Jesse Rosenfeld writes: When 3,000 people marched through Toronto’s financial district on October 15, expanding the Occupy Wall Street protests north of the border, I scanned the crowd wondering if my home city could actually forge a connection with the social movements erupting around the globe. In the weeks that followed, I got my answer as hundreds of tents expanded across St. James Park, blocks from the heart of Canada’s financial district.
Canada has been relatively sheltered from the global financial crisis and detached from global issues — especially those in the Arab world — by its insular political culture. But the determination by these Canadian protesters to chart a new course seemed to radiate the same mix of desperation, necessity and optimism I witnessed firsthand in the recent protests in the Middle East, Europe and the US.
While the gulf between conditions affecting the protesters in the Middle East and those in the West is stark, it is clear that young people in both contexts are being driven by rage, marginalization and the demand for democratic representation. In a role reversal unthinkable just a few short years ago, the young dispossessed in London, Athens, New York and Toronto are being inspired by Arab youth to take up the struggle for democratic liberation.
Several months prior to the launch of the Occupy Movement, I stood next to young Palestinians in the West Bank as they fought tooth and nail with Palestinian Authority security forces to hold the center of Ramallah and transform the city’s central square into a platform for discussion and social action.
I watched this pattern of protest beginning to emerge on the foggy afternoon of January 28, 2011 from my unofficial “office” of three previous years. Glued to Al Jazeera in the crowded Ramallah shisha café, where locals gather to smoke and argue politics over coffee, I found myself in an atmosphere that more resembled a live sports match than an unfolding political crisis.
The cafe hosts an eclectic mix of people, ranging from a core of grumpy old men to university students, local journalists and artists. With everyone glued to the TV on the main floor, cheers erupted as Mubarak’s police were pushed back by youth advancing on Cairo’s Tahrir square. Curses in Arabic rang out responding to police attacks in a tone I had previously heard used only against advancing Israeli soldiers.