It worked in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Now, taking their cue from social-media fueled uprisings in places like Egypt and Iran, a group of online activists hopes it will work on Wall Street.
Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the counterculture magazine AdBusters, has taken to Twitter and other websites to help organize a campaign encouraging tens of thousands of Americans to hold a nonviolent sit-in Saturday in Lower Manhattan, the heart of the U.S. financial district.
This past spring and summer saw a massive groundswell of populist demonstrations against authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East — the Arab Spring of 2011.
In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, protesters took to the streets and occupied public spaces to protest stagnant economies, lack of freedom of expression and regimes that seemed more concerned with consolidating power than addressing the needs of the people.
Each of these revolutions began differently, but they all were organized and fueled by tech-savvy social media users, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. Lasn now wants to use the Internet for a protest in the United States.
“There’s a very visceral anger against the financial community,” Lasn said. “Many people feel that these people who are financial fraudsters, who basically got away with it, have yet to be brought to justice… It seems like we the people now have to congregate on Wall Street and other financial districts around the world and force the global economic system to move in a better, more just direction.”
Adbusters’ protest campaign — with the hashtag #occupywallstreet — began in July with the launch of a simple campaign website calling for a march through the streets of Lower Manhattan and a sit-in at the New York Stock Exchange, just as demonstrators did in Tunis’ November 7 Square and Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The campaign got a sizable boost in August from the hacktivist group Anonymous, which released a short video urging its supporters to participate in the sit-in.
Since then, the movement has seen the addition of planned protests in other countries, including Japan, Israel, Canada and a half-dozen European nations.
The aim of #occupywallstreet is to draw 20,000 protestors to New York’s financial district, although Lasn hopes for as many as 90,000.
“In Tunisia and in Egypt, the Internet was used to organize surprising numbers of people to get out into the streets and start a radical, democratic movement for regime change,” Lasn said. “Of course, the situation here in America and many European countries is quite different. We’re not living under a torturous dictatorship, for one.
“Nonetheless, there’s a feeling that the global financial system, the heart of which is in the U.S., in New York, that this system is somehow having its way with us,” he said. “There’s a feeling that we need a revolution in the way that our economy is run, the way that Washington is run.”
This isn’t, Lasn stresses, an excuse for rioting and looting like the world recently witnessed in the United Kingdom. It’s a call for radical change, but in the tradition of nonviolent protesters like Mahatma Gandhi, he says. If protests turn violent, he fears the message will be lost.
“What we are hoping for is to have a very large number of people turn up in Lower Manhattan and start walking toward Wall Street peacefully, signs in hand,” Lasn said. “If we have peaceful assemblies and debates about what our demands to President Obama should be, then bit by bit we can create a situation that will rival what happened in Egypt.”
“That would be a wonderful, energizing and positive moment to feel like we the people are in charge,” he said.