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The DNA of Change

October 31, 2011

Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan journalist, writer and novelist writes: este mundo loco se divide entre los indignos y los que están indignados. This crazy world is divided between the unworthy and those who are outraged. It’s a matter of choice to be indignant  and confront larger institutional inequalities, to take an active role in shaping a country’s democracy and social contract with its citizens.

From Spain to Greece, to Chile, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, New York and California and other parts of the United States, and a still growing number of countries all around the world people are organizing protests, setting up camps, and expressing their solidarity with the “Occupy” movement. It’s a global movement that has replicated from the DNA of young people acting for change. Some of them call themselves the “outraged” los indigandos who are taking back public spaces to express their indignation over the capitalism that is governing their democracies.

Dictionaries define the the word indignant as someone who experiences “indignation,” caused by an unjust situation. “Anger and irritation, sometimes a violent anger, usually accompanied by loss of self-control.” But there has been no loss of self-control in most of these peaceful protests, there is only that ever present feeling of indignation that is making them take to the streets in numbers, increasing numbers.

In a BusinessInsider interview with Phil Arnone, one of the lead organizers behind Occupy Wall Street, Arnone was asked about the meaning of the OccupyWallStreet protest.

“What this protest is about is an opposition against the fundamental inequality in society — social, economic, ecological — and we want to change the ways that our society is structured and run so that way, the vast majority of people — the 99% — have their interests accounted for, their voices heard, their needs represented. And that’s just simply not the way we feel our society works now. It’s a society run for and by the 1%.”

It’s hard to measure the impact of the protests because there is no clear leadership to the movement, it is self-organized using online social networks, it is horizontal, decentralized, inclusive, has a sense of humor (Indignant Soccer was  formed in Madrid), public spaces are taken, and above all, the movement has no clear list of demands or solutions to the economic inequalities it pits itself against.

They have a common enemy and it’s not the press, not the police, not the unions, not other social movements, not your conservative parent. Their enemy is: The System, the 147 companies (the 1 percent that can shell out money for dinners with the politicians who represent that 1 percent and not the 99 percent with their governments).

“Indignation is the origin of all change,”said Pablo Gómez, speaker for Movimiento 15M in Madrid during a recent event in La Antigua Guatemala. “From indignation you move to commitment and construction.”

I was in the audience on October 26 when Gómez said this. I was one of the few people over thirty years old who attended IV Encuentro Iberoamericano de Juventud: Cartajoven 11 “Democracia y representación” organized by La Organización Iberoamericana de la Juventud (OIJ), with Instituto de la Juventud (INJUVE) and the Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española en La Antigua Guatemala. The panel was called “Jóvenes, de la indignación al compromiso” and Goméz sat next to Felipe Jeldres from the Chilean student movement and other young people who organized similar movements in their countries. They were 23, 24 and 25 year olds wearing sneakers that poked out from the table’s white tablecloth, they were your neighbor’s kids and some called themselves militants. Their presentations showed charts of political spending, transnational corporation profit margins, average student debt number, data, lots of data; they knew their rights, their country’s laws, they believed in representation, and they had passion,

“This isn’t just a student movement, it’s a societal movement,” said Jeldres. “It’s not just education that’s bad, it’s everything.” The divorce between young people and the political system was one of the factors that lead to the protests, that and the skyrocketing costs of public education. In Chile two million young people did not vote in their last election either because they stopped believing in the viability of the electoral process or didn’t feel accepted or heard. It was a political and economic reality many shared not just in Chile where many students graduated from a Bachelor’s degree with more than $25,000 in debt and no jobs available to pay those loans.

The validity of the societal order had been lost and young people all around the world had more than glimpsed Max Weber’s “iron cage,”they rejected it.

“It’s better that we are all wrong, then one person be right for all of us,” Gómez stated on the lack of representation of political parties in Spain.

It was the opposite of the alienation that occurs when workers (and students for that matter) feel alienated or  estranged from the process of their work or their labor. It wasn’t the envy, that immobilizing feeling, that occurs in the alienated when we can’t perceive who is our enemy and who is our friend. In this case, they knew exactly who to ally with, the 99 percent in the world whose interests were not being represented, and those against them, the 1 percent, buying democracies.

These acts of taking public spaces and exercising the most basic of democratic rights to assemble peacefully in masses has been their biggest weapon.

“We’re not just protesting, we’re proposing a new society and we’re modeling it,” said Gómez.

It’s about re-establishing government for the people and acting for changes that can be made with the money of the 1 percent– including closing the financial equality gap, fixing the global economy and stopping wars, bringing troops home, making concrete that “hope” many of us give our votes for in our countries.

Occupying means being present, representing for the greater collective, and taking an active individual role in the existence of a legitimate order shaped not by routines, but by meaningful engagement with the pacts created with our governments. Social actions, a unified social action, had become the only way to open up a system and to introduce a change.

Sitting in that audience, listening to their stories, I saw that opening and started to believe in the Occupy movement. I had that moment that Galeano speaks about when you know what it is “To have the gods inside you.” Sitting there, I felt both a high and a low, because I wondered why in Guatemala this movement had not reached our public streets, why this same urgency of taking our Democracy back hadn’t quite made it here. We obviously need to take it back and the country’s fight against impunity – CICIG’s investigations, Attorney General Paz y Paz’s work and the opening of the National Police Records, showed it.

The indignation is pervasive here but what keeps the outrage from turning into action? The outrage is muted here. The risk is too great on an individual level when faced with a decomposing State that is not predictable. But isn’t that when it counts most to take a risk – when it’s the hardest thing you can do to have hope and act upon it.



One thought on “The DNA of Change

  1. kwallek says:

    Arab Spring. Only in the west, the system that is being attacked is a co-oped government. When a few have power over the many there is going to be trouble over time, we’re seeing that now.

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