Opinion Brief

Occupy Wall Street: A U.S. version of the Arab Spring?

A two-week-old anti-Wall Street demonstration gained renewed attention this weekend after a dramatic police showdown on the Brooklyn Bridge leads to 700 arrests

"Ever since the Arab Spring, many people here have been pining for an American Autumn," says Charles Blow in The New York Times. Well, "the closest we've gotten so far is Occupy Wall Street." Largely ignored for its first two weeks, the Arab Spring-inspired encampment in Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park actually "reminded me a bit of Tahrir Square in Cairo," says Nicholas Kristof, also in The Times. And now, with the New York Police Department's headline-grabbing arrest of 700 marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge this weekend, and similar protests popping up nationwide, the question seems inevitable: Is this leaderless crusade against the powers that be the start of America's own Arab Spring?

Yes. This is the start of something big: "America is about to experience the same youth-driven, hyper-networked wave of grassroots protests against economic inequality and political oligarchy" that rocked the Arab world, says Micah L. Sifry at techPresident. Instead of fizzling out, this messy, amorphous demonstration of disgust with the bipartisan, pro-greed "Washington Consensus" is only spreading, and will pick up this week with backing from unions and progressive groups."Occupy Wall Street: There's something happening here, Mr. Jones"

This comparison insults the Arab revolutionaries: "There's a lot of frustration out there, much of it legitimate," says James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. But apart from one obvious similarity — the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street both involve "frustrated youth loosely organized using social media" — "it's simply insulting to compare the two." The small bands of U.S. "hippies and hipsters" aren't at risk of being gunned down by brutal despots — at worst they'll be "detained for a few hours and issued a misdemeanor citation for disturbing the peace or impeding traffic. ""Occupy Wall Street not our Arab Awakening"

If this protest thrives, thank the NYPD: Occupy Wall Street has "annoyed many by comparing itself to the radical political protests of the Arab Spring," says Dominic Basulto at Big Think. But the movement actually does tap into mainstream angst "that America has eroded its middle class," with the privileged elite rigging the system "so that all of the nation's wealth flows in one direction." Still, to transform into a "broader national movement," Occupy Wall Street has always needed "a spark, a rallying point." And now, the "dramatic police showdown on the Brooklyn Bridge" could turn "a cool hipster-hacker-hippie" protest into a Tea Party for the Left."Is this finally the occupation of America?"

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