The New Rebellions: Across the globe, technology-empowered protesters seek to disrupt the political and economic order
The media have drawn conservative fire for lavishing so much attention on the motley crew of young dropouts, half-educated college students, and older hippies who make up the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS). Yet the movement, though its numbers have been exaggerated, may deserve all the coverage as part of a much broader political shift. Across the globe—from Chile to the Middle East to South Korea—young protesters similar to Zuccotti Park’s unwashed have, like their American counterparts, aggressively used social media to organize and take to the streets, seeking to disrupt what they perceive to be the corruption and unfairness of existing political and economic systems. Rebellions, after all, can sometimes change the world—and not always for the better.
Occupy Wall Street’s demands are indeed inchoate, and, as many have noted, the movement lacks a clear organization and any kind of formal leadership. True, a few protesters are vying to become “first among equals,” but OWS is better seen as a rebellion than as a revolutionary movement, which requires clearly identified leaders with a definite political program and a proposed alternative to existing society. Few pundits or politicians saw OWS coming, doubtless because it existed virtually on Facebook pages and in Twitter feeds before it took physical form.
Some compare OWS with the Tea Party, but the comparison is inexact. Both movements do rely on social media to mobilize, and both are disgusted with the government’s bailouts of big banks during the financial crisis (the Wall Street Journal’s L. Gordon Crovitz has even called for an alliance between the two groups). But the Tea Party is a middle-class rebellion of the employed, while OWS is driven by the young and unemployed. And their philosophical orientations are fundamentally opposed: the Tea Party is pro-free market and embraces a muscular individualism; OWS is anticapitalist and communitarian.