When Adbusters originally sounded the call for the Occupy Wall Street protests, they sold it as our “Tahrir moment.” It’s a suggestion of revolution, of upheaval, of rebirth. Is this what we’re looking at? Obviously for real change to come it will require something drastic, but Tahrir?
Though a strong selling point, it is hard to imagine this movement toppling any regimes à la Cairo. Fellow blogger and family friend Jason Stern makes the point that they are more analogous to the intermediary Kefaya (Enough) protests in Egypt; an important step, but not the penultimate. I agree that this is not the end, and that it will engender some change, but I’m not sure it is as unlike Tahrir as he assumes.
First, he suggests there is no unified demand as there was in Tahrir. This is true, but simply because it hasn’t had time to develop. There is, however, a unified grievance: corporations are not people. Adbusters’ call to arms suggests we “end the monied corruption of our democracy,” which feels to me about halfway between a grievance and a solution. In any case, in that the demand is economic equality, it will inevitably take time to coalesce into a workable suggestion.
Secondly, he presents OWS and the Tea Party as seeking opposing ends. The original Tea Party movement, stripped of its Christianity, is mostly libertarian and, like OWS, sees the systematic disenfranchising of the American worker as an egregious problem. The OWS and authentic Tea Party movements are actually very aligned in their grievances. Further, he foists upon OWS the desire to expand government and regulation. I suspect many OWSers, such as the ones who are registered Democrats, do hold this desire. In this sense, they are diametrically opposed to a libertarian stance. But OWS has its roots in an anarchic intellectualism, and as such cannot legitimately be said to be sprouted from or represent a socialistic or big-d-Democratic point of view. Honestly, OWS and the Tea Party are really on the same side. Like in Tahrir, there is unity of grievance and demand: end corporate personhood.
Lastly, he correctly suggests that the American system is designed to incorporate large-scale grievances and dissent such as these. But I don’t think he goes far enough: it’s not just that the American political system can be changed and strengthened by things like this. The civil rights movement, perhaps the only comparable contemporary movement in terms of scale and universality of grievances, didn’t just change government policy. In its process, it went a long way in changing Americans’ outlook on the world. In the same way, OWS is trying to open Americans’ eyes to an injustice against the majority of the population. The civil rights movement was a relative success not just because it changed US policy, it changed US society. OWS must, can, and will do the same — that is, fundamentally alter both society and policy — in order to succeed.
“These movements will likely fade as did Kefaya. But without serious change and reform, their ideological offspring will return with a vengeance to the streets. The result won’t be revolution like Egypt, but it will shake America’s political foundation nonetheless.”
OWSers calls for revolution could mean the overthrow of the regime of American capitalism. But revolution can also mean a change in thought, in the social order, or in ideology. Revolution does not innately require bayonets and bombs. In that sense, this is a “Tahrir moment”: a moment when an idea of revolution becomes a reality. No one is burning D.C. (at least, not yet, but don’t get any ideas). But ideas of change are burning hot and bright, and when this is over, we will have achieved a revolution of thought and social awareness.