisingly not, increased their fares as well). It lasted for almost 15 days but the people were determined and the bus companies restored the old fare. It was a great and rare episode of people solidarity.

We would need similar stances with Algerian hospitals (both public and private) so that the medics stop behaving with the people like they’re some lower class animals. The same with administration, merchants during Ramadhan, etc. We would need the people to refuse bribery even if this means they wouldn’t get their driving licenses after the first or second attempts, or the job they deserve, or their merchandise which would remain blocked in the port, etc.

Doing so means accepting to use (and not lose) some of one’s time, money, energy, comfort, etc. for the sake of one’s fellow Algerians and Algeria’s future. I understand it is not easy, and I started this post by mentioning my case, but I am convinced there is no other way-out from our current situation. We need to stand up and say no to whatever wrong others, our compatriots, do to other compatriots.

5 thoughts on “What would you give up for change?

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