What Next for the Occupy Movement?

What Next for the Occupy Movement?

Whatever the effects of police repression and freezing weather, I believe that the men and women of the Occupations will still be making themselves heard when you read this. Something new and important has begun in American politics, and we won’t see the end of it soon: a political struggle against the growing inequalities of our common life. Since the inequalities are systemic, the struggle won’t be short or easy. I am not sure what the odds are on winning, but it is enormously heartening that so many people, mostly young people, have at last begun the fight.

Americans came late to this kind of populist protest—after the massive demonstrations of the Arab Spring and after the social justice movements in Spain and Israel. It’s worth looking back—these earlier protests suggest the difficulties of translating tent cities and street demonstrations into everyday politics. The early leaders of the Arab Spring, the “Facebook kids,” brought down tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt, but they are not the ones who will replace the tyrants. They turn out to be a thin layer of men and women—educated, secular, liberal, professional, often unemployed—who don’t have the popular following they seemed to have. They face a long struggle to legitimate their views and their sensibility in Arab politics.

The protesters in Spain and Israel are much closer to the mainstream of their societies; they didn’t have tyrants to bring down; they are working in functioning d...

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