Wall Street’s “American Spring”

A recent blog article here and news articles here and here report on the ongoing protests that have occupied Zucotti Park in lower Manhattan’s Wall Street financial district. Modelled on and inspired by the recent events of the “Arab Spring,” this organized anti-capitalist protest aims to occupy and shut down Wall Street, in protest over the excessive greed of Wall Street and its involvement in US and world politics. Some speaking for the protesters say the goal is to mount a permanent protest and highlight the failure of big business and the government to propose serious solutions to the problems the country (and the world) are facing in the current economic crisis.

While it is too early to fully understand this leaderless and seemingly amorphous social movement, some initial observations indicate the ways in which it is similar and dissimilar to the Arab revolts in Tunisia and Egypt that inspired it. First, the Wall Street protests have been aided even more by social media technology than their Arab counterparts, and have drawn in some people from around the country and not only New York City.  Second, the common denominator among the protesters seems to be that they are young, “over-educated, under-employed, and angry” as the British newspaper The Guardian put it here. This is not so clearly the case in the Arab protests, which enjoy a much broader representation in society. To a certain extent then, we can say that these Wall Street protesters are middle class (read bourgeois) protesters with a curiously leftist and anti-capitalist message, and until now at least they have not yet been able to draw in the much broader participation of lower socio-economic classes, although they may have their sympathy. At first glance, this might lead us to question Marxist assumptions about whether intellectuals and activists generally act in the interest of their class. However, a closer look at some of the signs and slogans held aloft by the protesters may indicate that there are many sub-segments of the bourgeoisie who aren’t being well-served by the current economic system. The fact that students loans have recently surpassed credit-card debt as the largest source of debt in American society, at a time when unemployment is at its highest level in years means there is a “critical mass” of disaffected youth who no longer believe current social, political and economic arrangements hold promise. However, a couple of “critical” questions are: “How critical?” and “Critical for what?”

Whatever the outcomes of these Wall Street protests and their occupation of Zucotti Park, renamed “Liberty Park” in homage to Egypt’s Tahrir (Liberty) Square, this should be interesting fodder for Sociologists interested in social movements particularly in the context of globalization and social media’s rapid spread of ideas.

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