Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Indignant Generation

2011 is the year of global indignation. We have not seen such mass reaction since May 1968: the Spanish 'indignados' ; the Arab revolutions;  the riots in London; the protests of young Israelis in Tel Aviv against high costs of living; protests of Chilean students demanding higher social spending; massive demonstrations against austerity in Greece, Portugal and Italy; India’s movement against corruption; and now the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in New York and across the United States. These movements are now turning into global protests:  from America to Asia, from Africa to Europe, people are rising up to claim their rights and demand  a true democracy. On 15 October, people met pacifically  in the streets in 951 cities from 82 countries to initiate global change. 

Many of these revolts have a common ground. They represent a powerful critique to globalization which has benefited to the wealthy and has produced an international labour market that held down the wages of the  unskilled workers in western economies. It is a genuine expression of anger of a generation without future and distrust of  traditional institutions, political as well as financial, being responsible of the crisis and having caused an enormous damage to our societies. The indignados of Madrid, Athens and Paris claim they do not belong to any political party, but they are not conservatives. They demand support for a “European social model”, which promises free education and healthcare and a decent income for all. 

Some may argue that this is a reminiscence of utopian communism, a sort of City of the Sun (Civitas Solis) where all public goods would be put in common. We cannot agree more but is this possible on Earth? Of course, water is a public good of common use; forests should not be destroyed; the air should not be contaminated; banks should not commit fraud and cheat out for profit. Citizens should have a say in the organisation of public life. The risk is that utopian ideas may be exploited by populist leaders to their own profit. 

The consciousness of the indignant  is about their future stolen for an entire generation. Our societies don't have anything to offer to them: no jobs, less public services, erosion of middle classes living standards. In a sense, they express an alternative economic model, a more egalitarian society based on the satisfaction of  basic needs and the respect of human dignity. Is there anything wrong with that? 

As N.Roubini put it, "any economic model that does not properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy. Unless the relative economic roles of the market and the state are re-balanced, the protests of 2011 will become more severe, with social and political instability eventually harming long-term economic growth and welfare".

World leaders are too busy to find solutions for re-capitalizing the banks but don't listen to the pacific and silent revolution of an entire generation. They must act before it is too late. But global change is at our door !

Omnia cum tempore !

P.S: In October 2010, St├ęphane Hessel, a former French-German resistance fighter published a pamphlet called    Time for Outrage! (original French title: Indignez-Vous! ) which  has sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide. The essay calls on young people for peaceful and non-violent insurrection against  the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor,  the need to re-establish a free press,  to protect the environment and the welfare system, and the plight of Palestinians. It inspired  one of the names given to the Spanish protests against corruption and bipartisan politics, Los Indignados . These protests, in conjunction with the Arab Spring, later helped to inspire other protests in many countries, including Greece, Israel, and the United States.

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