It all started with one small country

Last spring, the western world watched with wonder and bewilderment the people once under colonialist submission rise to defend their right to self-determination. Concepts such as one man-one vote, direct suffrage, equality for all, redistribution of wealth and freedom of the press were defended amidst blood and sweat, the very same price western peoples paid for their freedom two centuries ago. More importantly, the western world watched as unarmed, young protesters without leaders made decades-long dictatorships fall, in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and more bloodily, in Libya. The once apathetic American youth received a massive electrical shock in 2008; placing all its hopes and dreams on the sole shoulders of President Obama, their activism is now focused against their own leader: corporate greed, corporate personhood, and corporate domination has to fall. The Occupy Wall Street movement has spread nationwide, is unarmed, without a leader, and is very much hoping to reclaim the American Dream. 2011 could be the year of worldwide successful revolutions; it could be the new Dawn of the People. But what are the consequences of such massive political overhaul? Is Occupy Wall Street the child of the Arab Spring, in a reverse clash of civilizations? Journalist Susan Richards-Benson, on the foreground of the new era, gives us a compelling analysis.

“One man, lighting himself on fire in protest of a continued reign of tyranny, through his actions lit a fire in the souls of people around the world”

The world today is trembling, and not just from the movements of its crust. People around the globe are unknowingly uniting together against one front: fighting the continued abuse of power that for so many years went ignored.

It all started with one small country. One man, lighting himself on fire in protest of a continued reign of tyranny, through his actions lit a fire in the souls of people around the world. What started in Tunisia quickly spread to Egypt. It wasn’t long before surrounding countries also began to feel the heat. The spirit of Revolution had been awakened.  But this time, people were not going to simply sit back quietly and accept the tirade of excuses presented by the powers that be. This time, the power of the people would triumph and their voices would be heard.

The Arab Spring sent shockwaves throughout the world. For many sitting in the comfort of their living rooms in the United States, there seemed little reason to be worried. These were countries far away with political policies that barely impacted their everyday lives. How could the United States possibly have anything to fear with the growing tides of revolution in the Middle East?

“Is it possible that people currently in New York really share the same grievances as the Egyptian youth staked out in Tahreer Square?”

The Occupy Wall Street movement serves as a reminder that revolutionary spirit is not limited to developing countries only. As more protesters flood the streets of New York, activists begin looking to protesters across the Atlantic for inspiration on how to best keep the momentum moving. If the revolution in Egypt proved anything, it was the power of social networking to inspire and unite. As with the Occupy Wall Street protests, media outlets initially ignored the growing tensions in both Egypt and Tunisia, leaving it to the protesters themselves to get the word out. Facebook and Twitter have proven to be monumental tools in coordinating protests, garnering support, updating on developments, and ultimately breaking through the blackout wall erected by both regimes and media outlets.

But how similar are the movements in reality? Is it possible that people currently in New York really share the same grievances as the Egyptian youth staked out in Tahreer square?

To answer this question, one must first examine what the root causes behind the protests really are. Are they simply the disgruntled and unemployed who have nothing better to do with their time? Or are they in fact the great majority of a population who have simply tired of being trodden on and suppressed by the ruling elite?

Egyptian society during the Mubarak era was highly striated; the difference between Egyptian and U.S. social hierarchies is that in Egypt, this societal structure is well known and documented. But now, due to global protests, more and more people in the U.S. are realizing that class warfare exists in their home country also. The fundamental difference between the two countries is that in Egypt, people came to accept this hierarchy as an absolute truth, whereas in the U.S. there is always hope that the “American dream” will become a reality if you work just that little bit harder, just that little bit longer.

The Egyptian revolutionary youth broke through this mentality. During the January Revolution, young and old, rich and poor, Muslims and Christians stood side by side united in their cause. Together, they toppled a regime that had kept them under lock and key for three decades. Together, through the power of the people they triumphed. Now however, Egypt is witnessing attempts to rip apart this social fabric that was so carefully woven during the Revolution. Egyptian media outlets are continuously dominated by stories of Muslims attacking Christian churches, of Christian business owners attacking their Muslim neighbors’ store front. It smacks of methods previously employed; methods which had successfully implanted in many minds of Egyptian citizens that they were not all equal and did not all deserve the same chances in life. It is an attempt to sabotage the undeniable solidarity that pushed Hosni Mubarak out of power to begin with.

Protesters in Wall Street should be watching carefully as these tactics are employed throughout Egypt. They too are facing similar tactics, with smear campaigns circulating the very social networks they used to get their message out in the first place. A picture is being painted of social activists who are merely attempting to stir up trouble, and true patriots should never question the ruling elite. It’s worked for centuries has it not? Why rock the boat now?

Tahrir Square, February 3

“They have learned a valuable lesson; one that should be translated to protesters throughout the rest of the world. In order for the power of the people to triumph, it must be united.”

To this day, many Egyptian protesters are still taking to the streets, despite the lacking media coverage to emphasize their cause. Despite attempts to stir up sectarian tensions amongst everyday citizens, Muslims and Christians together are presenting one voice, one united front: “We are the revolutionary youth. We are all Egyptians.” They have learned a valuable lesson; one that should be translated to protesters throughout the rest of the world. In order for the power of the people to triumph, it must be united. To allow attempts to divide individuals or groups, to plant the idea that one person is somehow more entitled than the next will only serve the very ruling elite people are rebelling against.

Now is the time for governments that were built for the people and by the people to listen to their citizens. To acknowledge their past mistakes. To accept that further dividing a country and its citizens will never succeed. If Egypt proved anything, it is that one voice alone cannot change anything, but a million voices united in a cause can give birth to a new country – to a new future.

As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said “You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.”

 

Susan Richards-Benson is a journalist who has been living in Egypt for the past 5 years.  Susan keeps an updated blog with relevant information on Egyptian current events and news, which can be found at: egyptunbound.blogspot.com

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“Once I spent a day or two there I understood that something massive was happening”

The OccupyTogether movement has grown in intensity over a very short period of time, amazing even the most seasoned grassroots journalists. After our interview with Lee Camp, and the personal recollections of our contributor Evan Petersen, we have turned to comedian and podcast co-host John Knefel to gather his impression on what could be the news story to eclipse several campaign races all over the western world. From anger to activism, from niche to all-encompassing community, the movement, without any leader, without any spokesperson, is regrouping the most diverse category of the population: the vanishing middle class. John has spent several weeks at Camp Zuccotti and is not going anywhere anytime soon: strongly attached to the movement’s values, he is sharing with us his impressions, feelings, and hopes for the future months. 
I assume you first went to Camp Zuccotti to cover it for your podcast. Have you always had in mind to more or less stay there and cover it on a regular basis, be one of the protesters?
I actually went to Zuccotti initially out of curiosity and a feeling that I needed to participate in whatever was happening. I didn’t know what that meant at first. Once I spent a day or two there I understood that something massive was happening, and then Molly and I just started talking about it on Radio Dispatch. It wasn’t until after we had discussed it a few times on the show that I really started reporting from there in any more serious way.
 What was your first feeling when meeting the crowd for the first time and has it changed?
When I walked down Broadway the first time and saw Zuccotti, it looked smaller than I expected. The park, that is. That was a few days before the Radiohead rumor, and the encampment was still pretty sparse. There was an info desk, a kitchen, and a small media center. I didn’t know anyone there, but I bumped into a friend who was down there for the first time as well. That’s pretty much been the story. Every time I go down there I see a few familiar faces, and the more often I’m there the more people I recognize. The protesters I’ve met have all been warm and inviting, no small task considering the place is crawling with undercover cops. I’m starting to see myself less as an ally and observer and more as a participant, even as I try to keep the stuff I write on Twitter and say on Radio Dispatch accurate, not propogandistic.

John writing the number for legal aid on his arm before Bloomberg Dawn. Photo by Allison Kilkenny.

Were you ever scared? I remember the night preceding the Bloomberg Dawn, or Battle of Bloomberg as one of my friends called it – Allison posted a picture of you writing down the number for legal aid on your arm.
There are lots of very tense moments. They’re scary because they’re uncertain. When you’re looking at a line of mounted cops in front of you and a fleet of moped cops behind you, you’re imagination can start running a bit wild. Also, it doesn’t take much to escalate these situations. One of the horses on 46th street stumbled and I thought someone was going to get trampled.
Fear of getting arrested is kind of the same thing. You don’t know if the police are going to manhandle you during the arrest. You don’t know what you’ll be charged with, how long it will take. Luckily, nearly all of the arrestees don’t have anything on their record after they get out. Not even a misdemenor. My friends who have gotten arrested say it’s boring but not so bad. Good way to network. I haven’t been arrested yet, but it’s good to hear people talk about it as a hassle, nothing more nothing less. I think once large amounts of people are willing to get arrested — once they see it’s not such a big deal — we’ll be at a new tipping point in the movement.
Michael Moore said that OWS was the killer of apathy. Someone replied that most of all, it was a killer of despair. What do you think? Is there more exhilaration than anger?
There is a certain amount of anger, certainly, but that’s not the dominant emotion. I’d say, yeah, exhilaration. It’s cliche, but I think a lot of people feel empowered. That word gets overused, but I mean it in a very strict sense. Internally, the process is very good at making participants feel like their voice is being heard. And externally, the people in Liberty feel like the news and the elites are finally paying attention to them. It’s an intoxicating feeling. Also, holding the park on Friday morning was unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. Activists in America don’t win. When we did, there was this feeling of, “OK, this isn’t going anywhere.” Also, there is an incredible amount of solidarity and good will.
You told me there’d still be a lot to do by the time I head back. I’m coming back in January. What do you think the post-OWS America will be like?
It’s still far too early to know. This movement is only a month old, and it’s still growing. It’s experiencing some growing pains, and there will be missteps along the way, but no one really knows what’s going to happen. That’s part of the thril. People are not going home, literally. We’ve already forced income inequality back into the national conversation. It might take 10 years to be in a “post-OWS America”. It’s important to remember that the fight being waged here is against — and I say this without engaging in unnecessary hyperbole — the most powerful set of institutions in the history of the world. Structural reform will take years, decades even. The power the movement has is derived from the most basics fact imaginable: we all have bodies, and we’re now using them as tools to fight injustice. The occupation is about bodies calling attention to a system designed to render those bodies, and therefore voices, invisible. There’s an action tomorrow (Friday) up in Harlem calling for an end to the racist Stop & Frisk NYPD practice. There will be a lot of OWS-ers there, along with a lot of leaders from communities of color. Every day there is a new tomorrow, with new events, new actions, new possibilities. That’s not going to end any time soon.
What OWS really revealed to the general public was the extent of police brutality against protesters that have always claimed to be peaceful and non-resistent. Is there a way for NYPD to understand that they could just as well be part of the movement? Have you met NYPD officers that were keen to listen?
This is a very complicated issue that no one has really been able to resolve. On the one hand, NYPD relations around Liberty have been quite good. You see the same cops around, they see the same protesters, and no one wants to break the skull of someone they know. Lots of individual police are sympathetic to the movement, certainly. You see that at every march. There is also a concerted effort to appeal to the cops’ better side. You hear chants like, “give the cops a raise.” On the other hand, even the good cops are using moral means towards an unjust end. Their function is to preserve the status quo and order, even if the current system is unjust. In that way they must be seen as an obstacle towards reform. Not the most important obstacle, but one nonetheless. They take orders from the top brass, who takes orders from Bloomberg. Some OWS-ers talk about the police joining us. If that were to happen it would be a development on the scale of … I don’t know … a presidential assasination. It would be a once-in-a-generation event that would shake the very nature of American life. I don’t see that happening, but I do think that as the movement grows the police will be less willing to use force on protesters. That, at least, is a positive development.
 I asked Lee the same question; what do you think of CNN’s Erick Erickson and his “response” to OWS, “we are the 53%”? On top of their math being questionable, is there really an audience for that site? Does the extreme popular support given to OWS somehow undermine the GOP primaries? Especially considering Herman Cain’s unashamedly pro-millionnaire, anti-poor program.
OWS is so much larger than Erick Erickson that he doesn’t need to be addressed. When you’re the big story, don’t allow the little story to attach itself to you. We get to decide who we respond to, and he doesn’t deserve our time or effort. The same general sentiment goes to Cain, though if he continues to show he has staying power I imagine it will only help the movement grow.
I have attended an OccupyBelfast protest and a similar one in Dublin as well. I was saddened to find Paris could care less about the movement. A journalist explained it was due to “fear of police retaliation” (it didn’t stop OWS) and a “stable unemployment rate” (at 9.8%!) How far does one country have to go to sparkle that type of uprising?
One thing that OWS stresses is that we’re all autonomous, and we can come and go and act as we so choose. The sympathy movements that have popped up are amazing, and I think they’ll continue to grow. I think Liberty Square is the engine that created a lot of the initial momentum, but it’s so far beyond that now, both geographically and digitally. The main issue now is getting another victory or two (whatever that looks like) under our belts. That will help OWS expand. People are drawn to strength.
Will you be with the protesters on Guy Fawkes’ Day and how long do you think the movement can sustain itself, with winter coming?
Winter is still the biggest variable and obstacle in our path. The encampment will make it through the winter, but it will be incredibly unpleasant and the people who continue to show up deserve the respect and admiration of the rest of the world. There’s talk of finding somewhere inside to occupy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if something like that happens on a small scale, but Liberty Square will have occupiers from here on out.
I’ll be out there for Guy Fawkes’ Day, as well as many of the others. See you when you’re back!
John Knefel lives in Brooklyn, NY and is the co-host of Radio Dispatch, a political podcast he created with his sister Molly. A seasoned comedian having graced the stage alongside Jamie Kilstein and Lee Camp, John has also been featured on This American Life with Ira Glass, as well as writing for The Huffington Post, True/Slant, and ThoughtCatalog. You can also find him regularly at Le Poisson Rouge for his comedy show, John & Molly Get Along.

“This could be the high point of this generation’s political lifetime”

This said it was a fad; they said the Internet could never create such a massive popular movement. They thought we would go away, but more than a month after its humble beginnings under the indian summer sun, Occupy Wall Street just claimed its first victory over the very establishment it is fighting against. Around 4 in the morning last night, more than two thousand people joined in solidarity with the permanent residents of Liberty Plaza, dubbed “Camp Zuccotti”. Mayor Bloomberg had announced he would send his overzealous police force to “clean the park” at 6 am. He called it off at the last minute, once foreign press, nurses unions, and regular New Yorkers on their way to work formed a human chain around the park chanting “We are not afraid”. 

Entering Zuccotti park in early October is either a political statement or an act of sheer curiosity. I went, fairly familiar with the goings on, to satisfy the latter. I wanted to see what it was, what it was trying to accomplish, and more importantly, where it was going.

The park was guarded on all four sides by police, most of whom seemed to be nervous, as though they’d been warned of terrible things to come. The park was capped at either end with lines of protesters holding signs and, at the time, two separate drum circles. My initial impression was not good. What could these unorganized hippies actually be trying to do, aside from dance around with signs about “corporatocracy” and “greed”?

I walked several times around the perimeter of the park and slowly filtered into the crowd, silently trying to figure out what was actually going on. I realized that perhaps I wasn’t there to look. A photo album would not do this justice. This thing had power, and I felt compelled to sit down among the droves and breathe in my surroundings.

The protestors ranged from very young to pretty old, and every race, creed, and class seemed to be represented. I was struck by the diversity of the general crowd. However, the occupiers themselves — the people actually living in the park — were generally a more consistent demographic: young, poor, and perhaps most dangerously, obviously used to similar living conditions. Squatters, freight-train hoppers, crusty punks, and hippies all had their packs and bedrolls spread out on the floor of the park, with donated mattresses and other comforts scattered here and there. This is the source of the power: their constant presence gives them strength and inspires others to come, either to just watch or to join their ever-growing ranks. Most of the protestors can go home at night, comfortable in the notion that they can always come back because the occupiers are always going to be there. This means that the hordes of people dissatisfied with the current state of the union can come and go as they please, because there is a solid, constant, and unwavering backbone supporting them. This could lend amazing strength to these demonstrations, I thought.

The trouble, though, is this: The life changing, once in a generation power may be there. The pure message hasn’t been refined yet, though, and the protests might be halted. While the general unhappiness of the masses has been expressed, a cogent, unified goal hasn’t been clearly presented to the public. While real social and political change can come from people uniting in protest, the lack of a practical, tangible objective becomes a problem when the protests are ended. Demands must be made for demands to be met and it appears now that the occupation may be forced into a retirement more premature than Sarah Palin’s.

Even if the only problem were that winter is coming, it would still be a difficult thing to maintain. The protests may not even get a chance to weather the weather. As of today, October 13th, it looks like the park’s owners are determined to put a stop to things, and likely have the cooperation of the city. While this may not be the stake through the heart they must be hoping for, the power could certainly be diminished.

The fact that they’re so concerned with shutting it down means they’re actually concerned. This is why the occupation must become a Hydra. Come back. Keep practicing. Sharpen your rhetoric and clarify your goals. The support of honest, hardworking people will be there as long as the backbone is there. This could be the high point of this generation’s political lifetime, so long as it’s clear, reasonable, and persistent.

With the proper execution and a bit of luck, maybe, just maybe, we can bring down the bank.

 Evan Petersen is from Colorado Springs, CO and has been living in New York City for a year. A trained and skilled sound engineer, he has always been writing, now displaying his musings on his blog. Living the life between his bar in the East Village and his apartment in Brooklyn, Evan is most known for losing his phone at 3am on Locust Street, contemplating a master’s degree in English at CUNY, and his indefectible loyalty. 

Lee Camp: “The revolution will not be minimized”

In early 2010, the resident king of satire, Paul Provenza, released a book he intended as a tribute to his fellow comedians – and political activists – that he called “Satiristas“. It was a chance to read in-depth interviews with household figures such as Billy Connolly and Roseanne Barr, the brains behind the Upright Citizens Brigade and Bill Maher; but mostly, it shed a much necessary light on up and coming faces like Lee Camp’s, who introduced his own interview by recalling his one-off interview on FoxNews as follows:

“FoxNews invited me on to do a few jokes commenting the primaries.  I don’t even know how they found me, but my first thought was to say no, because I’ve watched that festering pile of propaganda wrapped in the American flag spew its poisonous eggs into the brains of average Americans for twelve years. Watching the flag flapping behind a Fox “news” program – that’s desecration.  But my second thought was, why not do it once and burn that bridge – just fucking set the thing on fire? That might be fun and interesting.”

Such was our introduction to Lee Camp; and since then, Lee has become, through his stand-up shows and his excellent podcast, Moment of Clarity, an inspiration, a voice speaking clearly among vast political white noise, a call to action, ceaselessly delivering an incredibly empowering message to a nation disenchanted with the very same values they thought they were supposed to embrace. Watch his harrowing, apathy-destroying speech on the Occupy Wall Street movement: “Occupy Wall Street is a thought revolution – and it won’t be minimized.”

You’ve made repeated calls for a revolution, or at least the end of social and political apathy on your podcast Moment of Clarity. Do you think OccupyTogether has the potential to become a lasting movement? 

Well, I haven’t called for a physical revolution because I feel like that’s not possible in our current police state. Anybody doing something violent will be locked away for a long time. Not to mention that I don’t believe violence is the answer anyway. So I’ve called for something akin to a thought revolution or at least a significant change in our societal paradigm. And yes, I feel OccupyTogether is that movement. I think it will be lasting and I think the very least it will do is force Obama, and the left, to start ACTING like they’re on the left. The White House has done jack shit to regulate Wall Street and stop the 2008 collapse from happening again – which will result in more economic terrorism. And I know economic terrorism sounds like an extreme term, but else do you call it when giant corporations turn to the people of a country and say “Give us close to a trillion dollars or we will destroy your way of life. Those are your options.” Anyway, yes, I feel people are getting sick of the rich controlling and legislating the other 99%. That’s why this will last. That’s why the OccupyTogether movement is not leaving.

How do you explain that even the non-Rupert Murdoch owned media took so long to focus on the movement? You’d think people would capitalize on the extraordinary fact that an organized mass of people identified the root of their problem and tackled it, almost literally. 

Maybe I’m more cynical than you but what else would you expect from the corporate media?? Look, this type of popular movement is VERY scary to them – “them” being both corporations and the rich. And let’s face it, almost everyone at top of the corporate media, including the anchors, is in at least the top 5% if not the 1%. So they ONLY want to defend their way of life. Furthermore, who are their sponsors? Giant corporations. So basically they go through a standard operating procedure during something like this.
A) IGNORE IT for as long as is humanly possible. See if it will go away by itself
B) RIDICULE it – talk about how it’s only a small group of disorganized and confused youth. Make it so that other people won’t want to join in because it sounds like it’s only freaks and drug addicts.
C) MISUNDERSTAND IT – Create some meaning for it that’s easier to understand and fits in your standard paradigm. “It’s the left answer to the Tea Party!” — Actually, no, it’s not. …And now we’re seeing-
D) Try to commandeer it for your own purposes. We see the corporate left saying it’s a movement against republicans. We see the right saying it’s people showing their anger towards Obama and his lack of job creation. But I think this movement is different. This one won’t be co-opted. This one won’t be hijacked by corporate talking points.
About yesterday’s burst of extreme police brutality against protesters: do you think the movement will always face confrontation with law enforcement, or is there a way to gain policemen and firefighters’ support for the cause? someone highlighted NYPD was “one lay off away from joining OWS”.

I think we should always TRY to work with the PD. The truth is – they ARE us in a lot of ways. However, I also think we need to be aware that they are being controlled by the rich. JP Morgan Chase just gave one of the largest donations ever to the NYPD. Bloomberg is in charge of them. It’s the rich who pull the strings. And unfortunately they are often so brainwashed during these types of things that they’ll simply enforce ridiculous laws. I know activists who may soon go to jail for 2 months for merely sitting peacefully in their state capital building. Not fighting back. Just sitting peacefully. How sick is that? The rich and pillage our futures and dreams and high five a cop on the way out. But a broke 20 year-old who has a peaceful sit-in to try to save her family’s jobs at the factory is sent to jail. It’s enough to make you vomit.

What do you make of CNN’s Erick Erickson response to the movement, “We are the 53%“? Will it gain momentum and become a real threat to OccupyTogether? 

I don’t know, but those who don’t know it’s bullsh** were probably Tea Partiers to begin with. The laughable part of it is that I bet you nearly 100% of those with jobs at occupyTogether pay their taxes. Who doesn’t pay their taxes? Corporations and the incredibly wealthy. GE paid zero taxes last year. BofA paid zero taxes. Billionaires have massive tax shelters and loopholes. I hope Mr. Erickson realizes that there will be very few of the top 1% in his little party because they are CERTAINLY not paying their taxes.


What does OccupyTogether need to become a lasting, changing, unavoidable force in politics, especially in the looming election year? 

It just needs numbers. It needs more and more people to wake up out of their iPhone-induced zombie-ism and stand up for themselves. I beg of you – get off the couch. The rest of us are already out here. And it may be cold by temperature but we’ve got more energy than you can believe.

Bloomberg was pretty straightforward when he said he feared the London riots would spread to the streets of New York. Obama, however, simply said he “understood” what OccupyTogether was about and clearly mentioned the discontent rose from the consequences of financial deregulation. Do you believe those are more than empty words? And from that – do you believe Obama should be primaried? 

From what I’ve read and heard Obama caved to the interests of Wall Street. They funded his campaign in large part and they have a lot of power. He would have to prove to me and the people that those are not empty words. And yes, I think he should have a primary challenger. Let him prove he deserves this job back. Let him prove he has the balls (or tits – I don’t wanna be misogynist) to go after a financial system that is drunk on greed and power. So far he has failed to show those tits. 
Read more about Lee Camp on LeeCamp.net // Follow him on Twitter // Add him on Facebook // Subscribe to Moment of Clarity on YouTube