Nicholas Kristof writes: It’s fascinating that many Americans intuitively understood the outrage and frustration that drove Egyptians to protest at Tahrir Square, but don’t comprehend similar resentments that drive disgruntled fellow citizens to “occupy Wall Street.”
There are differences, of course: the New York Police Department isn’t dispatching camels to run down protesters. Americans may feel disenfranchised, but we do live in a democracy, a flawed democracy — which is the best hope for Egypt’s evolution in the coming years.
Yet my interviews with protesters in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park seemed to rhyme with my interviews in Tahrir earlier this year. There’s a parallel sense that the political/economic system is tilted against the 99 percent. Al Gore, who supports the Wall Street protests, described them perfectly as a “primal scream of democracy.”
The frustration in America isn’t so much with inequality in the political and legal worlds, as it was in Arab countries, although those are concerns too. Here the critical issue is economic inequity.
Although the “we are the 99%” slogan captures a widely felt sentiment that the massive gap between the super rich and average Americans is bad for America, Occupy Wall Street cannot be reduced to the desire for redistribution of wealth. Discontent runs much deeper and challenges not only the economic conditions in which we live, but the values that gave rise to these conditions and the political system through which they have been sustained. This isn’t just about money. It’s about the practice of democracy.
A lot of reporting about Occupy Wall Street wants to capture its significance (or lack of it) by focusing on slogans and sentiment. What is actually much more revealing is the process through which this movement is developing.