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World In Outrage

Published on January 31, 2012 by: in: Society

Economic crisis is wreaking havoc all over Europe and the world, the unemployment is rising, the Euro zone countries are taking increasingly drastic measures to fight the recession. All over the world the crisis brings mobilization and social change; from the very beginning of the year rebellions – predominantly youth rebellions, have steamrolled through Arab countries in form of Arab Spring, then the large scale demonstrations have begun in Spain spreading not only throughout whole Europe but also all over the world. In September, Occupy Wall Street protests in the United States were all over the news, in October the Indignants showed up in 850 cities all over the world, demonstrating in the streets in solidarity with the Spanish. Young people are fed up with unemployment, economic crisis and the government failed attempts to battle recession.

May 15, Puerta del Sol

On May 15, close to the local and regional elections in Spain, thousands of young people gathered on Madrid’s main square – Puerta del Sol. They gathered to protest against unemployment, inapt handling of the crisis by the socialists, terrible economic situation of the country, and against the stagnation of the political scene, mainly the domination of two political parties, leaving only two possibilities: the socialists or the conservatives. The protests have begun to spread throughout whole country – the biggest took place in Barcelona, Malaga and other major Spanish cities. Next was the launch of the  website for Democracia Real Ya! (Real Democracy NOW!) and the publication of  The Indignants Manifesto. Their motto is: ‘Europe for citizens not for markets. We are not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers.’ In their manifesto the Idignants claim that the current political status system does not take care of basic civil rights; they demand democratic rules to be respected and object to social inequality. In more pragmatic terms, they demand the elimination of privileges of the political class, taking steps to combat  unemployment, improvement of public services, including health care and education, more effective regulation of the banking industry and reduction of military spending.   In addition, they call for electoral reform in Spain to limit the hegemony of two political parties, a factor especially important in a country divided into significantly autonomic regions.

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The Indignants Movement is being often compared to the protest of 1968, as it is a spontaneous reply to a crisis and poor state of the country, theoretically it has no established leaders, and it’s program seems generic. As the commentator has noticed  in the article ‘Europe’s most earnest protestors’ in the mid-July issue of ‘The Economist’ – the greatest leverage of this movement is its popularity and social support the protests have gained. Protesters’ arguments may not be specific but they convey the general mood – disappointment, anger and outrage. According to the polls, in summer 2011, there was 80% support rate  for the Indignants Movement in Spain.

The name of the movement comes from the book ’Indignez-vous’ (‘Time for Outrage’) by the French author, Stephane Hessel. The book has been sold in 3,5 million copies, translated into dozen or so languages, including Spanish edition published in March. In his essay Hessel urges the French to express anger and indignation, just at it happened in case of French Resistance during World War II. He claims that today the main reasons to revolt and be outraged are the deepening division between the poor and the rich, the conduct towards illegal immigrants, limitations on independent press and insufficient attempts to maintain and develop French health care system. What has begun in Spain having  a French book as an inspiration, has been transferred north. Not only did the French buy the book in bulk amounts, but also symphatized with the Spanish Indignants and their postulates.

September 17th, Wall Street

It is hard to determine the influence of the Arab Spring and Spanish Indignants on the Occupy Wall Street protest in the United States. It is however safe to say that the Arab and European movements acted as prototypes for subsequent events in the US. People in America are protesting against the deepening gap between the rich and the poor, high unemployment, the greed and the corruption of political and financial elites, and the excessive influence of financial corporations over government decisions. They also blame the financial classes for the financial crisis in 2008. The protesters’ slogan is ‘We are the 99%’ and it refers to the vast concentration of wealth among the top 1% of the richest Americans.

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The social support data are inconsistent, but almost all polls indicate that the majority of respondents are in favour of the movement. According to the survey conducted for the NBC and the ‘Wall Street Journal’ in October 2011, 37% of respondents supports the Occupy Wall Street movement. Another survey conducted for CBS News and the ‘New York Times’ shows the support rate of 43%. The popularity of the movement is probably increased by the support given by famous politicians, businessmen and celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Moore.

The movement is being criticized in Republican circles. The conservatists, lead by the political commentator Erick Ericssson, in answer to the ‘We are 99%’ slogan, have launched the blog called ‘We are 53%’, referring to the 53% of Americans, who work hard, take responsibility for themselves and pay taxes. The contributors to the blog are referring to traditional American values like work ethics and self-reliance and criticize the protesters from Wall Street for being lazy whiners avoiding work and responsibility.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is loosely associated with the Idignants from Puerta del Sol, it arouses more controversy in American society, but it expresses the same tendency that is present in Europe – people are sick and tired of the current economic and politic situation, weary of the financial sector domination and fed up with the helplessness of the governing bodies in the face of the crisis.

November 15, all over the world

The Occupy Wall Street movement is, at least till now, limited to the US – the activity of the Idignants, on the contrary is spreading throughout the world. In response to the widespread support from various cities from many countries, the Spanish Indignants have published on the Democracia Real Ya! platform an appeal to all the displeased all over the world for solidarity with the movement urging people to enter the streets on 15th October to show the political and financial elites that it is not only the Spanish who say ‘no’ to the government. As a result, on 15th of October, exactly five months after the beginning of the protests on Puerta del Sol, demonstrations took place in more than 950 cities in 82 countries. The demonstrations were organized via the abovementioned website and mailing list and (or rather first and foremost) via social networking sites – mainly Facebook and Twitter. As in case of Arab Spring the new media proved to be an invaluable ally to the protesters. The biggest demonstration in October took place in Madrid and gathered more than half a million participants. Although the organizers of the protests have many times emphasized that marches and demonstrations should be peaceful,  the protests did not go without unpleasant incidents like injuries of policemen and protesters (e.g. more than 130 people were hurt in Rome), which have led to arrests.

The representatives of the Spanish Indignants avoid naming themselves the initiators or the fathers of the protests, they also emphasize the egalitarian nature of the movement by consistently avoiding indicating individual leaders. They often claim that the fathers of the resolution, were in fact the young people from Tunisia and Egypt, as one of the Idignants have told the ‘Dziennik’ newspaper: ‘It was them, who had ignited the spark, we have only blown the fire’. The Indignants movement consists of primarily young people, frequently university graduates, who have no views for employment despite having higher education.

The movement also has the support of the retired, the unemployed and the employees displeased with the terms of their employment. The scale and the pace in which the protests are spreading throughout the world raised eyebrows of the commentators gaining their attention as a phenomenon of an unseen scale. They claim that they frankly have not witnessed anything like that before.

The governing elites and the financial sector need to deal with the actual economic crisis, they also need to react accordingly to the protest of  dissatisfied citizens. In this case it is not just a bunch of protesters or  a spontaneous yet short-lived outburst of frustration; it seems that this time it is gradually more organized, grass-root supported movement uniting people from different countries under the slogans of authentic democracy and development opportunity for each and every citizen. How politicians in democratic countries will react to the  protests determines their fate on the political scene in the upcoming future. Election results in Spain, which ended in spectacular defeat of the socialists, confirm that argument. The Indignants are not naïve slackers, they are often well-educated people, with immense awareness of politics and economics. Their arguments may seem generic or idealistic, but there is no doubt that they bring hope for improvement and the bigger the scale and the more coordinated the activities become the bigger the hopes.

Translation: Agnieszka Ścieszka

Article originally published on the portal www.stosunki.pl

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