Madaniya means civilian. This one word shaped the outcome of Sudanese Revolution last year, and could lend an insight into how America could change a heavily policed state from within.
In December 2018, with the chant Madaniya, millions of Sudanese began protesting the 30-year reign of dictator Omar Al Bashir and its attendant abuses. Women could be beaten for wearing pants. Anyone could be beaten for speaking out against the government. Bashir oversaw a genocide in Darfur so grotesque that he became the first head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
A coalition of his opponents began a sit-in around the military headquarters, and the regime predictably attacked and killed protesters. Under pressure, Bashir stepped down in April 2019. But jubilation came to a screeching halt when his very own military enforcers announced that they would take over.
But the people weren’t just demanding that Bashir go: they wanted civilian government, not more military provisionals. So they persisted. More and more camped at the military headquarters around the clock for months. Last June, the military massacred the sit-in; there are still missing bodies. The civilians regrouped and organized even larger protests.
By August the people and the transitional military council negotiated an agreement. Now there is a mixed civilian-military government. Getting to full Madaniya is the ongoing work of the Revolution.
I was there to witness many of the ongoing political actions this year. They are a sight to behold. Sometimes I wondered where a conductor was, as they were so well-choreographed. People linking arms between marchers and police. People bringing food and water and collecting donations. So much coordination, cooperation and love.
The Sudanese people have been winning against long odds. It has required tons of will, bravery, persistence and strategy. It is because each one believed a better world was possible. They saw their roles in it and took up the call. I’ve heard hundreds of stories from people involved in these actions. They tell them so matter-of-factly: every one had accepted the risks of losing their lives for the freedom of future generations.
In context of military dictatorship, the call for Madaniya, civilian rule, makes sense. But how does this relate to us, who believe we already have civilian rule decided in free elections?
Many Americans don’t experience the police to be as brutal as Bashir. But plenty do. The rest benefit from that force. Today, more Americans are waking up to view the police as an occupying military force. We have squads of National Guard in downtown Los Angeles trying to stop protests as they did in the Rodney King uprising in 1992.
Rousseau wrote in 1755 about how the invention of private property required people to hire others to guard it. He called that civil society. But nothing about this process has been civil. He lamented: “From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind, by […] crying to his fellows, ‘Beware of listening to this impostor [the first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine]; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.’”
This concept is worth a moment. Humans and especially Americans have outsourced the duty of community problem-solving to the police and other institutions.
We need to reclaim our duty of rehabilitating and negotiating with our peers. Among the most important movements right now is the call for the abolition of policing, of our inhumane criminal justice system, of prisons and of ICE.
We won’t scale back these agencies right away, but the road toward Madaniya here has already begun. Thanks to excellent coalition work by Justice L.A. Now, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created a civilian oversight commission of the Sheriff’s department. As we start learning to talk with each other, we must fund outsourcing agencies less. Now is city budgeting season across the country and we must wield what constituent voices we have to those ends. We must commit ourselves to a better world and take up our roles in Madaniya actions ahead.
Sudanese are still shouting Madaniya as they march and continue to work to achieve specific policies. Things like firing significant portions of the former national intelligence and security employees, the elimination of laws (like the one that prohibited women from wearing pants) that invited police intervention, defunding projects of the past regime and building political parties to establish democratic political culture.
Let this moment trigger our imagination about the achievable possibility of us, as civilians, holding these positions of power.