Saturday, 1 October 2011

Protests in the US: Occupy Wall Street

America! Greatest of nations, shining democratic example, policeman to the world's oppressed.

What is not to love about the other green and pleasant land? Bono once said that America is more than just a country, it is a idea, and a contagious one. They are a nation that has freed slaves and torn down barbaric regimes. They gave us Hollywood, rock and roll and the great road stories of Jack Kerouac. You can have just about every kind of experience you could imagine somewhere across 50 huge states, most of which are bigger than the entire whole of the UK. It is famously described as a land of opportunity where anybody can grow up to be President, and the calm, collected black boy from Hawaii proved it to be so.

Perhaps most of all, I like Herbert Hoover's description of America as a "great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose." It is easy as a non-American to deride the country for the things that it does badly, such as assisting the low-paid with welfare and protecting their interests politically. However, it is also easy to forget that the American principle of self-reliance makes for a resourceful and resilient people, and they are fiercely proud of their country. There is much to admire about America.

While British politics has come to be dominated by a narrow band of socialite nitwits with silly hair and no idea about the real world, American politics is about polished media excess, and despite the supposed opportunities, political office is generally reserved for those with big money, or those who can influence the same. The self-assurance of those who have influence in the world's most capitalist country is buoyed by the knowledge that there is little chance of social unrest among the populace.

However, signs are that this may not be the case for much longer. After proposed legislation in Wisconsin that would have limited collective bargaining rights, 100,000 people came out in support of state workers and the the Wisconsin Capitol building was temporarily occupied. Supportive actions were seen in every other state.

Erosion of incomes and living standards for the majority need not be a cause of great social unrest if the austerity measures employed by governments are perceived to have a fair impact upon all members of a society. But while media moguls continue to twist the truth in a harmful fashion and CEOs and top-level bankers continue to make millions, normal working people will show their anger and discontent at the skewed excesses. Is there a danger that sustained protests could strike the US this Autumn?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg certainly thinks so. He suggested recently on a local radio show that students graduating college could not find jobs and that protests of the type seen earlier this year at Tahrir Square in Cairo could be replicated in American cities. There are certainly others too that believe that youth disenfranchisement could lead to despair and unrest. But at the moment, there is still a lack of will and organisation by those who are suffering and who might wish to take collective action.

That could be about to change. A trending Twitter update - #occupywallstreet - called for people to occupy Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhatten in an effort to raise the profile of the group's aims, which it claims are to defend the rights of 99% of Americans against the greed of the other 1%. Initial gatherings were broken up by police and there were arrests, but subsequent gatherings are now taking place and at least some of the protesters are there in response to the arrests made earlier. There are currently an estimated 2000 protesters in the area, with numbers reported to be rising.

If you support the goals of the Zucotti Park protesters, you can log onto Twitter, send them your support using the hashtag #occupywallstreet and spread the word about their actions. As in our own country, there are many people in the US who could benefit from hearing their voices heard, and well-supported peaceful protests to achieve specific goals for the disadvantaged majority may just inspire the noble, far-reaching outcomes that Hoover once described.

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