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OWS: To Change the Country, We Just Might Have to Change Ourselves

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The emergence of what we know as Occupy Wall Street, or the 99 Percent Movement, has taken nearly everyone by surprise, producing a transformation of public consciousness. There is little doubt that something striking has taken place, far from our normal range of expectations. As a result, many thousands of progressives, excited that the logjam in American politics has been psychologically broken up, are still wondering exactly what has happened and why. Suddenly the style and conventional wisdom of traditional progressive models for social change have been pushed aside in favor of "horizontalism," general assemblies, culture jamming, and many other unconventional ways of doing politics.

The Antecedents of OWS

The DNA strands of some of these alternative approaches can be traced to Europe's Situationist International movement of the '50s and '60s, which combined radical politics with avant-garde art, and helped lead to a general strike in France in 1968. There are echoes, too, of American progressive movements that rose in response to the inequality, corporate excesses and corruption of the Gilded Age and the Roaring '20s. There are also reverberations from early in the labor movement of the large-scale industrial strikes of the 1930s, and also of the civil rights movement, and the women's movement's model of consciousness raising. Powerful acknowledgement must be given to the Arab Spring, for igniting the world's imagination. In Egypt, power that seemed incontestable was contested; protesters didn't have the answers beyond the end of Mubarak -- still they came and stayed. 


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