Women Politicians Battle Double Standards…and their Opponents

Thelda Williams was already in her 40s when she was first elected to the city council in Phoenix, Arizona, but that didn’t stop people from assuming she wasn’t up to the task. The Arizona Republican believes people underestimated her because she is a woman. 

“Staff, in the very, very beginning, really treated me like, ‘Well, you probably don’t understand. This is probably too overwhelming. There are too many subjects,’” she recalls. “And, you know, you prove them wrong.”

Decades later, Williams remains on the city council, having served as interim mayor three times, most recently during a stint that ended in March. One of the arenas in which Williams still believes she isn’t treated equally is when it comes to how the media cover her.

“You know, I just don’t get the same respect. I mean, they talk about everything from what shoes I wear, to what color my hair is, to what my age is,” she says. “You don’t see that with the men. … What really irritates me is when it’s a woman who’s written the article.”

Then-Mayor Thelda Williams (second from left) attends a neighborhood smoke alarm awareness walk, October 2018. (City of Phoenix)

The undermining of women in politics is not new. Stereotypes and double standards continue to exist for female politicians, says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“And it starts with things as basic and as simple as being scrutinized for their physical appearance, what they wear, how their hair looks, the way in which they speak,” Walsh says.

“During the 2016 presidential election, we heard comments that Hillary Clinton didn’t smile enough. We never heard that about Bernie Sanders, and heaven knows he is not somebody who grins. He’s pretty grumpy, and so is, for that matter, Donald Trump.”

Women are also criticized for being shrill when they speak forcefully. Media focus on details not related to the issues can hurt women electorally. 

“If the media is not focusing on the content of what women are talking about, but much more on their presentation, their style, their appearance, it diminishes them as serious candidates,” Walsh says. 

“And this becomes even more of a challenge for women who are running for office, because women are not assumed — in the same way that men are assumed to be — qualified and capable and able to hold these offices. So, they have to prove themselves in ways that male candidates do not.”

A record number of women are running for president in 2020, and how the press covers them could impact their political fortunes. 

In Massachusetts in March, Northeastern University’s School of Journalism examined almost 1,400 articles about the 2020 presidential election and found that the female candidates were consistently described more negatively than their male counterparts.

The female candidate with the fewest positive words written about her, Kirsten Gillibrand, has already quit the race.   

Click on graphic to enlarge (Source: Northeastern University School of Journalism)

Walsh says female candidates have to navigate the presidential debates differently than men because a man who interrupts or asserts himself is not written up in quite the same way as a woman who does the same thing.

She’s also concerned about the recurring question of electability. 

“There is this assumption that somehow after 2016, the Democrats need to ‘play it safe’ right now and not take a risk on a woman candidate, that they have to win,” she says. “I assume ‘traditional’ is white and male and probably over 60 years old.”

Williams isn’t holding out hope that media coverage will one day focus solely on the issues and not her appearance, delivery style or age. 

“I mean, it doesn’t seem like they’re ever going to change,” she says. “I think they expect me to behave nicer, be a little gentler. The men can get away with saying just about anything — it can be swear words — whereas a woman, you can’t. We’re expected, I think, ‘You have to behave.’”

In her experience, there are very specific losses for society when women are not at the decision-making table. 

“I think right off the bat, compassion. And not only for people — kids, seniors, families, animals. I think that’s all missing if it’s just left up to men,” Williams says. “Morals would be so much different if there were no women politicians. I think they bring much more detail and depth to almost every subject.”

In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, Erin Schrode poses at her home in Mill Valley, California.

Activist Erin Schrode, who ultimately lost her 2016 congressional bid in her California district, faced an onslaught of misogynistic attacks and physical threats from nontraditional media. The online campaign against her was orchestrated by a popular neo-Nazi website.

“Insinuating that I had, or would, perform sexual acts to advance my standing in the political world,” she says, recalling the online attacks against her. “That I wouldn’t have my job if I weren’t pretty. And on the flip side, that I was too hideous to even merit a vote.”

Despite the harassment she endured, Schrode agrees with Williams that more women are needed in public office and hasn’t ruled out a future run for herself.     

“We need that perspective, that judgment, that level headedness, that experience the same way that we need all voices represented in Congress,” she says.

“Women are communicators. Women are fighters. Women are mothers. Women are forces to be reckoned with. And our place is wherever we want it to be, and that most certainly includes the halls of Congress.”


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Trump Lashes Out at Democrats Over Impeachment Probe

U.S. President Donald Trump is continuing to unleash attacks on Democrats who have initiated an impeachment inquiry of him over a whistleblower complaint.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters about a transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskiy, at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 25, 2019.

In a series of Twitter posts Monday, Trump lashed out at his accusers and focused much of his ire at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff who last week parodied the president’s remarks of a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2019

Trump also tweeted comments made by a conservative pastor that warned of the dangers of “civil war” if the president was impeached.

….If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” Pastor Robert Jeffress, @FoxNews

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2019

 

The whistleblower alleges that Trump sought Zelenskiy’s help in digging up incriminating information about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter that would hurt Biden’s prospects of winning the Democratic presidential nomination and challenging Trump in the 2020 U.S. election.  The White House last week released a rough transcript of the call.

While not present during Trump’s call to Zelenskiy, the whistleblower says that several officials “with direct knowledge of the call” provided a consistent account of what transpired, substantiating its authenticity.

Lawyers representing the whistleblower are stressing the need to protect the person’s identity, while the president has said he deserves to “meet my accuser.”

The legal team led by Andrew Bakaj issued a statement Sunday saying lawyers are continuing to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to finalize the logistics of having the whistleblower meet with lawmakers, but that no date has been set.

Another lawyer, Mark Zaid, denied a report that the whistleblower was under federal protection due to safety concerns.

The legal group published a copy of a letter it sent to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence saying their concerns for the whistleblower’s personal safety have increased during the past week, and that they “expect this situation to worsen.”  They cited as evidence a statement from the president.  The lawyers also said they were aware that people were offering substantial sums of money for information about the whistleblower’s identity.

“I want to know who’s the person who gave the Whistleblower, who’s the person that gave the Whistleblower the information, because that’s close to a spy.  You know what what we used to do in the old days when we were smart?  Right?  With spies and treason, right?  We used to handle them a little differently than we do now,” Trump said Thursday.

In a separate letter to the top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate and House intelligence committees, the whistleblower’s lawyers called for lawmakers to “speak out in favor of whistleblower protection and reiterate that this is a protected system where retaliation is not permitted, whether direct or implied.”

Trump has been repeatedly posting on Twitter, reiterating his defense of the July phone call with Ukraine’s president that is at the center of the whistleblower complaint.

“Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser, especially when this accuser, the so-called “Whistleblower,” represented a perfect conversation with a foreign leader in a totally inaccurate and fraudulent way,” Trump said on Sunday.  “In addition, I want to meet not only my accuser, who presented SECOND & THIRD HAND INFORMATION, but also the person who illegally gave this information, which was largely incorrect, to the “Whistleblower.”  What this person SPYING on the U.S. President?  Big Consequences!”

According to a copy of the whistleblower complaint released last week, the person said they “received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”


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Another US Airstrike in Libya Targets IS Fighters

A U.S. airstrike in Libya has killed seven Islamic State fighters, according to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

It is the fourth U.S. strike this month against the terror group in the southwestern Libyan town of Murzuq.

One airstrike last week killed 17 IS militants, and another killed 11, according to AFRICOM. A strike on Sept. 19 killed eight IS militants.

The strikes were carried out in coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord to degrade IS’s “ability to effectively conduct operations against the Libyan people,” said Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler, AFRICOM director of operations.

U.S. officials say the deteriorating security situation in Libya has allowed militants affiliated with IS to expand their presence in ungoverned spaces of the desert in the country’s south.

Troops affiliated with the Government of National Accord have been fighting forces led by strongman Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army. The fighting has left hundreds of people dead in Tripoli and in nearby cities and towns.

In recent months, IS has claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks against Libyan civilians and military personnel.  

But as IS has become more emboldened by the current political chaos in Libya, U.S. officials tell VOA they have also made themselves an easier target.

Some reports say that between 500 and 750 IS fighters are currently active in Libya, but experts think the number is higher than what has been reported as foreign fighters continue to flee there from Syria.


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Haiti Faces New Wave of Protests as Calls for President’s Resignation Grow

 Lyonel Desmarattes in Washington, Sony Louis in Leogane, Jaudelet Junior Saint-Vil in Fort Liberte and Hernst Eliscar in Les Cayes contributed to this report
 

WASHINGTON / PORT-AU-PRINCE – Hundreds of demonstrators protested across Haiti Monday, responding to calls by the opposition and anti-corruption militants to take to the streets and build roadblocks to force President Jovenel Moise to resign.

In Port-au-Prince, police fired on protesters who were trying to burn down a police station in the Carrefour Aeroport neighborhood, wounding a local radio reporter. Protesters did manage to set fire to a police car.

In the southern city of Les Cayes, protesters set ablaze a police station located in the southern part of the city. The local office of national electric company EDH was looted.

In Fort Liberte, hundreds took to the streets early. Some wore costumes as they marched through the tow,n holding a casket draped in white fabric, adorned with black crosses and the words, “Goodbye Jovenel,” written in black marker on the sides.

The Tet Ansanm pou Rebati Ayiti (Union to Rebuild Haiti) group, which includes various opposition organizations, Sunday called for the protests.     

Opposition leader Andre Michel gives a press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 29, 2019.

“Jovenel Moise is no longer president; the people have fired him, but the people must remain mobilized. The roadblocks must go higher and the mobilization has to go higher until we install a provisional government,” said lawyer Andre Michel, a member of the Democratic and Popular Sector party.

Referring to a protest last Friday which the opposition considered a nationwide success, Michel said, “On Sept 27, 2019, the people fired Jovenel Moise as their president…Jovenel Moise is a president in hiding….he is no longer leading the country.”

‘Where is Jovenel?’
 

FILE – Haitian President Jovenel Moise

Moise has not been seen or heard from since he delivered a national address on September 25, during which he sought to calm a furious nation and extend an olive branch to the opposition.

The latest protests stem from the Haitian leader’s decision more than a year ago to end fuel subsidies, a move that came at the request of the International Monetary Fund. While Moise reversed the decision after an eruption of violence, frustration has mounted over his inability to turn the economy around and end corruption.    

Instead, Moise has infuriated the opposition and protesters and sparked the most destructive and violent protests to date. Asked if Moise is in hiding, presidential advisor Cange Mackenson told local radio station Magik 9 Monday morning that the president has control of the country and is “reflecting like a good coach.”

Late on Sunday, a series of decrees was issued by acting Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin announcing new Cabinet appointments to head various ministries, including those for finance, public planning, migration, Haitians living abroad and tourism. The move followed shakeups in the interior and justice ministries.  

Le citoyen Joseph JOUTHE est nommé Ministre a.i de l’Economie et des Finances @MEFHaitipic.twitter.com/STa0GaHwQ8

— Communication Haïti (@MCHaiti) September 30, 2019

More calls for resignation

Police stand near a barricade built by protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 30, 2019.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops has added its voice to those expressing concern over Haiti’s political quagmire. The conference issued a statement asking the president to face the consequences of his irresponsibility. “Is there a violence worse than living with constant insecurity? Is there a misery worse than the black misery that removes all hope? No people should resign themselves to accepting misery, poverty and violence as a way of life,” the statement said. “The officials at the highest level of government must take responsibility to guarantee the country and its institutions are able to function properly. They are morally responsible for the security and well-being of the people, first of whom is the president.”

An association of artists and actors also decried the political crisis. A statement issued Sunday cited corruption and impunity as the main culprits.

Protesters turn and run as police began to fire tear gas as they gather in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 30, 2019.

“We artists realize that these two factors are responsible for the terrible situation we find ourselves in, where many young people are leaving in search of a better life overseas,” the statement, signed by some of Haiti’s most popular and successful artists, said.  

Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic reportedly reinforced its border with Haiti, adding more than 1,000 soldiers to boost security in anticipation of the planned protests.

 

 


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Treasury Targets Russians Suspected of Meddling in Midterms

The Treasury Department is targeting Russians suspected of trying to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.
 
Treasury says, however, there is no indication that they were able to compromise election infrastructure in ways that would have blocked voters, changed vote counts or disrupted vote counting.
 
 Monday’s action targets for sanctions four entities, seven individuals, three aircraft and a yacht that are all associated with the Internet Research Agency and its Russian financier, Yevgeniy Prigozhin.
 
Treasury says the IRA used fictitious personas on social media and disseminated false information to attempt to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections and try to undermine faith in U.S. democratic institutions.

 


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China Spurns US Criticism of Economic Cooperation With Afghanistan

A regional Chinese diplomat has rebuked the United States for being “ignorant” about his country’s ongoing key economic contributions and cooperation with Afghanistan.

Arrangements are being worked out to enhance the cooperation with Kabul even under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Yao Jing, the Chinese ambassador to neighboring Pakistan told VOA.

He hailed Saturday’s successful Afghan presidential election, saying China hopes they will boost peace-building efforts in a country wrecked by years of conflicts.

“We hope that with the election in Afghanistan, with the peace development moving forward in Afghanistan, Afghans will finally achieve a peaceful period, achieve the stability,” said the Chinese diplomat, who served in Kabul prior to his posting in Islamabad.

Earlier this month, U.S. officials and lawmakers during a congressional hearing in Washington sharply criticized China for its lack of economic assistance to Afghan rebuilding efforts.

“I think it’s fair to say that China has not contributed to the economic development of Afghanistan. We have not seen any substantial assistance from China,” Alice Wells, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, told lawmakers.

Wells, however, acknowledged that Beijing has worked with Washington on a way forward on peace as have other countries, including Russia and immediate neighbors of Afghanistan.

“She is a little ignorant about what China’s cooperation with Afghanistan is,” ambassador Yao said when asked to comment on the remarks made by Wells.

He recounted that Beijing late last year established a trade corridor with Kabul, which Afghan officials say have enabled local traders to directly export thousands of tons of pine nuts to the Chinese market annually, bringing much-needed dollars. Yao said a cargo train was also started in 2016 from eastern China to Afghanistan’s landlocked northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

China is also working on infrastructure projects, including the road linking Kabul to the eastern city of Jalalabad and the road between the central Afghan city of Bamiyan and Mazar-e-Sharif. Chinese companies, Yao, said are also helping in establishing transmission lines and other infrastructure being developed under the CASA-1000 electricity transmission project linking Central Asia to energy-starved South Asia nations through Afghanistan.

Ambassador Yao noted that China and Afghanistan signed a memorandum of understanding on BRI cooperation, identifying several major projects of connectivity.

“But the only problem is that the security situation pose a little challenge. So, that is why China and Pakistan and all the regional countries, we are working so hard trying to support or facilitate peace in Afghanistan,” he said.  

For her part, Ambassador Wells told U.S. lawmakers that China’s BRI is a “slogan” and “not any reality” in Afghanistan. “They have just tried to lockdown lucrative mining contracts but not following through with investment or real resources,” she noted.

Wells said that Washington continues to warn its partners, including the Afghan government about “falling prey to predatory loans or loans that are designed to benefit only the Chinese State.”

U.S. officials are generally critical of BRI for “known problems with corruption, debt distress, environmental damage, and a lack of transparency.” The projects aims to link China by sea and land through an infrastructure network with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

But Yao rejected those concerns and cited the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a pilot project of BRI, which has brought around $20 billion in Chinese investment to Pakistan within the past six years. It has helped Islamabad build roads and power plants, helping the country overcome its crippling electricity shortages, improve its transportation network and operationalize the strategic deep-sea Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea.

 


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Two Turkey-Backed Rebel Groups Clash in Syria’s Afrin

Clashes between two Turkish-backed rebel groups in the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin have left at least two fighters dead and about a dozen wounded, according to reports Sunday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor group that has researchers across Syria, reported that fierce fighting between the al-Majd Legion and al-Sham Legion in Afrin erupted Saturday night following a disagreement over property.

“Our sources have confirmed that the infighting erupted after a dispute over the ownership of a house just outside of Afrin,” Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory, told VOA.

Local news said the disputed house belonged to a Kurdish civilian that armed groups reportedly had seized months ago.

Frequent clashes

Armed confrontations among Syrian rebel factions have reportedly increased since Turkish military and allied Syrian rebels took control of Afrin after a two-month-long military campaign that ousted the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) from the region in March 2018, rights groups said.

“This is not the first time that such clashes take place over property and revenue-sharing among rebel groups,” the Syrian Observatory added.

Infighting among rebel groups has become a common issue in the region.

 “There is almost one occurrence like this one on a daily basis,” said Mohammed Billo, a journalist from Afrin.

“Usually when fighting gets out of control, Turkish military interferes to stop it,” he told VOA.

Some rights groups have also voiced concerns about growing violations against civilians in recent months in Afrin.

FILE – Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) run across a street in Raqqa, Syria, July 3, 2017.

“Local sources in Afrin reported at least 110 abuses that appear to amount to instances of arbitrary detention, torture and abductions of civilians by pro-Turkey armed groups,” Amnesty International said in a report released in May.

YPG attacks

Since their ouster from Afrin in March 2018, Kurdish fighters affiliated with the YPG have occasionally carried out attacks against Turkish military and Syrian rebel forces in the Kurdish-majority region.

Last week, YPG fighters claimed responsibility for an attack on a Turkish military outpost in Afrin that killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded another.  

Ankara views the YPG as part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in a three-decade war with Turkish armed forces for greater Kurdish rights in Turkey. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.  

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to invade other YPG-held areas in northern Syria, despite a recent agreement with the United States to establish a safe zone along Syria’s border with Turkey.

The two countries have begun joint patrols along parts of the border, but Turkish officials continue their objection over Washington’s support for the YPG, which has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State terror group in Syria.

 


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Fact or Fiction, the Treasure is as Important and the Thrill of the Hunt

About 350,000 treasure hunters from all over the world, have been scouting out a large area in the Rocky Mountains stretching from Northern New Mexico to Montana, looking for a hidden treasure. As the story goes, all one needs to do to find the loot, is to decipher the nine clues in a poem written by wealthy art collector and entrepreneur Forrest Fenn, who says he collected and hid the treasure years ago. Its lore became wildly popular after he had written a book called “The Thrill of the Chase,” talking about his life and the treasure.  While many believe the treasure is real, others think it’s a hoax. VOA’s Penelope Poulou visited the area and spoke with Fenn about the meaning of it all


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Luxury Cars Seized from African Leader Auctioned

A fleet of luxury, high-performance cars seized from the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president have been auctioned off for more than $23 million.

The 25 cars were seized by Swiss authorities after an investigation into money laundering.   They once belonged to Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who is also vice president to Equatorial Guniea’s 40-year ruler President Theodora Obiang.

Among the cars sold Sunday were Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys, Rolls Royces and a McLaren.

A rare white Lamborghini Veneno Roadster, one of only nine built, sold  for $8.3million to an anonymous buyer.

Proceeds from the auction will go to a charity to fund social programs in the tiny oil-rich Central African country.

Obiang’s luxury lifestyle has draw foreign ire before. Last year, Brazilian officials seized $16 million in cash and high-end watches from a delegation traveling with Obiang.

He was given a three-year suspended sentence by a French court for spending millions of dollars of public funds on a Paris apartment, a private jet and a fleet of luxury cars.

Earlier, he entered into a $30 million settlement with U.S. authorities who accused him of using looted public funds to buy a California mansion and a vast collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia, including the crystal-encrusted white glove from Jackson’s “Bad” world tour.


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Thousands of Anti-Kremlin Protesters Turn Out, Demanding End of Political Repression

The drizzle had stopped by the time anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny bounded to the stage to cheers in a packed downtown Moscow square, where at least 20,000 anti-government protesters assembled to demand an end to prosecutions tied to earlier mass protests.

The overcast sky and unseasonably cold September weather didn’t deter the tens of thousands of protesters to assemble to voice their opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and to call for the release of 13 anti-government activists still being held in jail in Moscow. Four others have been freed but remain under investigation.

It was the first mass event Navalny has appeared since he was released last month from jail where he had been held for 30 days for organizing unauthorized public gatherings.

Anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny just before bounded to protest stage to tell protesters they should have confidence in their power, Moscow, Sept. 29, 2019. (J. Dettmer/VOA)

The chants of “Let Them Go” and “Putin is a Thief” were heard throughout an afternoon during which the police maintained a low presence for a protest that had had been granted a rare legal permit by Moscow city authorities. More than 1,000 people were detained in July and August during the largest demonstrations since Vladimir Putin’s re-election to the presidency in 2012. Those protests had not been sanctioned and at their height they saw as many as 60,000 turn out to brave harsh police crackdowns.

In 2012, the anti-Putin protests, sparked by allegations of electoral fraud and frustration over Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin for a third presidential term, eventually fizzled out, with anti-government activists worn down by an uncompromising Kremlin. Protesters Sunday expressed some worry the same fate will befall the new wave of demonstrations.

But 36-year-old Lisa, a freelancer working in the education sector, said she isn’t allowing that to deter her from joining the protests now.

“There is no way of staying at home, no way of observing and not taking any action,” she told VOA. “It is too much. I have not been to any gatherings for years. But now I can’t stand just staying at home. I prefer not to think about 2102 but live in the here and now,” she added.

Police estimated the crowd at 20,000 — organizers put the figure higher at 25,000.

Anti-Kremlin protesters demand release of more than a dozen arrested for taking part in demonstrations in July and August against rigged Moscow city council elections, Sept. 29, 2019. (J. Dettmer/VOA)

Political activist Navalny, widely seen as the key opposition figure in a protest movement that has brought together groups spread across the spectrum, from Communists and liberals to Russian nationalists and others of no fixed ideology, says now is not like 2012, when a Kremlin crackdown exhausted anti-government protesters.

Speaking to VOA and other reporters, he said: “The most important thing we saw today is that protests supporting political prisoners are not niche anymore. You remember such meetings in 2012-2014. They were small. And there were just a few of them. Now we see the defense of political prisoners is the main political subject. More and more people are getting involved, many of whom were never interested in politics before. It is very important and we’re at the beginning. What we see now is totally different, in terms of the size and duration. Previous protests rapidly faded. Now new people are getting involved.”

To the crowd, who chanted along with him, Navalny said: “We should be confident of our power.” He asked the crowd why they thought the Kremlin had released some activists. “Because they have a conscience? Because they are ashamed? Because they have children? No, because they’re afraid that their popularity ratings were dropping,” he answered.

Earlier, Ilya Azar, a journalist and activist, told the flag and placard-waving crowd: “Looking back to the protest in 2011-2012 there was no such solidarity of civil society as we can see now. This is fantastic.” She said the strength of the movement had intimidated the authorities into releasing jailed activists.

Alexey Minyaylo was freed last week from jail after rioting charges against him were dropped, Moscow, Sept. 29, 2019. (J. Dettmer/VOA)

One of those freed, Alexey Minyaylo, who released from custody after prosecutors dropped rioting charges against him, told VOA he believed civil society has matured since 2012-2014. “In 2012 there were very high expectations but we were not ready for a real fight and when we were hit, we just stood back and did nothing. Now we can take hits and still act.”

Tatiana Lazareva, an activist and onetime TV host who lost her job after participating in anti-Putin protests, says the issues now and in 2012 are the same — honest elections and honest trials.  But “people are starting to realize that they’re living worse. The important thing is that people are starting to understand there’s no sense just to blame Putin, they have to do something themselves.”

Lazareva acknowledges there’s a disconnect between Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the protest movements are stronger, and the countryside. She argues the protest movement has to do more to reach out. “Big cities attract brave people who come to achieve something. People here are different. People who afraid of something or afraid to overcome something stay in their hometowns,’ she says.

 

 


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