By Neetha Kurup:
2011 has probably been one of the most eventful years of the 21st century. At the start of the year the world sees the rise of the common folk in the Middle East–the people who want democracies in their respective countries. This was the start of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ which has led to uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and other Arab countries.
Inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’ and the Spanish Indignants Movement–a similar movement in Spain–a group of people from the United States of America decided to protest the uneven distribution of wealth and the influence of the corporate crowd on democracy following the downward spiral of the American economy. What started as the “Occupy Wall Street” called on by the Adbusters Media Foundation on September 17, 2011 has now become a global phenomenon with similar protests occurring in Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Australia and scores of other countries including in small measure India.
The “Occupy …” movements are leaderless, but their central demand remains the same: to reduce the influence money has on politics and to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. In the United States, 1% of the population is said to own a majority of the country’s wealth leading to the rise of the most popular slogan of the movement “We the 99%”.
The most notable point of this movement is perhaps the diversity of the people involved. People of different religions, gender and race gather to protest for what they believe in. The movements are largely youth-centred with most of the protestors being either 20-somethings finding it hard to keep their jobs or recent college graduates who find that the number of opportunities keeps falling.
While the movements have so far been rather unproductive owing to the fact that it lacks a clear set of official demands or a leader figure, the response to it has been overwhelming with many celebrities and politicians showing their support for the wronged middle class thanks to the incredible presence of social media in today’s community. Messages about the movement have spread rapidly with the help of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. A simple search of ‘#OWS” on Twitter will lead one to thousands–if not millions–of tweets about the ongoing “Occupy…” protests.
Throughout history, there have been many reports of gatherings, of protests for a variety of issues. But here’s what makes the “Occupy…” movements a novel one–never before has a movement gathered a following on a global scale with people from a mix of backgrounds. There aren’t white people or Asians, there aren’t Christians or Muslims, and there aren’t men or women. There are just ordinary people. They don’t call for any particular leader to step down; the movement is not an anarchist one. The people are simply just asking for reforms that would in effect just benefit everyone and harm no one. Social media has a very important role in this worldwide uprising–everyone gets to express their beliefs and goals, everyone else can come to know the different sides of the protests. In its entire enormity, the movement remains a non-violent mass act of civil disobedience. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. would have been proud.
The people are coming to realize the power of the community over the individual. It is fuelled by the participation of the group rather than the actions of an individual. It is not a call for drastic change unlike most uprisings, it is simply a call, a plea of help from a group of people tired of some flawed policies of an otherwise trusted government. A call, that shall hopefully be answered soon.