If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then "#occupy" protesters around the world this weekend just gave the Arab Spring an Academy Award. Of course the chain of inspiration of freedom and justice seekers is unending in history, but there's no question that the Arab Spring opened a new chapter which is inspiring people to protest for justice worldwide.
No doubt at this historical moment many people in the U.S. will be preoccupied, as they should be, more with how #occupywallstreet is going than with how the Arab Spring is going. But we still have reason to pay some attention to the Arab Spring.
Drawing inspiration from outside our immediate environment sometimes allows us to leapfrog over the crusty preconceptions of our historical surroundings. One thing #occupywallstreet, like the Wisconsin uprising, has had in common with Cairo has been an explicit appeal for solidarity to the "security forces." In Cairo, they chanted: "The army and the people are one hand!" In Madison, the conduct of the mobilization for public employee rights defeated efforts of the Walker administration to split the police politically from other public employees. Today #occupy protesters are telling police, "You are the 99%!" You could look at the police as armed employees of the state who have to follow orders to "maintain public order," or you could look at them as public employees who are largely unionized members of the working class and who often have a lot of discretion in how they interpret their mandate to "maintain public order." Not arresting protesters is a perfectly legitimate tool for keeping the peace, and most police officers and officials know that well. As mom told us when we were little, honey usually beats vinegar.
I marched through downtown Washington Saturday afternoon with the "#OccupyDC" folks. One of the most popular chants around me was: "How to end this deficit? End the wars, tax the rich!" Apparently the 99% in DC have no trouble talking about ending the wars and taxing the rich in the same breath. I hope that others will emulate them.
I take it as obvious that "end the wars" means not only that we should get all our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but that we shouldn't start a new war with Iran. Don't you? Surely a key lesson of the last ten years is that once a war is started, it can be incredibly difficult to end it. This is one of the reasons that the neocons love starting wars. Starting a war allows them to create a long-term structural change in the political terrain - one that can long outlast their time in office - sucking resources and focus from the productive, domestic economy that employs and nourishes the 99% to the military economy that makes the military contractors rich but creates few jobs in the U.S. compared to domestic private and public spending.
And another key lesson of the last ten years is this: if we want to stop wars in the future, we can't wait to act until the war advocates have all their ducks in a row. We have to "disrupt their plots," to borrow a phrase. Millions marched worldwide a month before the start of the Iraq war. As an expression of popular clamor for peace, it was great. But as a means of stopping the war, it was too late. The war train had already left the station.
After ten years of war, now is a perfect time to act to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has set up a toll-free number for us to call Congress: 1-877-429-0678. A Congressional "Supercommittee" is charged with coming up with $1.5 trillion in reduced debt over ten years, and the wars and the bloated Pentagon budget dangle before the Supercommittee like overripe fruit.
So what else is new, you may say. The Pentagon wants to stay everywhere forever.