After reading this weekend’s blog posts in the mainstream media in Germany, I am a bit surprised at the traditional view of the “occupy” demonstrations of this past weekend. For instance, the headline published by the most relevant German media site – SPON – was “99% stayed at home.”
The #OWS movement is first of all a virtual movement. For sure, there are a few hundred people engaging in person on the streets of NYC. In Italy a great mass of people took to the streets in recent days. But it is important to stress that the majority of the outraged people are sitting in their homes – homes that they may not own any longer. They are active on Twitter, on Facebook, on their blogs, or they may participate simply by reading the newspaper and discussing with their friends and relatives.
When I look at the mainstream media, I wonder about this contradiction in coverage. On the one side, journalists were taking part in the demonstrations and the sit-ins at Zuccotti park. They expressed positive surprise regarding the dynamism and empathy of the young people out on the streets. On the other side, they seemed a little bit disappointed when “only” thousands of people came together on the 15th of October.
When can these activities be called successful? The disappointment in the modest physical participation in last weekend’s activities is also an indicator of a sort of political thinking from an older era. In the last hundred years, one acknowledged procedure of conveying rage at a political decision was to take to the streets with as many people as possible. But even with masses of people, there was little chance of getting alternative perspectives heard without politicians condescending to take heed. Members of older generations have watched for years as such efforts have been ignored or co-opted by politicians, and they thus have a difficult time taking seriously the younger generation’s heartfelt “uprising.”
In the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of people came to Bonn to demonstrate against NATO policy. There was no actual political impact of these demonstrations, yet conservative politicians stressed that such a protest was an indicator of a functioning democracy. In other countries like Chile, Germany and Austria, student groups have again and again during the past two decades tried to get education on the political agenda. Plainly, they were not taken seriously. We see evidence of this in that national poverty rates are now negatively correlated with age. When many mainstream journalists made a point of mentioning the low number of people physically engaged with the protests in New York and elsewhere, they revealed this last-century bias towards physical participation.
But #OWS is a virtual movement with a potentially real impact. It is time to think about the real impact of all these activities both on the web and on the streets. How can we integrate such a mass of ideas in the political decision-making process? Could #OWS be the beginning of a real crowd-sourced political process?
I am waiting for the mainstream media to ask these questions… Let’s wait and see.