It started with a 26 year old Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire sparking protests that over threw the government. The protest has spread to Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Libya, Syria, Israel, Greece, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York City and across the United States to Chicago, Houston, Oakland, Portland, and Los Angeles. Russians have taken to the streets in the largest protests since the overthrow of the Soviet Union that may end the career of Vladimir Putin. It has been a year of protests that have changed the world. And we aren’t done.
History often emerges only in retrospect. Events become significant only when looked back on. No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in a public square in a town barely on a map, he would spark protests that would bring down dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and rattle regimes in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Or that that spirit of dissent would spur Mexicans to rise up against the terror of drug cartels, Greeks to march against unaccountable leaders, Americans to occupy public spaces to protest income inequality, and Russians to marshal themselves against a corrupt autocracy.Protests have now occurred in countries whose populations total at least 3 billion people, and the word protest has appeared in newspapers and online exponentially more this past year than at any other time in history.
Is there a global tipping point for frustration? Everywhere, it seems, people said they’d had enough. They dissented; they demanded; they did not despair, even when the answers came back in a cloud of tear gas or a hail of bullets. They literally embodied the idea that individual action can bring collective, colossal change. And although it was understood differently in different places, the idea of democracy was present in every gathering. The root of the word democracy is demos, “the people,” and the meaning of democracy is “the people rule.” And they did, if not at the ballot box, then in the streets. America is a nation conceived in protest, and protest is in some ways the source code for democracy – and evidence of the lack of it.
We will take to the streets and the ballot boxes and back to the streets until we have won the “war” against the oligarchs, the banks and the billionaires.