If U.S. lawmakers are intent on following Europe's lead, with stark government austerity measures to cut back on rising national debt, a small but determined band of protesters will oblige them with the same reaction Greece, Italy and other nations have received.
They are doing in New York as they did in Rome a few days ago, as the "Occupy Wall Street" enters its second week of marches, chants, and peper-sprayed clashes with police.
There have been at least 100 arrests through midday Sunday, according to the New York Daily News, which covered the latest march, from Zuccotti Park near Wall Street up to Union Square.
About the substance of the protests, the reviews are mixed at best.
Ginia Bellafante detects little grounding in actual disputes over policy among the protesters in a column for The New York Times. Beneath the lark of rule-breaking (and occasional nudity) there is little momentum toward actual change or reform, Bellafante argues.
The group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face — finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out. But what were the chances that its members were going to receive the attention they so richly deserve carrying signs like “Even if the World Were to End Tomorrow I’d Still Plant a Tree Today”?
Spirits are high, nonetheless, even among some of those arrested. The New York Observer was receiving text messages from one protester whose hands were bound with zip ties in a paddy wagon, while others at protest HQ were busy analyzing what participants felt was a "blackout" by the news media.
“It’s difficult for the media to build a narrative because this is a leaderless protest,” said Patrick Bruner, the bony 23-year-old, dressed in a black t-shirt and black pants, who was orchestrating the public relations effort. Mr. Bruner, a recent graduate with an English degree, lives in Bed-Stuy and has been looking for a job for months–he heard about the protest by word-of-mouth and headed down to Liberty Plaza last week to volunteer. He shaved his punkish haircut this morning after reading a New York Times story that portrayed the protest as a motley crew of anarchists, hippies and delinquents.
Mr. Bruner’s phone rang. “Hi this is Patrick Bruner, Occupy Wall Street,” he said. “How can I help you?”
Meanwhile, the use of force by police to control protesters was drawing sympathy for some of those arrested, though not from city officials. Gawker and other outlets posted video of arrests from the protests, some of which seemed likely to provoke further outrage from supporters of the marchers.
So: action, controversy, and coverage. But is this likely to lead to the sort of convulsive debate that is now happening in countries across the Eurozone. Austerity and riot in Italy and Greece have led to debate about a "crisis of capitalism" and the future of the people who will suffer most from anti-debt policies that privilege austerity and cuts over raising revenue and tax rates. If Bellafante's thesis is to be believed, the heat and light, the self-satisfying chants and sign-waving and arrests will all mean little if all the organizing effort can't be put toward an actual policy goal.
Update: Good point by some commenters below. This video of an NYPD officer pepper-spraying (or maybe it's MACE?) two women posing no threat to anyone is stunning. James Fallows says it best: cruel and cowardly.