What colour is your revolution?
The latest one is saffron, or red, or pink, to honour the colour of robes worn by monks in Burma who have taken to the streets in the thousands to protest 45 years of military rule.
It began with the monks marching in Rangoon and then the crowds who watched and joined them, fixing small strips of red cloth from the monks' red robes to their own shirts. This week it spread to the U.S., where a Columbia University student organized a show of solidarity for the Burmese protesters, inviting participants to wear red shirts.
It is being dubbed the "Saffron Revolution," a name that links it to the so-called "colour and flower revolutions" against political oppression at the turn of the new century in places like Georgia and the Ukraine. Like the symbols used to represent them, the revolutions have been largely peaceful mass protests.
"I think that colour is a very easy, straightforward symbol that people can grab on to," says Dr. Cynthia Boaz, the academic adviser to the Washington-based International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.
She points to the use of colour in ribbon campaigns to support causes like breast cancer and AIDS. But she said there is little danger that protest movements, like ribbon campaigns, will become so numerous that people lose track of their meaning.
"I think it would be nice if all over the world in non-democracies we had so many people-power movements that we used up all the colours and started recycling," Boazsaid.
In Georgia in November 2003, it was the Rose Revolution, so-named after protesters began handing out roses to soldiers sent in to contain the demonstration against president Eduard Shevardnadze. In the Ukraine in 2004 it was the Orange Revolution, named after the political party fighting rigged elections. In Kuwait this past summer, women won the vote after staging a Blue Revolution.
The name "Saffron Revolution" was selected by the student leaders of the movement in Burma to pay homage to the monks and also because saffron is a strong spice, and implies bravery, according to Boaz.
"The colour captures something that the opposition movement is trying to say: We are the nation, we are the people, these symbols are our symbols, they are not yours," says Allen Sens, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia.
In fact, colour-coded revolutions have become something of a recent tradition, says Wade Huntley, director of the Simons Centre at the Liu Institute for Global Issues in Vancouver. Revolutionaries know they need to choose symbols that resonate.
"The leaders of the movements are keenly aware that their ability to generate global support can help their cause," says Huntley. "I understand ... that there are enough colours to cover all the countries in the world."
Source: The Toronto Star