Resistance, Grassroots Organization, and the Spring Revolution

May 27th, 2021  •  Author: Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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Towns and cities across these two more remote parts of Myanmar, such as Matupi, Kalay, Mindat, and Hakha have shown inspirational courage to defy the odds and keep the military at bay for many weeks. Not only does this resistance demonstrate how resolute people are to defy the junta, but how it is possible.

The people’s resistance to the attempted coup by the Myanmar[1] military is gaining momentum. Grassroots, locally organized self-defence groups, the Civil Disobedience Movement, unions, students, teachers, parents and activists, from the most remote, rural areas of Karenni and Chin States, to the densely populated cities of Yangon and Mandalay, are united in their opposition to the military junta. The actions of the Spring Revolution – dispersed, local, and decentralized – with diverse tactics, are demonstrating and enacting the democracy that the military is trying, and failing, to put down.

In Chin State and Sagaing Region, local groups of people’s defence forces have been stubbornly, courageously and persistently, defying military rule, demanding the release of local people arrested by the junta, attacking military convoys, and determinedly guarding their towns using hunting rifles and homemade weapons. Towns and cities across these two more remote parts of Myanmar, such as Matupi, Kalay, Mindat, and Hakha have shown inspirational courage to defy the odds and keep the military at bay for many weeks. Not only does this resistance demonstrate how resolute people are to defy the junta, but how it is possible. Places such as Mindat were able to hold out for weeks. Until the military declared martial law, used heavy artillery and launched airstrikes using helicopter gunships against the locally formed Chinland Defence Force – Mindat, the people were in control. It is only after the Myanmar military uses the most brutal and large-scale military offensives, committing grave human rights violations such as the use of civilians as human shields and sexual violence against women and girls, and creating a humanitarian crisis, can they claim to be in control of the town. Yet this is not control, this is the exercise of brute force.

Not only has the resistance to military rule in Mindat been that of successful self-defence, it has established alternative administration and governance structures. The Mindat People’s Administration Team was established in February as the only legitimate administrative body in the town. It cited the 1948 Chin Special Division Law as the legal basis for its governance and rejected military rule as illegitimate. Governing the town in terms of administration, military and judicial affairs, the Mindat People’s Administration Team shows how, until a huge military operation that put the town under seige, grassroots organisation can not only resist the violence of the military junta, but demonstrate the capability for alternative governance. It illustrates a bottom-up way of doing things that incorporates ideas and principles from the national struggle yet without hierarchical, top-down, centralized coordination. There are of course, other examples across Myanmar, with Ethnic Armed Organizations such as the Karen National Union (KNU) and their long-established administration, judiciary, military and land policies governing parts of ancestral Karen land, or Kawthoolei. Within KNU-controlled Kawthoolei, the Salween Peace Park, initiated by civil society organizations, is a peacebuilding initiative, led by indigenous Karen people, and based on conservation, traditional practice and bottom-up democracy. While quite different in terms of their character, both are examples of self-determination that a future federal democracy must be built on.

Since the offensive against the people of Mindat on the weekend of May 15-16, many of its population have had to flee to the hills and the junta has cut electricity, water and blocked food and other essential supplies from arriving in the besieged town. Yet as the junta cracks down in one town in the west, on the opposite side of the country the people rise again. In Demoso, Karenni State, the Karenni People’s Defence Forces have taken security outposts of the military, and blocked reinforcements from entering the town via road. Further clashes in other parts of Karenni State involving this newly formed group are also ongoing and the civilian population have faced cruel violent retaliation from the junta, including roadside executions, shelling of a church where people were taking shelter, indiscriminate shooting and the use of heavy artillery on local neighborhoods.

As well as the local self-defence forces seen in rural, ethnic minority areas, various groups are forming in Myanmar’s urban centres and more remote towns, with several announcements of the establishment of township branches of the People’s Defence Force in Yangon. The use of small scale explosives on junta forces, police stations and General Administration Offices (GAD) are increasing in Yangon and other towns and cities across the country. It should be noted that these groups and actions are a means of defence to respond to the brutality and barbarity of the military junta. Meanwhile people are obstructing the functioning of GAD offices that are run by the illegal junta, boycotting the products of military companies, and refusing to pay electricity bills. Furthermore, protests and peaceful demonstrations, in face of brutal junta violence, continue to pop up, as brave men and women take to the streets.

The resistance of the Spring Revolution against military rule demonstrates its dispersed, bottom-up, grassroots character. While the National Unity Government may be widely regarded as the legitimate, interim government of Myanmar, the various forms of opposition to military rule, whether the Chinland Defence Force, the ongoing peaceful demonstrations, or boycotts of military produced products, do not need central organization. They are organic expressions of political agency, localized in their character and form, and reflect a self-determination in which no violent military junta can fully put down. For a future Myanmar, in which federalism and democracy is more than just a political label, lessons from this grassroots organization and resistance must be learned to establish a state that is founded on the empowerment of the people, not a state that simply rules over people.

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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.


Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Myanmar civil society’s letter to Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne demanding immediate action against the Myanmar military junta

By 390 Civil Society Organizations in Myanmar

Raab Refusing to Act on Accountability for Burmese Military – New Briefing

By Burma Campaign UK

Dominic Raab: Don’t Cut Aid to Burmese People in Their Greatest Hour of Need

By Burma Campaign UK

British Government Almost Halves Aid to Rohingya Refugees

By Burma Campaign UK

Burma Campaign UK Welcomes UK Sanctions on Myanmar Gems Enterprise

By Burma Campaign UK

BHRN Welcomes UK Government Imposing New Sanction on Burma

By Burma Human Rights Network

BHRN Condemn the Fascist Tatmadaw for Cowardly Targeting on Journalists

By Burma Human Rights Network

BROUK ‘dismayed’ over British aid cuts to Rohingya refugees

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Open Letter from Myanmar CSOs and Asian NGO Network on NHRIs regarding APF’s statement on the situation in Myanmar

By CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform, Asian NGO Network for National Human Rights Institution

CPJ calls on Myanmar to release Kamayut Media editor Nathan Maung, news producer Hanthar Nyein

By Committee to Protect Journalists

လောက်လုံးကျေးရွာအနီး အကြမ်းဖက်စစ်အဖွဲ့နဲ့ ပစ်ခတ်မှုအတွက် တောင်းပန်အသိပေးခြင်း

By Chinland Defense Force

Myanmar: Statement by the Spokesperson on the latest developments

By European External Action Service

Canada imposes additional sanctions on individuals and entities affiliated with Armed Forces of Myanmar

By Government of Canada

Myanmar: Burmese journalists given three year jail term for reporting

By International Federation of Journalists

ကရင်နီပြည်နယ်တွင်း ဖြစ်ပွားခဲ့သည့် လူထုတိုက်ပွဲများအပေါ် ကရင်နီပြည်နယ် အတိုင်ပင်ခံကောင်စီ၏ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက် အမှတ် (၀၃/၂၀၂၁)

By Karenni State Consultative Council

ကယန်းအမျိုးသားပါတီတည်ထောင်ခြင်း (၁၀) နှစ်ပြည့် အထိမ်းအမှတ်

By Kayan National Party

စစ်ကောင်စီ၏ ပြည်ထောင်စုရွေးကောက်ပွဲကော်မရှင်က NLD ကို ဖျက်သိမ်းမည်ဖြစ်ကြောင်း ထုတ်ပြန်ချက်နှင့် ဆက်စပ်၍ NLD/CRPH/NUGသည် အချိန်အခါမလင့် ပြတ်သားသော မူဝါဒများချမှတ်ပြီး အာဏာရှင်ဖြုတ်ချနိုင်ရေး ဆောင်ရွက်ရန် တိုက်တွန်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Legal Aid Network

စစ်ကောင်စီက ကျင်းပမည့် ရွေးကောက်ပွဲအတွက် ပြင်ဆင်သော အစည်းအဝေးအား နိုင်ငံရေးပါတီများအနေဖြင့် မတက်သင့်ကြောင်း တိုက်တွန်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Legal Aid Network

ကယားပြည်နယ်တွင် ဖြစ်ပွားလျက်ရှိသည့် တိုက်ပွဲများနှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရ၏ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By National Unity Government

PHR Condemns the Mass Atrocities and Escalating Violence against Civilians in Mindat, Chin State, Myanmar, Calls for International Response

By Physicians for Human Rights

Scholars for Myanmar – မြန်မာအတွက် တတ်သိပညာရှင်များ

By Scholars for Myanmar

Junta Continues to use Sexual and Gender-Based Violence to Terrorise Civilian Population

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

UK announces sanctions on gemstone company linked to the military regime in Myanmar

By United Kingdom (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office)

Statement by the United Nations in Myanmar on the situation in Mindat, Chin State

By United Nations Myanmar

UNICEF statement on media reports alleging misuse of UNICEF-provided supplies in Kachin State

By UNICEF Myanmar

The United States Announces New Assistance to Respond to the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis

By United States

Treasury Sanctions Governing Body, Officials, and Family Members Connected to Burma’s Military

By United States (Department of the Treasury)

reports

Reports

Anfrel Releases 2020 Myanmar General Elections Final Observation Mission Report

By Asian Network for Free Elections

Why is Dominic Raab Refusing to Act on Accountability for Burmese Military Crimes?

By Burma Campaign UK


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”

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