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Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC Will Be “Our Tahrir Square”

October 7, 2011

Are there links between the current protests in the U.S. and Europe and the the Tahrir Square uprisings? There sure are.

There are many similarities between current protests in the U.S. in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and a dozen other cities, and the Tahrir Square uprisings.

But are there links? Are they connected by anything beyond surface similarities?

Last March, in response to a student question about connections between the Wisconsin protests and those in Tahrir, I wrote:

Activists in Tunisia, Egypt and Wisconsin may well find themselves acting in solidarity with one another. … but the Cairo protests cannot be said to have led to or inspired the Wisconsin protests in the way the Tunisian protests can be said to have inspired the Cairo protests. … And yet, there is a distinct connection and it concerns ways the current global economic downturn has exposed the rising gulf between rich and poor, and the demand for an economics that serves the public good.

Noting that wealth disparities between rich and poor are actually greater in the U.S. than in Egypt under the Mubarak regime (according to U.S. federal agencies), I wrote:

I don’t suppose that the average protesters can articulate these trends or describe such statistics. But like the protesters in Cairo, they are aware that something is unfair, that they are being punished for economic declines caused by the very people who have profited by those downturns. … One of the chief differences between the neoliberalism that structures global economic interactions in the contemporary world and classical liberal economics is the notion of a public good, or commons. While classical liberalism assumed a common good protected by the state, neoliberalism assumes that markets can handle public goods better than governments. This erosion of public goods is noticed by the public, though they may experience it differently.

I would expect such protests to continue.

Of course, such protests did. A couple of days ago I wrote a summary of them, and wrote:

[M]ost of these protests are not inspired by the Arab Spring in a causal sense–they have different proximal causes–but they are similarly rooted in economic downturns and a conviction that the existing political economic situation is unfair, unjust, and unsustainable. Like the Egyptians, they make cool new uses of social media. And they draw inspiration from the astonishing successes of Tahrir Square.

I wrote that the influences go both ways; a colleague in Cairo sent me a link to a Facebook page that supported protests against the status quo generally rather than specific causes.

If we needed further evidence of the links people are drawing between far-flung global protests, consider this pledge posted on a website organizing protests in Washington, DC for today:

I pledge that if any U.S. troops, contractors, or mercenaries remain in Afghanistan on Thursday, October 6, 2011, as that criminal occupation goes into its 11th year, I will commit to being in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with others on that day with the intention of making it our Tahrir Square, Cairo, our Madison, Wisconsin, where we will NONVIOLENTLY resist the corporate machine to demand that our resources are invested in human needs and environmental protection instead of war and exploitation. We can do this together. We will be the beginning .

As the global economc crisis continues, the right to peaceably assemble is going to be tested as it has not been tested in generations, both in places where such rights are constitutionally guaranteed, like the U.S., and in places where they are not, such as Syria, Libya, and China.

On the one hand, the larger the protests grow the greater the difficulty of preventing a shift to rioting. On the other side, there is the risk of agents provocateur. In the 1920s and 1930s, American Legion volunteers and paid Pinkerton agents would attack Wobblies, striking workers and other protesters, initiating violence that then justified police intervention (against the protesters, not the Legion or Pinkerton agents, natch), just as the balitigiyya and secret police operated in Egypt.

“Occupy Wall Street” is a media curiosity right now, but it is growing and spawning related protests throughout the country. What will happen if they surround Wall Street offices, joining hands to refuse to let traders in and out, as Icelanders did with their Parliament? What will happen if they “detain” a billionaire some day, as French workers have done with corporate officials sent to shut down the factories?

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