And Time’s Person of the Year Goes To…..

This is the first time in a long time I’ve agreed with Time Magazine’s decision for its annual Person of the Year story/cover. This year, the magazine has chosen “the protestor” as its 2011 Person of the Year.

The article regarding the magazine’s decision can be read here, and it gives a comprehensive overview of the year of protest in the Arab world, the U.S., and mostly recently Russia. As the magazine points out, the year of protest was ignited on Dec. 17, 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, was hassled by police. He walked to the capital building to complain and got no response. So, he drenched himself in paint thinner and lit a match that ignited the Arab Spring. His action came after the country’s dictator continued power grabbing moves and a high cost of living.

The focus of the Arab Spring, though, mostly happened in Egypt, where, after months of protests and complaints about a fraudulent 2010 national election, thousands of young activists were able to topple a dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Since then, the military has taken power, and lately, Tahir Square has been flooded with protestors again, as the country’s citizens complain that the military is refusing to give up power.

Meanwhile, while the Arab spring was forming, thousands flooded the capitals of rust belt states, including Ohio and Wisconsin, especially Wisconsin, to protest restrictions on unions, especially the right for public employees to collectively bargain. Despite the massive protests, the governors in Ohio and Wisconsin still signed anti-union bills. However, in Ohio, citizens voted overwhelmingly in November to restore the union rights. And WI Gov. Scott Walker is likely to face a recall election. The move to collect enough signatures to get him on the ballot is now underway, and activists in that state are already close to getting enough signatures.

All of this preceded the largest protest movement the U.S. has seen in decades- Occupy Wall Street. What started as a dozen or so kids coming to Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17 has now blossomed into a national movement. Across the country during the fall, tents sprang up in nearly every major U.S. city. Since then, the police have shut down most of the tent cities, but the marches and protests continue.

2012 will reveal what’s next for OWS. This Sunday in NYC, the organizers are meeting to discuss where the movement goes from here. But OWS has been mighty successful in the sense it has totally changed the national conversation. Now everyone is talking about the fact the U.S. has the highest rate of economic inequality since the 1920s. President Obama has pivoted towards a more populist tone, and last week, during a speech in Kansas, he said this is a “make or break moment for the middle class.” He has co-opted some of the language of the OWS movement, and the movement has given him the space to be able to address much needed economic reforms and regulation of Wall Street.

OWS dominated the news in the last few months of 2011. The image of students getting pepper sprayed in the face at UC Berkley was all over the news, as well as images of standoffs between the NYPD and protestors in Zuccotti Park and thousands marching across the Brooklyn Bridge and also circling the New York Stock Exchange, nearly shutting it down.

I’ve worked with several OWS activists in the Scranton area, and I’ve visited sites in Philly and Boston. I’ve had my disputes with some activists over the use of tactics, and I would like to see the movement grow into real legislative reforms and people running for office, but while involved, I felt like something really profound is happening in this country and in the world. People have finally had enough, and for the first time in decades, they are finally protesting and getting involved in politics. It’s so inspiring to see young people across the globe speaking out.

Kudos to Time Magazine for acknowledging that 2011 was a year of mass protest, and since it is more than likely 2012 will feature more economic uncertainty and continued assaults on the middle class, the protests will continue.

What’s Next for OWS?

Last night, Occupy protestors in Philly and LA were evicted. According to an article posted on MSNBC this morning, about 200 protestors are being held in LA, though police did say the arrests were mostly peaceful. In Philly, meanwhile, the police issued three warnings that the protestors would have to leave, and nearly all did so, according to the article. But then they started marching through the streets, disrupting traffic at times, and even halting some of the city’s mass transit system.

Now that these two sites have been evicted, there are very few large cities left with ongoing occupation encampments. NYC was dismantled  a while ago, though they still have been meeting at Zuccotti park, though without tents. Occupy Chicago was also evicted a while ago. Occupy Boston still has an encampment, but for how long?

These evictions pose a question for the Occupy movement: what comes next? The encampments were successful in the sense that they changed the national dialogue and sparked conversations among Americans and in the media about economic inequality. They also helped create a community of diverse people that have been exchanging ideas about how to fix this country.

However, it’s my belief after visiting occupation sites in Philly and Boston and working with some local activists that for this movement to succeed, it has to grow beyond encampments. The Tea Party succeeded in   a sense that people within the movement ran for office, and about two dozen Tea Party members now occupy the federal House of Representatives. They’ve been able to derail legislation and push their agenda. At some point, the Occupy movement needs to consider running people for office, working with the system, and coming up with clear legislative goals. So far, the movement has been against creating clear demands, but there has to be more than just protest. The Civil Rights movement succeeded in getting desegregation legislation passed. The 1930s labor movement succeeding in getting FDR to pass the New Deal programs and creating Social Security. Occupy can push for certain legislative goals, including a constitutional amendment to ban the notion of corporate personhood, which would counter the Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United in 2010, which made it possible for corporations to funnel an unlimited amount of money into politics. The movement can also push for even greater regulation of Wall Street and lobbyists, a higher tax rate for millionares, and a more comprehensive jobs bill than what Obama has offered.

OWS is about three months old now, a very new movement. But for it to stay relevant and continue getting media coverage beyond arrests of protestors, it should move beyond encampments. Recently, the encampments have created issues between police and protestors, and how sustainable will encampments even be when winter comes?