The events of 2011 may well go down in history as constituting the most significant turning point of modern times.
Beginning with the Arab Spring, we have witnessed massive student rallies in Chile, a momentous protest movement in Israel, extensive mobilisations across Europe and the unprecedented ‘occupy’ camps that have sprung up in New York and around the world. The authorities may have done their best to prevent or forcibly suppress these unauthorised demonstrations, but scores of encampments remain across North America and Western Europe and continue to uphold a spirit of global collectiveness, non-violent resistance and direct democracy.
Many commentators have marvelled at the sudden shift in political discourse that has resulted from this unleashing of popular protest. Under the banner of the 99%, national conversations have focussed to an unusual degree on the unequal distribution of wealth between the top 1% and all remaining citizens, as well as the unjust government policies that are causing austerity measures for the majority whilst CEOs and the wealthiest citizens continue to dodge taxes, reap record profits and rake in huge bonuses. The heady days of ‘turbo-capitalism’ are at an end: as world leaders scramble to preserve the crumbling economic architecture, even many traditional economists now agree that a system based on endless growth and consumption is facing a terminal crisis.
The pressing global issues are perhaps clearer to the world’s people than they have ever been before. Public anger is unanimously directed at the financial and corporate elites who are largely responsible for causing the global economic turmoil; high-profile debates focus on the limitations of pursuing Gross Domestic Product in relation to human well-being and sustainability; and awareness of looming planetary boundaries is increasingly reflected in discussions surrounding climate change, biodiversity loss, peak oil production and other resource constraints. Countless people around the world are searching for a new vision of social progress that is no longer based on the empty creed of individualism, competition and blind material abundance.
Central to all these concerns is the rising call for economic sharing and global justice. As STWR’s founder Mohammed Mesbahi reasons in an article titled A Dialogue on Protest, Sharing and Justice, it is time for the awakening voice of world public opinion to focus on the issue of life-threatening deprivation as one of its foremost concerns. This will require a massive outpouring of public support in favour of an international emergency redistribution programme, initiated under the aegis of the United Nations, to prevent needless deaths arising from poverty-related causes in all countries.
Such a strategy may appear impractical or unrealistic in the context of a worsening economic crisis, but Mesbahi states that the power of peaceful mass protest recently demonstrated in the Middle East reveals the untapped potential of public opinion to influence government choices. Now that it is obvious that our social, economic and political systems need to be dramatically restructured, he argues that a major responsibility of governments is to redesign these systems specifically so that no-one dies of hunger.
The inspiring ‘occupy’ camps are loudly calling for wealth, resources and power to be shared more equally both within and between countries. Shortly in the New Year, STWR will publish a report detailing how there is more than enough money available for governments to immediately reduce poverty, provide essential public services and fund urgent climate change adaption and mitigation programs. These basic demands for national and global forms of redistribution will only begin to effect real change when they are backed up by the force of a united world public opinion – which is now a definite possibility as we approach 2012.