New Internationalist

Can America’s Spring change the world?


Photo by David Shankbone under a CC Licence.

The American Spring, spreading like a prairie fire from Los Angeles to New York and through myriad small towns across the US, is one of the most exciting people’s movements in recent history. To me, every popular uprising against exploitation and tyranny is moving and wonderful. But the American protests are historic because for the first time the myth that capitalism is the only way, propagated with consummate skill for more than half a century now by Hollywood and an all-powerful, all-pervasive media and advertising campaign, has been exposed for what it really is: a great big rotten lie. And it’s a lie that makes profits for a tiny percentage of the population at the expense of the majority.

The situation, as writer Jim Hightower explains it on the online magazine Nation of Change, is that ‘the wealthiest one per cent of Americans possess more net worth today than the bottom 90 percent of us combined. Worse, these privileged few and their political henchmen have structured a new economic ‘normal’ of long-term joblessness, low wages, no benefits or worker rights, miserly public services, and a steadily widening chasm between the rich and the rest of us.’

Americans know how to do protests. They do it with fanfare, originality and trumpets blowing. From the labour uprising in Wisconsin, to the tar sands sit-ins in Washington, to the Occupy Wall Street protests and one of the largest mass arrests in US history on the Brooklyn Bridge last week, the outrage is unmistakable and I have no doubt it will spread.

Even though the mainstream media has ignored or ridiculed the movement, alternative US media groups and the internet have covered what is really going on. It’s not just hippies, peaceniks and the angry unemployed who’ve swelled the numbers out on the streets. There are journalists, artists, students, teachers, union leaders, housewives, single dads; a group of marines have even joined the protestors, daring the police to do their worst. There are people from the left and the right. They do not wish to be branded or labelled. They are just people who have had enough.

Ordinary citizens have watched in disbelief as pensioners helplessly learn that their life savings and their futures have been wiped out after a lifetime’s hard work through no fault of  their own. While those very same bankers, the Wall Street crooks, drive away in fancy cars with obscene bonuses and fat-cat perks, tax payers’ money is poured into schemes to bail out the same banks that have robbed them blind. Something stinks and the whole world knows this.

Through the eighties, nineties and the first decade of the millenium, people watched with helpless dismay as unbridled greed and consumerism overtook society, eroding its values. The nexus between corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and corporate leaders has become blatant. Something had to give. And finally, as the song says, ‘something is happening.’

And it’s happening all over the world. In India, the anti-corruption movement, middle class though it is, has made waves all over the country. We are hugely affected by what happens in America. Perhaps the ripples of the American pond will reach us sooner or later. There are huge numbers of Indians living and working in the US. A British friend wonders why something similar isn’t happening in the UK. The problems are exactly the same. The bankers were bailed out. Unemployment is at an all-time high. Everyone lives in fear of a looming depression.

Will Occupy Wall Street change the world? I hope so. It’s certainly the right climate for change.

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  1. #1 occupation sam 06 Oct 11

    Excellent piece and excellent to see so much coming out of the NI crew, covering OWS. As mentioned, people are wondering when the UK will be creating something to match New York. It is Occupy The London Stock Exchange and it will begin on October 15th. This date has been set for a very long time as a date for Global Action against the banksters.

  2. #2 Cynthia Stephen 07 Oct 11

    It's early days yet. The arab spring has not exactly matured into a summer, and India's flag-waving, chanting, ’anti-corruption ’ agitationists have gone home. Remember what happened to the unions occupying a state capitol building in the US some months ago. Nothing much came of it so far, though it might have partly inspired the present situation. As for the UK, there do not seem to be enough young people who are able to summon up the righteous indignation that such protests require - perhaps everyone is still dealing with the recent street flare-upa that happened in that country. Let us wait and see. Will anything worthwhile result from this occupation? Is Globalisation really dead?

  3. #3 Roopa Devadasan 07 Oct 11

    While one swallow surely won't make a summer.....probably more and more people the world over have had enough!
    While in the past one saw the East/West, then North/South division, nowadays while travelling I perceive a Nothing-is-going-to-change/ We-have-had-enough division, cutting across colour/religion/culture/class.
    Interestingly the spaces for self-help/inspirational books in the bookshops has multiplied simultaneously! Wonder if thereis a connection?
    Nice one Mari....important to keep the hope alive.

  4. #4 robert wirth 07 Oct 11

    well done keep iot up fr robbie

  5. #5 Beulah Kaushik 09 Oct 11

    As always nice to read an article from Mari T.... Amercans can always do things bigger and better, and they could have protested sooner maybe in 2008!!!
    Because this frankestien is not going away with the protests, it will strike again and again.
    Better to live in austerity, make it a way of life.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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