A Global Revolt


Editor’s Note: Occupy Oakland is part of a global movement that is questioning the basic structures of the political and economic system to an extent not seen since 1968. Whether it will succeed in changing these structures is unclear. But it has already created something far more powerful: a global shift in consciousness.


“Shut It Down,” “No More Shipping for the 1 Percent” and “Death to Capitalism” proclaimed some of the banners near me as I joined thousands of demonstrators who converged on the Port of Oakland on a sunny afternoon. This city is part of a global movement that has changed the terms of the political debate, stealing much of the thunder from the Tea Party movement and shaking governments around the world in a way not seen since the 1960s.

It started with Tunisia and the Arab Spring, then spread to Spain and the Indignados movement, to Chile with the massive student mobilization for an end to education for profit, to England with the urban riots, to Athens with the massive demonstrations against the tyranny of the Euro and the financial markets, and then to New York with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Two comparable uprisings have rocked the course of history:

The revolutions of 1848 in Europe—known as the Spring Time of the Peoples—challenged monarchs, aristocrats and autocrats alike as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels penned the Communist Manifesto. Disturbances and revolutions occurred in more than 50 countries and thousands died with untold numbers fleeing abroad.

Then, exactly one century and two decades later, a broad anti-systemic movement roiled the globe on many fronts: the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the global anti-war movement, the student and worker uprising in Paris, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, the riots in Chicago at the Democratic convention and the Mexican student protests that led to the massacre at Tlateloco Plaza.

None of these historic revolts was successful in terms of taking power, but they changed the world in profound ways, just as the great revolt of 2011 is doing.

As in 1968, today’s uprising is anti-systemic—calling for fundamental changes in the world’s political and economic order. The youthful demonstrators of Tahrir Square in Cairo and the young people camped out in Zuccotti Park in New York see no future in the current governments that control their countries, be they authoritarian or democratic. As Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz writes, “Social protest has found fertile ground everywhere: a sense that the ‘system’ has failed and the conviction that even in a democracy, the electoral process will not set things right—at least not without strong pressure from the street.”

A strong sense of solidarity and communication exists among these movements. The initial squatters in New York City openly acknowledged that they were inspired by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. When the police crackdown occurred against Occupy Oakland, Egyptians sent communiques of support and marched to the U.S. embassy in Cairo calling for an end to police violence in Oakland. Weeks later a group of media and political activists in Cairo sent out a call for international support against the growing military repression in their country:

“We are still fighting for our revolution. We are marching, occupying, striking, shutting things down. And you, too, are marching, occupying, striking, shutting things down. We know from the outpouring of support we received in January that the world was watching us closely and even inspired by our revolution. We felt closer to you than ever before. And now, it’s your turn to inspire us as we watch the struggles of your movements. … If they stifle our resistance, the 1% will win- in Cairo, New York, London, Rome – everywhere. But while the revolution lives our imaginations knows no bounds. We can still create a world worth living.”

Oct. 15 marked an international upsurge in the movement. The headline of the Guardian newspaper of London proclaimed: “Occupy Anti-Capitalism Protests Spread Around the World.” Tens of thousands rallied and marched in London, Frankfurt, Madrid, Rome, Sydney, Hong Kong, Toronto, Santiago and Rio de Janeiro and scores of other cities around the globe. Although the demonstrators were largely peaceful, the police cracked down in many cities and clashes in Rome became particularly violent. A banner in Rome read, “People of Europe Rise Up.” In Berlin banners called for an end to capitalism and in Frankfurt protestors fought with police in front of the European Central Bank.

These were the largest global protests since the international mobilization in February 2003 tried to stop the Bush administration from going to war in Iraq. But the protest movement today—driven by the Great Recession that threw the global economy into crisis—runs deeper and is far more resilient than that of 2003. At the heart of the crisis are international banks that got bailed out as millions of people lose their jobs, their life’s savings, their homes and their daily bread. As Naomi Wolf proclaimed, the “enemy is a global ‘corporatocracy’ that has purchased governments and legislatures, created its own armed enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud, and plundered treasuries and ecosystems.”

Meanwhile, the “corporatocracy” is determined to maintain its power and privileges as it comes under increasing scrutiny. In Europe, draconian austerity policies are being imposed to rescue the Euro, policies that will condemn Europe and much of the world to stagnant economic growth for years to come. In Greece and Italy, democracy is shunted aside as elections are avoided and technocrats beholden to the big banks are put in charge.

For much of the post-World War II period it was believed that the inherent conflict between the “free market” and democracy could be reconciled. The electorate would refrain from interfering in the markets in exchange for steady employment, economic growth and access to an ever-increasing array of consumer commodities. Now this compact is broken. The financial markets ruin any country and its populace if it refuses to accept austerity and a decline in its standard of living. The “sovereign debt” must be paid insist the bankers and the financial markets. In effect democracy is under siege.

In the United States, a country where ideology and the left have a weak legacy, the top 1 percent get more than 20 percent of the national income, up from 9 percent when Ronald Reagan took office. Perhaps the most telling figure is that one-tenth of the top 1 percent earn as much as the bottom 120 million people. This is why the slogans “Occupy Wall Street” and “We are the 99 percent” captured the imagination of people across the United States when the first tents went up in Zuccatti Park in New York City.

The genius of the movement is its refusal to tie itself to a particular set of demands. The grievances are so extensive—a lack of jobs, a unequal distribution of income, a decline in educational opportunities, a lack of affordable housing, the high cost of medical care, corporate funding of elections—that the entire system has to be taken on.

The police assaults against the urban encampments can’t snuff out the movement. It will resurface in other ways and other forms. As a post-eviction statement by Occupy Wall Street, New York read: “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.”

We are in a volatile and unpredictable era. What we do know is that the great revolt of 2011 marks a turning point in history as a global mass movement takes on the economic and political forces that are plundering our world.

Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, California. He is working on a new book with Michael Fox and Fred Fuentes for Zed Books, “The End  of US Hegemony and Socialism (As We Know It): Social Movements and  Left Leaders in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela.”


Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving