Roses and Rifles: Political Power in the Hands of the People This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 8, 2010
Streamers drift from the city’s skyline, showering the streets with patriotic puddles of crepe raindrops. Warren G. Harding, president-elect, smiles heartily, raising his arms to greet the crowd. A city-wide cheer erupts through the streets; women across America have participated in their first national election – it is their voice, their vote, and their success.
In America, we have the courage to speak against political oppression because our society respects political freedom. We boldly challenge our representatives, following Gandhi’s observation, “Even the most powerful cannot rule without cooperation of the ruled.” Americans value political expression. However, our environment accepts and encourages political activism; thus, our activism requires little exertion. How much more honorable is political courage when political expression is discouraged and even punishable?
Internationally, the Republic of Georgia and Thailand have sought political changes similar to those mandated in America’s presidential election of 1920: political representation and secured voting rights. To ensure political success, the people must direct their government’s actions, and institute political representation as an inalienable right.
On November 2, 2003 the Republic of Georgia held its annual parliamentary elections. Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia’s president, encouraged political involvement declaring, “I call upon you all to come to the polling stations and cast your vote…the elections should be democratic and fair.” To ensure a fair election, the United States provided an international poll conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Since the parliamentary elections were considered a “first round in advance of a presidential election in 2005,” it was important for President Shevardnadze’s party – For a New Georgia – to succeed. According to the national poll, For a New Georgia was gaining popularity, earning twenty-six percent of the national vote. However, the OSCE noticed irregularities in the results. Comparing both polls, the OSCE announced its results: For a New Georgia had lost the election, receiving only nineteen percent of the national vote – the election had been rigged.
Nonviolent protests erupted across the nation. Mikhail Saakashvili, Shevardnadze’s political opponent, took action as the movement’s leader. Within two weeks 10,000 protestors had crowded the streets of Tbilisi; 15,000 protestors had led night-long demonstrations in front of parliament; and 20,000 protestors had linked arms, forming a human chain around Georgia’s national monument. Kmara, a youth-led organization, held student protests, burning flags and instituting the term “enough” in public places. Protestors carried roses during their marches, and handed flowers to the soldiers who were ordered to discourage their protests, convincing many to join the nation-wide plea for resignation. In other words, “The opposition seized parliament.”
Strengthening the protestors’ plea, the movement broadened to an international issue; prominent international leaders advised President Shevardnadze to resign. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and UN Secretary General Kofi Anan spoke with President Shevardnadze, urging his immediate resignation. The US embassy stated, “The mismanagement and fraud of Georgia’s November 2 parliamentary elections denied many Georgian citizens of their constitutional right to vote.”
In the midst of this turmoil, President Shevardnadze remained in power, declaring he would resign, “if the people demanded it.” On November 22, 2003, President Shevardnadze opened parliament. The occasion was broadcasted live across the nation. As Shevardnadze was speaking, a group of protestors burst into the room. Stepping forward, Mikhail Saakashvili raised a rose above his head and demanded, “Resign!” The next evening President Shevardnadze resigned from office. “I have never betrayed my country,” he remarked, “and so it is better that the president resigns.”
Three years after Georgia’s Rose Revolution, Thailand suffered its own political crisis. Subject to countless military takeovers, Thailand has endured eighteen military coups since World War II. Most recently, the Royal Thai Army took control in 2006 while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was overseas. According to the military, Thaksin abused his power and influenced corruption. Supporting the coup, Thailand’s middle class was “concerned about the prime minister’s actions to cripple the country’s democratic processes and institutions and harvest power for himself.” In an exclusive interview Professor Maury Middleton, an American citizen currently living in Thailand, stated, “In other words he was taking from the rich and giving to the poor. The problem with this is that it is a form of vote buying. If you can help the majority or the poor and they like you, you can easily win elections.”
Although many Thais, such as those living in urban districts, supported the army’s military takeover, some citizens were agitated with the army’s rashness, believing the coup would stunt Thailand’s political growth. New York Times’ freelance journalist, Ismail Wolff, commented, “As everyone had been saying over the past year, the days of coups were over. Thailand had moved on. It had become a lighthouse for democracy in the region, and its political system was now strong enough to deal with widespread social divisions…it seemed that the country’s past had just caught up with it.”
While protests for and against the military coup raged throughout the country, protestors in favor of Prime Minister Shinawatra did little to unite. Protestors compromised their political influence by resorting to near-violent threats and motives. Professor Middleton described one event stating, “Last April, there was the Asian Summit held in our city. This was the leaders of the countries all of Asia. The red shirts snarled traffic in Pattaya and eventually broke into the hotel where the meetings were being held. As a result, the meetings were cut short and the dignitaries were air lifted out by helicopter. This also hurt the economy and reputation of Thailand.”
Today, a new government is yet to be established. The Royal Thai Army remains in power, refusing both secure voting power and political representation. Professor Middleton described the nation’s turmoil, “Though outwardly, they appear to be a very peaceful group of people, inside there is a lot of rage.”
“For the billions of powerless in today’s world, protest is the only way to have their voices heard.” In both cases, the movements relied on public protest; however, they sought the same results through different methods. In Georgia’s case, the movement directed their government’s actions. They instituted political representation by choosing a leader to unite their cause. They grasped political power by receiving help from international leaders. They employed clear strategies, and controlled their actions through nonviolent discipline. In comparison, Thaksin’s supporters failed to politically influence the military. They lacked political representation and international influence. They lacked clear strategies, and unintentionally jeopardized their country’s reputation through rash protests. They resorted to near-violent methods, compromising their case.
The foundation of any successful movement is recognizing that there is a hierarchy of goals. Wise leaders define the most achievable goal, and build their campaign strategies upon it. Once this is established, clear strategies must be implemented. These strategies must be conducted through nonviolent discipline. Nonviolent discipline displays strength and unity, promoting political influence. Political power in the hands of the people will ignite passion, birth unity, and fuel national change.

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