Washington’s elitism was palpable this week. Political pundits smugly interviewed “Occupy Wall Street” participants, trapping them in contradictions to demonstrate their lack of knowledge and organization surrounding the issues, while Washington’s political leaders either dodged association or overtly condemned their sit-ins and disruptiveness. Our media elites’ condescension suggested an inept disconnect with Middle America, baring its biased attraction to Washington’s’ political power for all to see. While America doesn’t yet know what to think of this awkward beginning of a political movement, 30 million underemployed citizens are not as ready as Washington’s elite to dismiss its credibility.
During the Egyptian revolution, cardboard signs touting the words “A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition” were held by some demonstrators. A.N.S.W.E.R. is a U.S. based, blanket group of anti war organizations, mostly anti-imperialist, Muslim, Arab and Latin America focused, initiated by the activist group, International Action Center (IAC), and founded by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark that opposes all U.S. military interventions, and by the Workers World Party (WWP), a U.S. based Marxist-Leninist organization closely associated with IAC that strongly supports communist states. It is this same group that organized the Occupy Wall Street rally that has continued as a sit-in for the past two weeks.
Notwithstanding the fact that this rally was envisioned by Marxists, and is now attempting to be co-opted by union organizers and some in the Democratic Party for their own purposes, this nascent movement is beginning to gain strength and a voice of concern over the connection between Wall Street, Washington, and our citizens’ resulting lack of representation to fix America.
Occupy Wall Street’s awkward missteps and disarray have been correctly assessed by our political and media elite as an early snap shot of a group that has no leadership and little clarity of message. When interviewed, its participants have seemed inarticulate with skewed and contradictory messages. Yet, there they sit camped out and building the articulation and clarity that will slowly incite others to join them.
It would do well for those so inclined to publicly disparage Wall Street’s occupation to revisit the humble beginnings of the Arab Spring, a movement that was directly tied to the same worldwide economic calamity. Some say the Arab Spring was influenced by local political dissident groups while others have gone as far as to claim that it was inspired and manipulated by America’s national security forces to disrupt the region. Most believe that decades of impoverishment spurred by the West’s economic collapse caused unbearable economic conditions that finally reacted to the spark of a single street vendor lighting himself on fire as the kindling of a disorganized, organic, and leaderless movement that erupted into a flame, ending in the overthrow of multiple oppressive governments.
On December 19, 2010, Moahamed Bouazizi, one of the 30 percent of jobless college graduates in Tunisia, was attempting to feed his family by selling vegetables in the street when Police seized his cart. In desperation, he set himself on fire and later died. At this point in the Arab Spring, only a few hundred completely disorganized young Tunisians took to the streets to protest police actions. Some voiced an opaque anger over unemployment and a few others smashed some windows and cars. The protest, however, was generally peaceful.
However, ten days later on December 29th, the bit slow to react Tunisian President, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali addressed his nation promising more jobs but vowing to crack down on the protesters, who by this time had grown to about the size of the 1,000 Occupy Wall Streeters. Still disorganized, a few protesters reacted by chanting for the President not to seek re-election in 2014. A multitude of social ills being voiced began to coalesce around the unemployment that plagued young Tunisians.
On January 2nd, a different catalyst sparked demonstrations in Egypt when a terrorist bomb blew up outside of a Coptic Christian church killing 21. In Algiers, 5 days later, protesters took to the streets over a completely different issue, high food prices. Looking back at how these disparate bands of protestors merged into the Arab Spring to overthrow them, these country’s leaders most surely would have subdued their arrogant dismissals and defiance that spread the movement to other cities. On January 9th, police killed 11 people in Tunisia and 3 in Algeria. In the frenzy, American media could only note the demonstrators’ disorganized voices speaking out against a lack of jobs and a host of other social ills, but had yet to fully comprehend the accelerating revolution.
On January 14th, similarly to Eric Canter’s seemingly ignorant grasp of world events that fed his derisive comments this weekend condemning “Occupy Wall Streeters” and their supporters, Libyan President Muammar Gaddaffi issued his first defiant condemnation of the protesters in Tunisia and Algeria, signaling the ill fated stances he would later take rather than addressing his country’s ills as a statesman. That same day, the Tunisian president fled his country for Saudi Arabia.
On January 13th in Algeria and on January 17th in Egypt, men copied Tunisia’s now martyred street vendor and set themselves on fire prompting Egypt’s Nobel Peace prize winner El Baradei to call on his nation’s leaders to take prompt action to avert a catastrophe. While being careful not to lend his political support to the movement, he nonetheless beseeched his nation’s politically elite to implement urgent reforms, claiming that Egypt was “yearning desperately for economic and social change” and that without drastic measures, Egypt would experience a “Tunisia-style explosion”. Grassroots activists surpassed El Baradei saying “This is not just about creating a clean parliament and a fair Presidency, it’s about the daily bread and butter of the Egyptian people.”
On January 25th, opposition groups organized protests similar to “Occupy Wall Street”. Certainly because of regime change in Tunisia on January 14th, they now had the surge of realization that they too might replace their own corrupt regimes, yet they still had no realization of their efforts. “We hope it will be big, very big” said Ahmed Salah, one of the demonstration organizers. “The people move for democracy – not for religion, not for elite interests, not for private loyalties.” He denounced the politically elite’s spin of the movement as a choice between Mubarak’s oppression or religious fundamentalism, claiming theirs was a “false choice”
The American people instinctively know that Wall Street organized and implemented a historic transfer of wealth to the East that now holds most of America hostage in the grip of punishing debt. Americans’ collective wisdom also knows that our politicians bent to the will of the financially powerful and created legislative loop holes for their corporate and banking contributors. While the occupiers of Wall Street are not yet able to articulate it, their gut feels inspired enough to camp out leaderlessly as they search for a coherent voice.
America will not experience a regime change such as the Arab Spring. But given the Obama ground swell in 2008 and the Tea Party revolution of 2012, is it really beyond belief that with 30 million disaffected, underemployed Americans desperate for direction out of our morass that this social media movement could also swell into a 2012 election tsunami? Those that would arrogantly dismiss Occupy Wall Street based on a current snap shot of its disorganization should look again to the timeline of the Arab Spring and wisely recalibrate their thinking.