From the September-October 2021 issue of News & Letters
On Aug. 12, Herat residents went to their rooftops to yell “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) while the Afghanistan National Army battled the renewed military offensive of the Taliban. The army had recaptured the city from the Talibs earlier. The reclaiming of the phrase from the Taliban is also a return to its origin as a rallying cry against Soviet troops. Others took to rooftops in Bamiyan, Kunar, and Nangarhar. By Aug. 15, the Taliban had regained control of Herat and all other major cities in the country, where they removed the national flag (adopted in 2001) and replaced it with their own. On Aug. 18, youth in Jalalabad reinstalled the national flag on the top of a tower overlooking a city square, while others marched below. Their protest was scrambled when Taliban soldiers fired into the crowd. Similar actions occurred in Khost and the national capital Kabul. On Aug. 19, the anniversary of Afghan independence from Britain, a Kabul street march of youth waving the Afghanistan national flag was threatened by Taliban soldiers waving guns, but the protesters were eventually allowed to pass. Some Talibs proclaimed that Kabul has only 20 more days of free speech.
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In Colombia, union organizers and Indigenous people continue a general strike against a tax reform, proposed in April but so far forestalled, which would balance the national budget on the backs of poor people by adding a surcharge to foodstuffs. Ever since the 1960s civil war, Colombians who demonstrate, march and speak out have been preyed upon by police and private militia—attacked, killed or disappeared. A group of young activists called “First Liners” have begun to throw rocks, volley back tear gas canisters, or otherwise battle with police in the streets. The idea (which started last year in Chile) is to command the attention of police officers who would otherwise be used to disperse protests. In Colombia, the choice to become a First Liner is a choice to leave home, first to prevent being kidnapped in a night raid, second to avoid having their families identified and targeted.
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Dozens of high school students marched through downtown Los Gatos, Calif., blocking traffic on Aug. 9 to protest their school district’s policies and negligence regarding sexual abuse and harassment. A particular grievance was the series of decisions over the past 14 years to allow a Los Gatos High School girls’ track and field coach to remain employed. Student Abbi Berry told the San Jose Mercury News: “We should not have to rally and beg to be protected.” In a similar action, students in Ninnekah, Okla., walked out of classes on Aug. 20. They were denouncing a basketball coach accused of sexual misconduct and the school’s unwillingness to listen to the survivors. As they walked through the small town, students held signs saying: “Do you hear us now?”