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.”