On Tuesday at noon, committed citizens will "occupy"* a small patch of green space at the
corner of 4th Street and West Jefferson (Belvedere... the event has been moved!)(check the Occupy Louisville website for final information before you head down if you are going) in Louisville in support of those who have been doing the same on Wall Street for several weeks now. If all goes well, they plan to return every day for "as long as it takes". If all goes really well, some people may stay there so that the demonstration becomes a permanent, day and night fixture.
Will this demonstration accomplish anything? Will the one on Wall Street? Lets not write either one off prematurely.
My career as a futurist ended before it even started when I noted last January that the lasting impact of Mohamed Bouazizi's choice of self-immolation as a tactic to bring change to the Middle East had been limited to creating the headline "Protester sets self on fire in Tunisia". One Arab Spring later, the changes in the Middle East seem profound and permanent, and they haven't ended yet.
While kicked off by Mr. Bouazizi setting himself on fire, the tactic that ultimately brought down the Tunisian and Egyptian governments, and that may still bring down the Syrian government and others, was the determined mass occupation, largely by young people, of public spaces. It was the implacable, relatively peaceful, but angry and determined, presence, day after day, that ultimately cost two dictators their nations.
As the United States and Europe ease into the fourth year of the economic disaster brought on by the incestuous corruption of business interests and governments, a question that has puzzled many people has been -- where are the protestors? Where are the demonstrations? Where is the youth? Where are the radical students who lead revolutions?
The only committed, long lasting, quasi-revolutionary protest movement to come out of the economic mess until now has consisted largely of retirees! But that may be changing.
There are two things working in the Wall Street protest's favor. The first is that they seem to have achieved a critical mass. They seem to have established a level of success in terms of staying power that may be able to overcome the defeatism and fatalism that plagues today's youth. If people see hope in this movement, they may flock to it.
The second thing the Wall Street protest has in its favor is demographics. Generation X, my generation, just wasn't very well suited for protest. While many of us struggled economically, the nation as a whole prospered. For the most part, we came of age in peacetime. And there were hardly any of us anyway! Our numbers were tiny compared to the baby boom generation before us or the millennial generation after us. But if you look out across the crowd on Wall Street, it is the huge population of millennials that is represented.
The time is right for them. They are of age. They have known war since they were children. They have lived lives permeated by official corruption made legal and commonplace by and for the "establishment". "Hope and change" brought them out to vote in record numbers, but the hope faded quickly because the change never materialized. They are not yet firmly established and their first foray into self-sufficiency has been dashed against the rocks. They have seen their futures flicker. It is their time.
But what of that little patch of green space in Louisville? Will anything happen there? We will see soon enough. We can hope that it does. What is for sure is that if something does happen there, it will also happen in hundreds of other cities across the country.
If it happens not only in New York, but in Louisville, and Indianapolis, and Columbus, and Nashville, and Denver, and Portland, and Houston, and Tampa, and Minneapolis, and Phoenix... the establishment may finally be forced to come to the table. It may not give way completely as it had to in Tunisia and Egypt. But it will have to come with meaningful concessions. It will have to acknowledge that the Millennials have arrived.
Photo: Courtesy of Google Maps
* The "occupy" movement is reportedly a leaderless movement, so a starting point at 4th and Jefferson may be just that... a starting point. There should be updated info here.
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