What is OWS? A movement to reclaim ‘Democracy.” OWS largely came about because of the uprisings in the Arab Spring, and the sudden world interest in creating democracy led many in the US to think more about what democracy is and means, and the OWS movement is in many ways an attempt to take back democracy, to bring government back to the populous and reestablish (or establish for the first time) true democracy in the US as opposed to continuing to entertain the façade of democracy which persists in the status quo. This is certainly how many Arab Spring leaders seem to see it. In fact, in my previous post I discussed the active role many Arab Spring leaders and participants are taking in the OWS movement. Their participation seems to indicate that they view the movement as an extension of their own, or at the very least valuable to it. One Tunisian summed up the movement as just one more attempt to overthrow a “corrupt system.” And that seems to go along with what most participants want. Whether they are attempting to fully change how the US government functions, or merely to have representatives who listen and respond to the needs of constituents, most it seems would concede that democracy as-is in the US isn’t meeting their standards. In the Post “Occupy Proposes a ‘Real Democracy’” the possibility of OWS as a movement for effective political representation is raised in the context of whether or not it is revolutionary. In the post “Role of the Arab Spring” I evaluate this same question in the context of the Arab Spring. That is, whether the Arab Spring’s pro-democracy protests are what triggered OWS, and the conclusion to which I came was an unequivocal yes. The OWS movement is an attempt by US citizens to fight for the democracy they no longer feel they have due to the government’s constant catering to big business and lack of proper and effective representation for the “99%.” Analysis of US democracy in recent years would seem to support the unhappy conclusions of protesters. In the post, “More on Democracy” It is reported that the US ranks 17th out of 26 democracies, a ranking that has been rapidly declining for the past few years. OWS is a movement that aims to give voice to the many who feel they are being ignored and abused by their government. They want true democracy, where their opinions matter, not the façade of democracy, where big corporations are the only “citizens” that count. And the Arab Spring played a marked role in the realization by US citizens that there was and is something they could and should do to challenge the dissatisfying status quo.
Author Archives: llaurenfrank
An article by Reuters criticized the police response to what they term “largely peaceful” May Day OWS protests. But it seems perhaps sympathyzers are too quick to criticize. After all, what the article describes as peaceful is hardly what most would consider to fall under that designation. Some 50 protesters, dressed in black and carrying large sticks broke store windows throughout Oakland, including those on federal buildings, before police removed them.
In New York, though less actively violent, protesters sent “anthrax-scare” envelopes to banks and other financial institutions on Wall Street. Though the envelopes contained no actually dangerous material, it is unsurprising that police might be on edge.
Occupy Clevland, on the whole, showed a much more cooperative attitude in dealing with law enforcement officials this May Day. When four OC protesters were arrested for bomb threats all other movement events were cancelled for the day in an effort to reaffirm their commitment to non-violence.
Other cities, including San Francisco and Portland also participated in May Day demonstrations, both of which were non-violent and non-threatening, and thus much simpler for police to handle. In fact, the Mayor of Portland encouraged protesters and invited them into the Town Hall.
It seems the police are responding with primarily appropriate force, at least they seem to have been on May Day—this isn’t neccesarily true in previous instances of police action. A report, published just before May 1, by what the Huffington Post termed, “an outside monitor of the OPD” concluded that the police were being overly militaristic in their response to protests. Whether or not this conclusion is accurate, the events of Oakland’s May Day protest certainly bring this conclusion into question. After all, police have every right to react, perhaps even militaristically to violent acts of vandalism. There seems to be a fine line between Brutality and necessary force, and while it’s likely the police have crossed it, at one time or another (Huffington Post indicates that OPD shot at an Iraq War Veteran during protests), as protests escalate it seems only fitting that the police response should escalate to accompany the change.
Busy as Arab Spring protesters have been gaining their own freedom, they seem to have found time to worry about the freedoms of American’s as well. Shows of solidarity with the OWS movement have occurred in many Arab Spring States and some members of these protests have even taken an active role in the OWS movement. It would seem, the cause of the OWS movement is not lost on protesters fighting against [arguably] far more brutal governments for far more fundamental rights (e.g. to not be tortured). Instead of mocking American’s attempts to protest a much less tyrannical government, Arab Spring-ers have offered advice. It seems protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria all believe their recently acquired expertise applies as well to OWS demonstrations as it did to [successful] attempts to overthrow unjust governments in the other hemisphere of the world.
Tunisians showed support last November by flooding Obama’s Facebook page with shows of solidarity for OWS, and urging the president to act in accordance with the protester’s cause. One participating Tunisian reportedly wrote, “To overthrow any corrupt system in the world, please contact the Tunisian people” (The Atlantic Wire). Such sentiments have a startling implication for our world—a man setting himself on fire in a small nation half-way around the globe, can affect change all around the world. OWS, through such shows of solidarity, seems inextricably linked to the Arab Spring movement.
This fact makes the US government’s handling of the protests ever more important, because now those protests aren’t merely a domestic problem, they’ve become linked to our international relations, our stance on the Arab Spring, and even the US government’s stance on democracy.
Grafiti in Libya similarly showed support for OWS, the Atlantic Wire posted pictures of walls reading, “Today Libya, Tomorrow Walastreet.” Such actions seem to provide strength and support to both movements. And the interaction between these two protests doesn’t stop at shows of solidarity, in fact some Arab Spring protest leaders have provided direct aid and advice to US protesters.
All of this support indicates, interestingly, that thse in the Arab Spring value and respect the goals of the OWS movement, and even see its success as tied to their own. And perhaps this isn’t too far off the mark, after all, if the US can’t do democracy fairly, where does that leave the emerging democracies of the Arab Spring?
Police brutality has occurred in both the OWS movement and in response to each Arab Spring Revolution. Though the response to the Arab Spring Revolutions has generally been more brutal than the response to OWS demonstrations, the brutality indicates a similar state attitude toward these revolutionary demonstrations: that they will not be tolerated. If the actions of police are any indication, it seems that democracies (as evidenced by the US) are no more thrilled with such revolutionary demonstrations than were the dictatorships which responded to protests in Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya.
One protester described the actions of the police as reminiscent of what one might expect in a fascist state, saying, “I’m here because I’m incredibly sad and incredibly angry; I’m hoping our city government comes to their senses and stops dealing with us like a fascist state” (The Guardian). That particular protestor was referring to the brutal force used by police to break up protests in Oakland. The methods employed included teargas, stun grenades, and blows with batons.
In contrast, police in Egypt have shown considerably less regard for the lives of those protesting. Reports of just exactly what police are doing vary widely, but reported death tolls are staggering. One March in protest of the government consisted of the relatives of approximately 850 people who had been killed while participating in sit-ins (The Daily Beast). Similar to protesters in the US, those marching were met with teargas and blows from police, but the damage done was far more extensive. Nearly 1,000 people were reported to have been injured, due to police action in that one incident alone. Police also employed verbal assaults and threatening family members of protesters.
It is remarkable to realize that the so-called democracy of the US seems to have no more interest in promoting the rights of its citizens to protest than do dictatorships. Police reponse to the OWS movement certainly raises the question of just exactly what revolutionaries in the Arab Spring are fighting for. What good is democracy when the police continue merely to protect the rights of the so-called one percent? And this is exactly what OWS protesters are charging them with. There has been a shift in the movement from seeing the police as members of the 99%, people who work hard and deserve more for it, to seeing them as merely one more line of defense against the justice demonstrators seek.
An article in Forbes Magazine deftly described the shift that has occurred in the OWS movement due to the police’s overly forceful response to peaceful protests. “What was meant to be a protest against economic [in]equality quickly morphs into a protest against the police state” (Forbes). This description of events makes the parallels between the brutality in the Arab Spring and in the US even more poignant. Some actually see the Occupy Movement as becoming a protest with a message much more similar to the Arab Spring Revolutions than it began with. When Egyptian citizens began to revolt it was out of a desire to live in a state not ruled by tyrannical dictators. They wanted freedom and democracy, and primarily, to live in a state where the government did not rule by abuse and fear.
In contrast the Occupy movement began as a protest against, as Forbes pointed out, economic inequality, but the movement has, in part, it seems, adapted to become a protest against the police, and the state’s role in creating that inequality. OWS, if nothing else, seems to have made many aware of the state’s position on the rights of the many, and it does not seem interested in protecting them. Instead, police in the US have shown themselves to react to the movements by protecting a sort of tyranny itself—the economic domination of the few. It seems then, partly by design, and partly by coincidence, both OWS demonstrators, and Arab Spring Revolutionaries are really fighting for the same thing—their democracy.
Many argue there is a connection between the Occupy Wall Street movement and other contemporary movements—specifically those in the Arab Spring. Kurt Anderson takes this further, arguing that not only is there a connection between the two, but that the movements in the Arab Spring, and specifically Tunisia, are what triggered a new wave of protests with renewed impact. Chris Wilson, Board Chair of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, writes that it was the pro-democracy movements in the Arab Spring which caused citizens in the US to question the effectiveness of their own democracy. Anderson makes the point that the stakes for protesters in the US are far different from protesters in other nations. Those in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria must be constantly afraid of death, imprisonment, and the general safety of themselves and their families. In the US, protesters are generally treated humanely by police, and at times even left to protest in peace. So, though it is the Arab Spring which, according to Anderson, triggered the OWS movement, individuals in the Arab Spring risked much more in joining those movements than did those in the OWS movement.
Anderson, Kurt. “The Protester.” TIME. Web. http://hnrs353.wikispaces.com/file/view/AndersenKurt.pdf
“Occupy & Arab Spring | Buddhist Peace Fellowship.” Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://bpf.org/what-buddhists-are-saying/occupy-and-arab-spring>.
- Lauren Frank