February 2012‎ > ‎

2 - Protest Movements

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 legitimacy.

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 going far!”

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 t
hat 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.