Ever since it began, I have been mesmerized by what seems to be the current global revolution being played out at the hands of the “under-represented” masses; the disenfranchised 99% who have taken to the streets to demand social and economic equality.
The story has really captured my interest and imagination more so than any I can remember in recent history. In fact, I saw a photo the other day of some “fat cat” corporate types looking down their noses at Wall Street “occupiers” from the balcony of their posh offices and I could swear their mouths were twisted in mid sentence with the words “let them eat cake” rolling off their lips.
It’s nice to know I’m not the only one whose attention has been diverted, though. Yesterday morning TIME Magazine unveiled its person of the year. The choice was spot on: The Protestor.
First, let me say how delighted I am that this distinction didn’t go to someone with the last name Kardashian (if ever a “poster family” elicited a common thread of animosity worldwide…) Second, let me explain that the award is given to the person, group or thing that, over the past year, has had the greatest impact, for better or worse (past winners have ranged from Mohandas Gandhi to Adolph Hitler.)
What makes this year’s selection so important, in my opinion, is the sheer simplicity and, at the same time, sheer power exhibited by the designee. Someone very smart once said that the simplest ideas are often also the most powerful. Very true. Say what you want about Mr. & Mrs. Global Protestor 2011; their simple message of inequity and inequality has captured the world’s attention and transformed the global conversation in virtually every corner. Now, that’s power.
From The “Occupy” Movement currently rooted in over 95 cities across 82 countries in places like London, Ontario, Halifax, Oakland, Zurich, and Edinburgh; to the Arab Spring that has taken hold in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen (to name just a few locations) to more isolated demonstrations like the recent challenge to the policies of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in which thousands turned out in downtown St. Petersburg to make themselves both seen and heard…there is definitely something in the collective air that is driving this mass state of unrest.
Time and time again, the message being put forth seems to go something like this: our leaders have repeatedly failed to represent our interests. We’ve been lied to, cheated, mistreated and held down for too long. We’re not willing to wait anymore for change to make its way into our lives and…if taking to the streets worked for our brothers and sisters across the ocean then it’s worth a try for us too. Boiled down to a simple sentence, the prevailing global attitude seems to have been plucked straight from a Bill Holden movie: We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!
I suppose it was inevitable. Back in June 2011 when the singular act of pitching a tent on Rothschild Boulevard — perpetrated by an Israeli woman protesting nothing more than the high-price of everyday groceries — captured the imagination of the Israeli people and brought hundreds of thousands of like-minded individuals to her side, I knew then that we were watching something important unfold. What I didn’t know was the extent to which people around the world would fall in line. But they have. According to some it’s nothing short of a modern day miracle. Others say it’s the beginning of Armageddon. Personally, I’m not quite so dramatically inclined either way. As I said, I think it was inevitable. It’s simply a sign of our times.
Any despotic government worth its weight in human rights violations knows that rule number one to maintaining power is to keep your people ignorant. Knowledge truly is power. For instance, when people gain knowledge of the way other people live and see that their own standard of living doesn’t measure up they begin to ask questions, including: “why him and not me?” Again, very powerful stuff.
In the past dictators and militant regimes were able to hold onto power because their people didn’t know any better. They aspired only to what they knew…misery. Even now in places like South Korea (a notorious violator of basic human rights) access to outside information is restricted.
However, Kim Jung Il is by far in the minority in his ability to keep his people cut off from the outside world. You can thank the World Wide Web for that. Its advent has ensured, among many other things both good and bad, that we know exactly what we’re missing. We know what the neighbors have that we don’t. We’re not only keeping up with the Joneses anymore, we’re keeping up with the Jolie-Pitts.
In addition, we’re doing it in real time. When my brothers in Bahrain mount a protest my cousins in Brooklyn hear about it almost immediately. There’s no cooling off period or time to consider alternative course of actions. One protest sparks another and another and yet another because, in truth, we ALL want the same thing: a better life for ourselves, our children and the ones we love. It’s hard-wired into our DNA.
Whatever the end game will turn out to be in this worldwide movement, it will certainly come at a price. A “voluntary” redistribution of wealth is not likely, meaning that it may only be a matter of time before The Protestor is transformed into The Revolutionary.
Read Ran's posts on innovation, society, and the world at large.