For “once again becoming a maker of history” two sleepy decades after political soothsayer Francis Fukuyama declared Western liberalism the end point in the evolution of human society, Time magazine named “The Protester” 2011’s Person of the Year.
Nathan Schneider, author and editor with a number of publishing outfits—including ‘Waging Nonviolence,’ a blog devoted to analysis of nonviolent movements around the world—was pleased with Time’s decision. He pointed out, however, that the mainstream American press was slow to get to the uprisings at home and beyond: “As I first saw this announcement percolating on Twitter, being spread around proudly every which way by Occupy Wall Street-allied accounts, all I could think was: What took you so long? Where were you?” he asked.
“Where, I mean to say, was the American press when Tunisia—or Egypt—first started lighting up,” he continued, “when we at Waging Nonviolence were glued to Al-Jazeera and our Twitter feeds, wishing we had the means to be there ourselves? In the American news, the start of those revolutions was hardly a blip—that is, until Anderson Cooper got beaten up in Cairo.” —ARK
It’s remarkable how much the protest vanguards share. Everywhere they are disproportionately young, middle class and educated. Almost all the protests this year began as independent affairs, without much encouragement from or endorsement by existing political parties or opposition bigwigs. All over the world, the protesters of 2011 share a belief that their countries’ political systems and economies have grown dysfunctional and corrupt — sham democracies rigged to favor the rich and powerful and prevent significant change. They are fervent small-d democrats. Two decades after the final failure and abandonment of communism, they believe they’re experiencing the failure of hell-bent megascaled crony hypercapitalism and pine for some third way, a new social contract.
During the bubble years, perhaps, there was enough money trickling down to keep them happyish, but now the unending financial crisis and economic stagnation make them feel like suckers. But this year, instead of plugging in the headphones, entering an Internet-induced fugue state and quietly giving in to hopelessness, they used the Internet to find one another and take to the streets to insist on fairness and (in the Arab world) freedom.
Journalist and activist John Knefel reaches for his glasses after police threw him to the ground in the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden at the end of a peaceful march against Goldman Sachs on Monday.