A new wave of optimism is sweeping the world, it seems. An Arab Spring became an Arab Summer and is moving gracefully into an Arab Autumn as the fight continues for freedom in Libya, Syria and Yemen amongst other places. It is here, as well as in Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia that history will probably focus most of its attention, and rightly so. The revolutions, whether successful or not, have shown that the Arab world will not accept the subjugation of dictatorial regimes. One senses that the reverberations have been felt the world over and hopefully nowhere more so than in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
But the feeling of despair and disillusion amongst large sections of the population is not geographically or culturally confined in any way and the wave of recent protests in Western and Developed nations prove this. The Occupy Wall Street movement, that took its inspiration from the Spanish Indignado’s of earlier this year, has just gone global. As I type this there is an almost universal sense of frustration and dismay. These feelings though, have given birth to a real desire to fight and the biggest cause for progressive optimism in many years.
That the wealthy elites of the world are existing at the expense of, and off the hard work of, the vast majority seems to have ceased to become a theoretical argument. It is no longer dismissed as Marxist rhetoric or conspiracy theory. It is demonstrable fact and it has been highlighted as such, publically and blatantly, by the Global Financial Crisis that has enveloped the world in the last few years. The bailout of the very financial institutions that had been hailed as heroes by the political proponents of neoliberal capitalism was a blow the global public seemed willing to accept. The complete failure to offer any kind of systematic change or regulation to ensure they could never take such liberties again was not. When the elites of political power and extreme wealth sit so comfortably together revolution is not only necessary, it is inevitable.
These protests represent the growing consensus that not only is the current balance of wealth and power unsustainably corrupt, but that another way is possible. Hope and optimism immediately spring from such realisations but we must be careful to restrain that hope with the knowledge that too many movements have failed in the past by descending into in-fighting and bickering or simply not being ready for the violent onslaught they will have to contend with in order to create any meaningful or lasting change.
This is something that was perfectly evident at the Occupy the London Stock Exchange protest today. As the police attacked, cordoned and kettled people the familiar reaction of shock and indignation spread across social networking sites. Yes, it is a horrible reality that the police, almost everywhere, will try to brutally crush dissent, but it is not unexpected. Any serious movement, even one that holds non violent principles dear to its heart, must be prepared to fight and defend itself against the violence of police brutality.
Today’s protests were inspiring, as the previous weeks in New York have been, but they have yet to achieve anything. To create real change the participants must be ready to sacrifice and to fight on every level. They will be facing a police force willing to hurt them, a media willing to lie about them and a government desperate to get rid of them by almost any means. It will not be an easy fight, but for the first time in a long time it looks vaguely winnable.
The example of Egypt is perhaps the best one to look at if these new occupy movements really do want to take as much inspiration from the Arab Spring as they claim they do. After hundreds of murders on behalf of an elite desperate to cling to power, the revolution is still far from complete. The coming years in Egypt will require a strength and will even greater than it took to remove Mubarak. The army and the wealthy will attempt to collude to protect as much of the status quo as possible and people’s demands for accountability, transparency and equality will be more relevant than ever.
As they will be around the globe.