Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring

Though the two movements have many differences, they share the same fundamental drivers: a deep sense of injustice and invisibility

Though the two movements have many differences, they share the same fundamental drivers: a deep sense of injustice and invisibility

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An Occupy Wall Street protester marches up Broadway in New York City, October 5, 2011. Protesters, who have staged demonstrations about the power of the financial industry and other issues and who have camped in Zuccotti Park near Wall street for nearly three weeks were joined by hundreds of Union members in a march and demonstration through lower Manhattan. / Reuters

Two weeks ago I tweeted that the Occupy Wall Street protests were only going to keep growing; as Dan Drezner has pointed out, this kind of technology-facilitated networked social movement is exactly what is shaping the foreign policy frontier.  I explain the similarities I see between the OccupyTogether movement and the protests across Middle East and North Africa here.

[F]rom the very beginning the movement has attracted extensive coverage from Al Jazeera and other Middle Eastern news outlets and Twitter users -- probably because they recognize the forces that are reshaping politics across their region.

Indeed, the twin drivers of America's nascent protest movement against the financial sector are injustice and invisibility, the very grievances that drove the Arab Spring.

Go on the Web site "We are the 99 percent" and you will see the Mohamed Bouazizis of the United States, page after page of testimonials from members of the middle class who took out loans to pay for education, took out mortgages to buy their houses and a piece of the American dream, worked hard at the jobs they could find, and ended up unemployed or radically underemployed and on the precipice of financial and social ruin.

They are not setting themselves on fire as Mr. Bouazizi did in Tunisia. But after electing a president who ran on the theme of hope and change, these Americans feel betrayed. The only change they are seeing is a tiny percentage of rich Americans getting richer while they are getting poorer. That is the injustice.

Joshua Foust has already been on Twitter saying that my comparison denigrates the Arab Spring, but not at all. There is a big difference between young men and women willing to face bullets to change their government and those who are gathering under far less dangerous and indeed often fun circumstances. But I stand by my fundamental point, which is that the drivers of all these movements is a deep sense of both injustice and invisibility, and that the only way to meet their demands is through meaningful political change.

See also media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, who has written a must-read piece on Occupy Wall Street that probes many of the 20th and 21st century differences I am trying to explore.