The past three weeks have witnessed the genesis of the world’s newest protest movement…only this time, it’s happening right here at home.
As the “Occupy Wall Street” movement hurtles into its third week, hundreds of young people have filled Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, home to the iconic stampeding bull in New York’s financial district. Similar protest movements have spread to other cities including Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They have staked their claim to global context, declaring themselves progeny of the non-violent, nonhierarchical demonstration movements that rocked the foundations of totalitarian oligarchy across the Middle East and North Africa earlier this year. A living, breathing manifestation of liberal economic populism, they’ve erected tents and hunkered down to wage a forever war against greed and corruption.
Now pundits are speculating whether America is about to experience the same sort of youth-driven, socially-networked deluge of grass roots protests that turned the Arab world on its head. Of course, in this case, the issue at hand isn’t police state politics, the suspension of a constitution or a violent crackdown on peaceful picketers. “Economic inequality” and “political oligarchy” are the adversaries du jour — and when all else fails, it’s easy enough to blame the rich and bemoan the supposed erosion of the middle class.
Somewhere on the way to the stated goals of “taking to task the people who perpetrated the economic meltdown” and presidential commissions “to separate money and politics,” our lazy media decided it was fair and just to christen the protest “America’s Arab Spring.” How incredibly insulting.
Facile comparisons to Arab Spring insults the real revolutionaries who braved batons , bullets, and brutal despots to demand some semblance of democracy and political transparency. The NYPD aren’t about to gun down a small gathering of hippies and hipsters, no matter how desperately starved they are to be a part of an international resistance to the so-called status quo. Despite this contrived struggle to join the cause, they’ve been unable or unwilling to express any real demands, other than scattered stipulations for student loan forgiveness or an unreasonable living wage.
It’s not like we’re living in Egypt or Tunisia — let alone Iran, Syrian, or Libya. These new age revolutionaries should experience protest in a country that isn’t quite so warm and fuzzy regarding freedoms of speech and assembly. In reality, the only thing the movements have in common is popular youth protest, bound by frustration and slackly organized through social media. The Arab youth had better things to rail against than loan forgiveness on the debt incurred for a liberal arts degree in “Medieval German Poetry.”
When it comes to legitimate protest against societal ills, the Wall Street Occupiers seem to forget that message — which they lack — is important, and grievance — which they’ve imagined — is vital. Mandates come in response to legitimate injustice. This complaint circus is little more than a collective venting session that lacks the edge and urgency of the Arab protests. For all intents and purposes, this is a hollow imitation of the real thing.
I will give them one thing…they’ve reminded us all just how far Manhattan’s financial district is from downtown Damascus.
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