Mosaic Blog

Occupy Wall Street: An American "Arab Spring"?

"Ever since the Arab Spring, many people here have been pining for an American Autumn," says Charles Blow in the New York Times. "The closest we've gotten so far is Occupy Wall Street." For almost four weeks, Occupy Wall Street activists have gathered in Manhattan's financial district to protest corporate greed, corruption, and social and economic inequality, among other things. The movement's website states, "We Are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends." 

Occupy Wall Street protester marches up Broadway in New York

Is Occupy Wall Street the beginning of America's own "Arab Spring"? According to Micah Sifry at techPresident, "America is about to experience the same youth-driven, hyper-networked wave of grassroots protests against economic inequality and political oligarchy" that swept the Arab world. After travelling throughout the Middle East to cover the "Arab Spring" protests, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof said "the protest reminded me a bit of Tahrir Square in Cairo." 


Many disagree. Blow describes the protests as "a festival of frustrations, a collective venting session with little edge or urgency, highlighting just how far away downtown Manhattan is from Damascus." James Joyner at Outside the Beltway states, "What these movements have in common: frustrated youth loosely organized using social media …It's simply insulting to compare the two."


What can the American protestors learn from the more experienced "Arab Spring" protestors? In a Foreign Policy Magazine article entitled "From Tahrir Square to Wall Street," veteran Egyptian protestor Mosa'ab Elshamy offers his advice to the Occupy Wall Street activists on what makes a successful protest movement. Most importantly, Elshamy says, is that protestors have a unified platform. They must first agree on a set of simple and broad demands in order to attract a wide base of support, which is exactly what Occupy Wall Street lacks, according to most critics.  


Almost one month after the start of protests in New York City, the Occupy Wall Street movement has shown surprising staying power. The movement has spread to over 70 US cities and has been endorsed by several labor unions, celebrities, and politicians. But will it succeed in bringing accountability and equity to the US financial system, or will it fizzle as protestors are dispersed by a cold New York winter? 


(Photo: Occupy Wall Street protestor marches up Broadway in New York.  Mike Segar / Reuters)

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Occupy Wall Street: An American "Arab Spring"?