ICS alumnus Stu Basden on the cause and character of today's protest movements
Since the era of Reagan and Thatcher the world has travelled along an
experimental path of deregulation and globalization. This experiment
has ensured the consistent increase of power of large corporations,
granting them disproportionate freedom to act as they please. As a
consequence, the power and freedom of the majority of inhabitants on
our planet has been reduced.
This form of deregulated capitalism has also vastly increased consumption
of resources globally. We have consumed more energy in the past two
decades than was consumed globally in the previous 200 years. This
high level of consumption has produced a system that is constantly
exhausting resources and looking for new - and more risky - areas to
exploit. For most of this time, the populations of developed
countries were either distracted, powerless or unwilling to challenge
the forces of globalization. Outside of the West, political orders
established through western influence (mostly dictatorships), lost
The financial crisis that started in 2007 caused a rapid shrinking of the
middle class in the US. Millions who thought they were comfortable,
or at least secure, suddenly lost decades-worth of work and savings.
Some got annoyed. During this time we’ve seen the radicalization of
both poverty and affluence. 1 in 7 people now live in a state of
constant starvation and malnutrition, and that statistic is only
getting worse. At the other end of the spectrum, the richest 400
Americans hold wealth equal to the poorest 150,000,000 Americans. As
people worldwide lost their homes in 2008, India, a nation with where
most still live in poverty, saw the number of its millionaires and
billionaires increased by 50%.
"we’ve seen the radicalization of
both poverty and affluence"
Yesterday's ideas have little traction with a generation that does not remember
the Cold War or WW2. The ideas driving the experiment in
globalization and deregulation - grand ideas of trickle-down and
boats on rising tides - are increasingly seen as the critically
flawed relics of another generation. However, while many have begun
to re-evaluate the ideas behind this tragic experiment, the drive
pushing it is becoming more intense than ever. Devotees continue to
claim the problem is regulation and call for further deregulation:
“If only the markets could have complete freedom, then everyone
would enjoy the benefits.” As reality reveals the falsity of this
claim time and again, the claims become extreme and fantastical. Ron
Paul talks of eliminating social safety nets and federal departments
wholesale - including the Department of Education. Newt Gingrich
recently promised a base on the moon within the decade.
Even as these devotees cling tight, the possibility of finding hope
elsewhere has become dimmer. President Obama, once the herald of
hope, is subjected to criticism from his own base for bailing out
Wall Street with no consequences for the authors of the financial
crisis and no relief for working Americans. As people around the
world increasingly struggled to keep their families afloat, cities
became a fertile breeding ground for a diversity of grassroots
movements. A global wave of response developed, frequently utilizing
the forms of media and communication favoured by the young.
In 2011 the Middle East witnessed two revolutions, one civil war, three
civil uprisings, major protests in 6 countries, and significant
protests in 5 more - and that does not include the ongoing conflict
between Israel and Palestine. We also saw large-scale protests and
rioting in Europe: Spain and Greece and the UK. And then, of course,
the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged in September, becoming an
international phenomena in 1000 cities within a month, with over 6000
cities Occupied at the start of 2012.
Amidst all the different movements one thing seems clear: none of it is
over. As Egyptians gathered for the anniversary of Tahir Square, one
message came through loud and clear: The protest is ongoing. Tahir
Square wasn’t an event that happened in the past - it is a process
that continues to this day. At the Occupy Toronto Activist Assembly in
mid-January one could overhear, “We’ve reached day 100 of Occupy,
meaning we’re 1% done.” Are we looking at a 27 year revolution?
Ask the indignados of Spain: “We are going slow because we are
Many people marching around the world know that there’s no quick fix.
Deregulated capitalism has eroded social freedoms and increased
inequality over decades. Lobbyists have been changing our legal
systems globally to encourage deregulation and allow increasing
capital to influence politics. That is not work that can be undone on
a whim. The search for equality and justice will require sustained
work over a long period of time.
Over the years the nature of protests have taken many different forms. In 2011 we saw some new tactics developing, as well as various adaptations of old themes. Looking forward, we see an array of questions on the horizon. When will the next round of protests emerge? Which tactics were effective, and which protests achieved their goals? How can people work together more effectively? Are the protests in 2011 just the heralds of more widespread expressions of dissatisfaction? Where will the fights for social justice and the realization of humans rights take us next?
After receiving his Philosophy MA from ICS in '07, Stuart Basden has spent his time working on organic farms in Europe, beautifying websites globally, researching current events and playing board games. He immigrated to Canada from the UK and now lives with his wife, dogs and cats in Toronto. He marched at Occupy Toronto several times, but is yet to spend the night.