For the last four weeks, thousands of people have been occupying the Zuccotti Park in New York’s financial district. The movement, originally christened “Occupy Wall Street”, spread to other cities across the world over this weekend. Hundreds marched in London on Saturday to “occupy London Stock Exchange”, but a high court order and heavy police bandobast prevented them from doing so. Angry—but peaceful—crowds gathered outside St Paul’s Cathedral to protest against Big Capital, Evil Corporations and Government Mishandling that have resulted in mass unemployment and financial grief.
There were minor acts of violence in Italy and Spain, two of the countries worst hit by the eurozone crisis. In Milan, a group of students attacked the office of investment bank Goldman Sachs and managed to smear the walls with graffiti before they could be removed by the police.
By Saturday, the movement was claiming that it had spread to 82 countries on six continents. This may not be true, but United for Global Democracy, which seems/ wants to be a sort of holding group for the protests, conveys the sense of rage of average citizens at all that seems to be going awfully wrong with the world. The group’s manifesto, which claims the support of thinkers and activists across the world—including Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and Vandana Shiva—is a document that asks for a total global revolution.
It demands, in the words of Shiva, “replacing (of) the G8 with the whole of humanity – the G7,000,000,000.” “Undemocratic international institutions are our global Mubarak, our global Assad, our global Gaddafi. These include: the IMF, the WTO, global markets, multinational banks, the G8/G20, the European Central Bank and the UN Security Council. Like Mubarak and Assad, these institutions must not be allowed to run people’s lives without their consent...The citizens of the world must get control over the decisions that influence them in all levels – from global to local. That is global democracy. That is what we demand today.” The primary accusation is that the lives of 99% of the world’s population are blighted by the greed and insensitivity of 1%.
This is the anger of the young middle class, who have felt increasingly disenfranchised and helpless since the global financial crisis began in 2008. And national leaders—the G20 finance ministers are meeting currently in Paris—still seem to have very little clue about what needs to be done.
But the protestors too don’t seem to know what to do beyond exhibiting their outrage. Says the manifesto: “We prefer to leave it as a principle, and know that there are many suggestions on how to give people control over the global decisions that shape our lives…Today no one believes global people’s control is possible. Future generations will judge things differently. Today we start building a movement for global democracy.”
Yet, the fact remains that the achievements at Tahrir Square have been dimmed—the Egyptian military has as yet not announced any concrete plans to return Egypt to democracy. Libya remains in a state of civil war, people are being shot dead by government forces every day in Yemen. The men and women who are out on the streets today, in New York, London, Rome, Madrid, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Auckland and other cities insist on keeping the movement leaderless and emphasise on non-hierarchical “direct democracy”. Everyone will allowed to voice his or her opinion and have it debated.
Can this work? While there can be no doubt about the anger, idealism and strength of belief of the protestors, how much are these finally worth without a clear strategy, a cohesive platform and at least a list of suggested solutions? How long can you rant on with no response from the other side? In a few days time, some of the protestors will surely turn violent—after all, having lost their jobs and homes, most of them have their backs to the wall—and that will give the opportunity to State power to move in and react in kind. There could be blood on the streets.
Can this movement be a spark that could lead one day to a greater good across the world? I am sorry to say, I have grave doubts. The Arab Spring was certainly inspirational, but a Global Autumn seems highly unlikely.