A nation starts to mobilize: Something’s happening here
By Michael Dean Benton
North of Center
The question that must be asked is whether we are witnessing the birth of a new social movement in America. As I am writing this article Occupy Wall Street is starting Day 25 and it is spreading on a national and global scale. There are now Occupations and Meetups in 1359 cities operating in solidarity with the protesters in New York City. (You can find lists of current Occupations across the globe at Occupy Together). Occupy Lexington was the third city to organize an Occupation when a few protesters gathered on September 29 at noon in front of the Downtown JP Morgan Chase Bank plaza.
I first heard about the plans for the occupation of Wall Street from Adbusters’ editor and writer Micah White in July of 2011. Soon afterward, I saw the ads of a ballerina doing a pirouette on top of the iconic Wall Street bull statue appearing in the magazine’s September 2011 “Post-Anarchism” issue and in various announcements from activist groups.
Slowly people started discussing the possibilities of the occupation through emails, in person, and on forums.
Global roots: Looking east, south and west
Where, then, did the inspiration for the Occupy Wall St. and the solidarity protests arise from? Perhaps the most electrifying moment was the Arab Spring of 2011 which seemed to happen spontaneously across the Middle East and North Africa, with predominantly young people taking the forefront of these movements to challenge authoritarian dictatorships. Their embrace of social media, which had been viewed with suspicion by many cultural critics in the West, demonstrates that effective social movement organizing is possible through social media technologies. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the courageous challenges of young protesters in the face of draconian measures in all of the regional protests, inspired people around the world.
Another primary inspiration was the Spanish acampadas (camping, or temporary encampment) that began out of disgust for electoral politics as usual in Spain and continued to spread and grow as the politics of occupying urban spaces interweaved with networking through social media. Beginning with several hundred people on May 15, the Spanish occupations increased into the thousands by the time of the May 25 elections and continues still today. These acampadas provided a model for the Occupy Wall Street protests with their emphasis on occupying urban spaces through festive gatherings. Their emphasis on peaceful protesting, consensus decision-making, leaderless movements (or better yet an emphasis on autonomy, whereby all have the capabilities/responsibility to lead) and a push for Democracia Real Ya can be seen in the current Occupy protests.
Although not as often cited as direct influences, but no doubt significant, were the various Latin American campesino land movements and the dramatic, successful, 2000 Cochabamba resistance of citizens against foreign companies attempting to privatize and control all water resources in Bolivia.
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