Occupy Movement Hopes for New Lease on Life


There will be a global action day in mid-May. It will give all the people who took to the streets in 2011 to protest against financial capitalism and the political establishment, occupying public squares from Madrid to Athens to Frankfurt, the chance to show that they are still furious and prepared to stage a rebellion.

It is a popular front of the indignant, a confusing and mutually contradictory throng of millions of people with varying demands, united only in their rage. In the United States, for example, the Occupy movement is calling for the establishment of a commission to investigate how much influence the banks have on political decisions. Many are demanding higher taxes for the wealthy and a financial transaction tax. Some want to eliminate capitalism altogether, while others just want to make it more human. But it is precisely in their inconsistency that the activists see their strength.

In the broad spectrum of all critics of capitalism, the Occupy protesters are the non-ideological rebels. Socialists and communists are at the other end of the scale, while the center is made up of trade unionists, social democrats, critical Christians, Greens and members of the Pirate Party, whose core issues are Internet freedom and political transparency. Now that even business owners, managers and bankers are becoming disenchanted with capitalism, the chorus of voices opposed to the "system" is louder and more diverse than ever before. Long-standing opponents of the system are astonished over the company they are now keeping.

Protest Star

When Camila Vallejo steps onto the stage in a lecture hall at the University of Hamburg to explain to the Germans how to organize a revolution in the 21st century, people in the audience jump up to get a better look at her. They include students and older men with union buttons on their sweaters.

Videos from Vallejo's home country of Chile are being shown on a screen. Chile also saw demonstrations last year, and Vallejo was one of the leaders of the movement there. She addressed hundreds of thousands at rallies and, as the spokeswoman of her country's student association, negotiated with politicians. She has more than 400,000 followers on Twitter.

Because all of the uprisings and protest camps had no real leaders and produced no heroes, Chilean student Vallejo became the star of 2011, the year of protests. She didn't hide her face behind a mask, as the Occupy protesters often do to emphasize that faces are unimportant to them. She appeared on television, recorded videos to be aired on YouTube, and generally made sure that people would become familiar with her face. It is well-proportioned, with large, alert eyes framed by her dark curls.

"Hallo, wie geht es euch?" ("Hello, how are you?") Camila Vallejo asks, reading the German words from a piece of paper. She is a petite woman in jeans and a sweater. When she speaks, her words are clear and focused, making her seem bigger than she actually is.

She is on a 10-day tour of Germany, speaking at universities and union halls. She talks about her country and the high tuition fees in Chile, where even middle-class students can barely afford to attend university. She blames neoliberalism. "They have turned education into a commodity, just as they turn everything into a commodity," she says, "and they'll also try to do it in your country." She holds up her book, "Podemos Cambiar el Mundo" ("We Can Change the World").

Are People Still Indignant?

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...