Time Magazine Wednesday announced that its 2011 Person of the Year would be “The Protester.” In the feature by Kurt Anderson, Time charts the wave of protests that defined 2011, from the Middle East to Europe to the United States and even, lately, to Russia.
By way of prognosticating where from here, Anderson confesses that “as long as government in Washington – like government in Europe – remains paralyzed, I don't see the Occupiers and Indignados giving up or losing traction or protest ceasing to be the defining political mode. After all, the Tea Party protests subsided only after Tea Partyers achieved real power in 2010 by becoming the tail wagging the Republican Party dog. When radical populist movements achieve big-time momentum and attention, they don't tend to stand down until they get some satisfaction.”
In that analysis is contained the primary misunderstanding that underlies so much of the mainstream media's coverage of Occupy and its international brothers and sisters (and leads to such widespread misunderstanding about the nature of the movement). This year's “Protester” was not protesting government paralysis.
Governments are not the primary bearers of power in the geopolitical landscape. Bigger things are at work, and the biggest of these is the globalization of capital. Governments are, in fact, toppling in Europe because the political superstructures of the democratic world are so dearly at the mercy of the international financial class. Already in Greece and Italy (a country with a bigger economy than India's, borrowing at 7.2 percent), the democratic leadership has been replaced by what the media euphemistically call “technocrats” – really, these are bankers who have performed coups d'etat.
Global capital supersedes governmental sovereignty by way of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), supernational currency consortia, free trade agreements and an increasing percentage of corporate wealth accounted for by international conglomerate ownership. When countries get in the way of globalization for reasons righteous or wicked, the powerful countries engineer military rebellion (as in Venezuela) or all-out wars (as in Iraq) to put an end to the insolence. This global power system propels itself, as power systems always have, by subordinating the most vulnerable. In the years since the onset of the financial crisis, this has meant austerity, union busting and the gutting of the commons for private ownership, and it has meant this worldwide.
It is the perfidy and callousness of this power structure, which is much bigger and much more important than any government, feeding 2011's “Protester.” The struggles in 2011 have all been struggles for dignity and freedom from the global corporate tyranny – struggles for democracy (people power) against plutocracy (wealth power).
There is a direct line from the corruption of banking elites in Tunisia to the privation in the country's rural areas to Mohammed Bouazizi's desperation that led to January's first revolution. Egypt's high unemployment, deep-going political corruption and crushing wealth inequality brought clerics and working people into the streets alongside the activist student factions. Impunity for the callous financial class as a backdrop for rampant police brutality and cuts in social services fostered the rage in August's Tottenham rioters, according to the rioters themselves. The pattern holds in Spain, Greece, Chile, Russia, Israel, Syria, India and, of course, the United States: everywhere “The Protester” struck in 2011 was a place where the political elites, working on behalf of the international ownership class, had rigged the game, which resulted in quite a lot of unpleasantness for normal citizens, especially the poor and the young.
In the pages of Time Magazine, there is an analysis of “The Protester” as a global phenomenon, but little that acknowledges that the power structure at which “The Protester” hurls chants, and sometimes stones, is itself global. “Globalization” in the piece is raised only by way of giving it credit for the global reach of the Internet, which has been a critical factor in uniting the movement's different national factions.
But the democratic character of the Internet is a bug, so to speak, of globalization, not a feature. In fact, it flies in the face of globalization's goal, which is the endless accumulation of wealth by the already wealthy and the requisite security to accomplish it. For that reason, the international telecommunications giants are trying to control the Internet so that it can be used for commerce but not the sort of free-information anarchism for which it is currently so beloved. The Internet, just like people everywhere, is vulnerable to the wrath of global capital when it poses a threat.
The greatest crisis affecting everyone, everywhere is the climate's accelerating progress toward making Earth inhospitable to human life. That is a problem that can only be solved on a global scale, and if the plutocracy making the decisions shared the concerns of the democracy who are suffering first, the Durban climate talks would have emerged with a strong global commitment, rather than acrimony and desperation.
“The Protester” is focused on something bigger than Time Magazine's cover, bigger even than governments. “The Protester” in 2011 is focused on saving the world by turning it over to the people who live here. The day the Time article was released, Forbes reported that “Six Waltons Have More Wealth than the Bottom 30% of Americans” and The Guardian revealed that “America's CEOs enjoyed pay hikes of up to 40% last year – with one chief executive earning $145m.” The next day, Vladimir Putin ridiculed the Russian protesters.
At this rate, Time might have to give 2012 to “The Revolutionary.”