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The world’s 99: voices fighting to be heard around the world

The world’s 99: voices fighting to be heard around the world

One underlying effect of the financial crisis is that it undermines legitimacy of authority. Rhetoric and tactics against the 1% global elite is shared around the world.

October 11, 2011 2:26 by



After the “Arab Spring” and unrest in Europe, New York’s “Occupy Wall Street” movement may be the latest sign of a global, popular backlash against elites with increasingly shared rhetoric and tactics.

On almost every continent, 2011 has seen an almost unprecedented rise in both peaceful and sometimes violent unrest and dissent. Protesters in a lengthening list of countries including Israel, India, Chile, China, Britain, Spain and now the US all increasingly link their actions explicitly to the popular revolutions that have shaken up the Middle East.

The slogans on the streets of Manhattan and other US cities also show a host of other intermingling influences, from the British student protests last year to the “indignados” (indignant) anti-austerity demonstrations in Greece and Spain.

What they all share in common is a feeling that the youth and middle class are paying a high price for mismanagement and malfeasance by an out-of-touch corporate, financial and political elite.

When hundreds of protesters blocked London’s Westminster Bridge on Sunday in anger at upcoming changes to Britain’s National Health Service, they took on slogans from US protesters who describe themselves as the “99 percent” paying the price for mistakes by a tiny minority.

With the economic outlook darkening just as the growth of social media helps disparate groups around the world knit together a global narrative of anger, there may be more to come.

“This is most definitely going to be a multi-year trend, perhaps even a decade,” says Tina Fordham, chief political analyst for US bank Citi. “What’s interesting is the way you’re increasingly seeing these … strands come together. So far the policy impact has been minimal, but that could change. An extended period of low or no (economic) growth could galvanise these emerging movements into political forces.”

While those largely leaderless groups taking to the streets might be getting better at articulating what they are against, they still struggle to define what they actually want. But they are still gaining traction.

Already, the tactic of occupying a location — be it a park, the central square in an Arab city or a university common room — appears to be becoming commonplace, allowing debate and providing a focal point from which to engage the media and authority. So too are “days of rage”, a term first used during the Middle East risings, not to mention the use of social media and messaging systems to stay one step ahead of authorities.

“SOMETHING IN THE AIR”?

When English student and occasional fashion blogger Jessica Riches, then 21, began posting twitter updates from a student sit-in at University College London late last year, her postings and online interactions inspired like-minded students elsewhere. That led to a string of other “occupations” across Britain and fuelled further protests against planned tuition fee rises.

This didn’t stop the coalition government pushing through the reforms — part of a wider debt-reduction strategy — but now Riches feels she is seeing the beginnings of something more.

“There’s definitely something in the air,” she says, now avidly following events in New York online and encouraging activists in the US to “occupy everything”.

“In many ways, they remind me of us last year.”

Here’s a video coverage from ABC:

What the internet revolution is doing, some experts suggest, is leading to perhaps a new internationalisation of political discourse. If nothing else, different protest trends around the world — many motivated at least in part by perceived economic grievance — may be producing a common narrative.

Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University and author of a 2008 book entitled “Here Comes Everybody” on the social change wrought by the internet, thinks something deep may be happening to the social psychology of a generation.

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