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Making sense of Global Occupy Wall Street movement: different countries, different demands!

Making sense of Global Occupy Wall Street movement: different countries, different demands!


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According to reports, on the one hand Wall Street movement seems to connect with people worldwide, and on the other seems to change its shape and meaning according to context and country. The fact that October 15 saw protests in around 900 cities around the world would suggest substantive commonality. An event in support of the Wall Street movement took place even in Patna though it did not get much press coverage. On the other hand, the specific demands raised in different parts of the world would suggest that agendas changed from place to place. The following summary account tries to give  some sense of the variations across the globe.

UK: Protests on Education Cuts, Riots Over Police Brutality

In recent times, UK has been through major student protests over increased school fees, and violent riots and arson after a young black man from a low-income neighborhood was killed by the police. Compared to the roughly 50,000 protesters for demonstrations against tuition increases, the Occupy London Stock Exchange movement has attracted an estimated 600 people – camping at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and near London’s Royal Bank of Scotland and JP Morgan buildings.

Much like the protests in New York, the Occupy London protesters have been criticized by the Mayor of London, among others—for not having a clear set of demands. But a reporter concluded that the lack of demands may be part of the point, saying ‘If anything, the camp itself is their demand, and their solution: the stab at an alternative society that at least aims to operate without hierarchy, and with full, participatory democracy. And to be fair, in its small way, it kind of works.’

Chile: Free Education for all  

In Santiago, during the protest in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, Chilean students have been demanding that the government make education free to all. Secondary school students have occupied their schools, sleeping on the floor and holding their own classes. Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in marches over the past six months. Opinion polls have shown that more than 80 percent of Chile’s citizens support the protesting students, who also have the backing of labor unions and teachers. The Chilean government has resisted the demands, saying the government cannot afford to pay for education for all students.

Israel: Protest against high Rents, Cost of Living

Protesters in Tel Aviv returned Oct. 15 to Rothschild Boulevard, the same site where protests were earlier held in July. During the July 14 demonstrations, hundreds of people put up tents in Tel Aviv’s financial district to protest against high rents. they were made fun of by the government officials as “sushi-eaters” and “nargila [hookah] smokers with guitars.”

But then the movement grew and on September 3,  450,000 people, or roughly six percent of Israel’s population joined the movement. Resultedly, Israel’s prime minister had to propose reforms which were rejected as insufficient, leading to the formation of a task force to consider ways to improve the standard of living for Israel’s middle class. Tel Aviv’s tent city was dismantled earlier this month.

Spain: High Unemployment Rate among youth

In Spain the precursor for October 15 protest  was the “indignados” [indignation] movement that began in May, when hundreds of protesters camped in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, and other sites to protest Spain’s extremely high unemployment. In Spain, the average unemployment had reached more than 20 percent, and youth unemployment was at nearly 50 percent. On Oct. 15, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville. As on other global sites, the protests in Spain faced criticism for having no clear demands, the protest being branded as an excuse for a big party. A tent city came up in Madrid and though removed in June, was largely leaderless. The tent city had its own legal advice tent, a library, a kitchen set up to prepare donated food, and also a general assembly where participants made decisions through consensus on issues such as how to deal with police or complaints from neighbors. Some neighboring merchants were not enthused about the occupation, but, as in New York, the 24-hour pizzeria didn’t seem to mind.

Wall Street protests: differing from counrty to country

Germany: anxieties about the Future

Among all the countries, protests in Germany may be unique. In Frankfurt, regarded as Europe’s financial center, around  hundred protesters decided on camping near the European Central Bank, and around 4,000 protesters came out in the streets recently to protest the banking system. These  protests, though inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, have proved to be puzzling for analysts. The American protests are based on the nation’s increasing inequality and wealth disparity, but Germany is known to have one of the most equitable distributions of family income in the world. German youth do not face the problem of student loan debt and with very low unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, unemployment is not a burning issue either. But German newspapers suggested that there was “bitter disappointment” that state bailouts of banks have not led to reform in the financial system, and also that the youth worry that the debt crisis is robbing them of their future.

If you place along with this the Arab Spring in all its variety and the Anna Hazare movement in India, a clearer picture does begin to emerge. Despite the global reach of the overlapping concerns, each country seems to have its own focus – the common element may be demand for further democratization of the polity and society in different countries and different contexts.

As it indeed should be in the age of globalism!


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