Has “Arab Spring” Arrived in America?

Do you remember “Arab Spring,” the movement that began with a Tunisian fruit seller, Mohamed Bouazizi?  I wrote about this phenomenon in January (click here), and again in February (click here).  What started with Bouazizi’s self-immolation led to revolts in nearly every Arab state on the map.  Since that incident last December, the world has witnessed regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.  Revolutions are ongoing in places like Syria, Jordan, Yemen and other states.

Could this revolutionary fever reach America’s shores?

It already has.

The movement is called Occupy Wall StreetThe planning stages of this event began in July 2011.  The first organized march through the streets of Manhattan took place on September 17, 2011.  Since that time, nearly daily protests have taken place in New York City.  Additionally, the spirit of these events have led to similar demonstrations in cities coast to coast, from Boston to Portland, Oregon.

Unions, celebrities, politicians and other groups have joined the movement.  Zuccotti Park, an urban space in lower Manhattan previously viewed as hallowed ground in light of its proximity to Ground Zero, has been renamed “Liberty Park.”  This site has served as the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street, with daily organized “General Assemblies,” and other events.  Liberty Park has frequently been the starting point for marches.

What is this movement about?  On its website, Occupy describes itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

From Wikipedia: “According to Adbusters, a primary protest organizer, the central demand of the protest is that President Obama “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington”.   However, the protesters themselves have not reached agreement on any one or any set of specific demands. Liberal commentator Michael Moore had suggested that this is not like any other protest but this protest represents a variety of demands with a common statement about government corruption and the excessive influence of big business and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans on U.S. laws and policies.”

Occupy has been criticized by many for lack of focus, and according to Ginia Bellafante in the New York Times, as “an apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgeably.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York originally expressed support for the movement, stating, “People have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we’ll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it.”  That was before the marching began.

Bloomberg, who made billions dispensing financial information as a Wall Street insider, has since faced one of his toughest challenges as mayor of America’s biggest city.  For, the protests are an indirect assault on New York’s financial institutions and specifically target America’s wealthiest 1%, a class that presumably includes Bloomberg himself.

New York’s official response has been through its police department.  Unfortunately, the NYPD’s actions have been disturbing, and have drawn comparisons to infamous forces, such as the gestapo.  Alleged pepper spraying of protestors has raised strong implications of disproportionate use of force.  The October 3, 2011 incident in which marchers were allegedly directed or invited by police to march in the traffic lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge led a “kettling” in which more than 700 protestors were arrested for blocking traffic.

Additionally, fissures have opened within the force itself.  Rank-and-file “blue shirts” have seemingly paused to ask themselves why they are arresting marchers (often comprised of union workers) with whom they share much in common.  Indeed, evidence has emerged that “white shirts” or NYPD supervisory officers have been the officials who have committed the most blatant acts against the protestors.  The New York Times reported on this dynamic on October 2, 2011 (click here to read).

Tensions between police and protestors have been heightened by the allegation that the NYPD (a force that garnered worldwide praise for its bravery and devotion to its citizen in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks) has been co-opted as a rented security force for Wall Street financial interests.  This perception was bolstered by JP Morgan Chase’s $4.6 million donation to the NYPD Foundation which coincided with the beginning of the protests.

Smart people whom I respect are writing on the movement.  If you are so inclined, check out Nicholas Kristof’s “The Bankers and the Revolutionaries” (click here to read), as well as blog posts by The New Yorker’s John Cassidy (click here).  However, by and large, the major news organizations have taken a pass on the Occupy Wall Street stories.  Intelligent people must ask if this has anything to do with the fact that our media is controlled by large money interests.

Think about it, vastly more ink and air time were devoted to New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie’s non-entry into the presidential race than to major protests in America’s financial capital.  Christie, who from the beginning ruled out any bid for the GOP nomination, surprised no one when he officially put the urgings of Republican “luminaries” such as Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush to bed on October 4.  Overnight, Christie became a household name.  But, how many people are discussing Organize Wall Street around the dinner table right now?

Admittedly some of the causes incorporated into the free-wheeling populist movement have added a sideshow flavor to the event.  However, the main assertion of Occupy Wall Street cannot be denied: Wall Street financial institutions and the wealthiest of our society have benefited while having played a big hand in creating the crisis which has harmed millions of less-fortunate Americans.

Mohamed Bouzizi could never have anticipated the extent to which his actions of December 17, 2010, have influenced world history.

— The Major

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2 responses to this post.

  1. I fail to see how America can be compared to a repressed and beaten 3rd world country who’s livelihood is determined by dicatators who don’t promote economical growth through creative competition, but rather flat out, openly steal from its citizens and kill those who speak up against it. Mohamed Bouzizi killed himself because he was making a statement on his own terms. He wanted to show the injustice of what his government had done to him knowing full well he would die either way. Self-immolation was taking the power away from his government to literally kill him, and putting it back in his hands.
    America and her citizens don’t have it in any way near as bad as they do in the Arab countries. I can say this with confidence because I am an Arab; my father and all of his family are from Jordan. The issues they have over there are more tangible than what essentially was people making bad credit decisions here. This whole mess began with the housing collapse from people taking loans out on homes they coudn’t afford. It makes it our governments fault because they didn’t protect the idiots from themselves? I disagree with that logic. What makes this country great is not only the freedoms we have a RIGHT to, but the fact that any regular joe off the street can start with nothing and become something…it just requires hard work and dedication. Again, I’ve seen this first-hand with a father who immigrated to the states at just 18, hardly any money and barely speaking English. He went to school, worked 2 jobs to support himself and pay tuition and 40 years later, he’s retired with 3 paid-for houses, and the ability to travel 6 months out of the year. Do you think he would have had those opportunities back in the middle East…Egypt? Syria? Tunisia?
    All I’m saying is if we were to put things in perspective, we don’t have it so bad here. I’m a middle-class working man who’s just trying to support a family and pack-a-day smoking habit. Because I control my finances, I don’t have to worry about what some guy on Wall St. is doing. At least…that’s how I feel. And because I live in America and I fought for her…I have the right to say it without fear of death.

    Reply

    • Great comments.

      I don’t believe that I compared life in America to conditions in the Arab world at any point in this post. I merely pointed out that the Arab Spring protests served as one of the inspirations for the Occupy Wall Street protests.

      The story of your father and you certainly represents an American success. Regardless, I believe it is beyond denial that certain Wall Street and financial interests had a big hand in launching the current economic recession because of their greedy motivations.

      I am a proud American who also served my country for several years. Among the great gifts of this country are the ability to spot hypocrisy and to speak out against it.

      TM

      Reply

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