Jonathon Acuff aptly illustrates the agenda underlying the myths of the 99% and the Twitter Revolution, explaining that “although it is intrinsically appealing to believe that the US is such a beacon of hope and democracy that we inspire freedom-loving people everywhere to throw off their chains…we should be more skeptical concerning the claims of those who interpret every mass protest as ‘freedom on the march’” (225). Here, he explains that the myth that social media is responsible for a global movement toward equality and democracy stems from a conceited worldview, and is designed to feed the conception of the western technology and by extension the West as an agent of democracy. Evgeny Morozov adds that this is not a new phenomenon, but rather a historical trend, in that the United States historically tends to over-exaggerate its role in inspiring democratic revolutions. He traces this trend back to the Cold War, where the West credited itself for bringing down communist nations through supporting free speech and the spread of democratic ideas (179). Applied to the modern day, Morozov describes how this world view led commentators during the Arab Spring to build the myth of the Twitter Revolution in order to conveniently credit American social networking technology, and thus America, with bringing down authoritarian regimes.
In fact, I will argue that the myth of the Twitter Revolution was created to compensate for contradictory American foreign policy and fight the negative image of America in the Arab world that such policies create. Indeed, since the Cold War America has prided itself in being a beacon of freedom and democracy in the world; this ideal is the defining aspect of America’s self image. However, in the past decades United States foreign policy has seldom lived up to this ideal, especially in the Middle East and the Arab World. For example, Mohamed Zayani points out that the United State’s continued support of Israel and, more recently, its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been perceived as foreign interference in the region by Arab populations (45). More significantly, the United States actually helped put in power many of the dictators that the Arab Spring movement tried to oust. Despite America’s supposed dedication to the spread of democracy and protection of human rights, for years it financially and politically supported Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain’s repressive dictators (Bix 335). Here, there is a discrepancy between actual U.S. policy and the self-image of America hopes to project, as the U.S. has prioritized self-interests to protect security in the region over its supposed commitments to democracy.
Ussama Makdisi argues that these policies have contributed to growing anti-Americanism in the Arab world, where the population perceives the United States as an imperial power rather than a symbol of democracy (540). Zayani explains this by pointing out that for decades the United States has largely ignored the Arab public opinion of America, instead focusing on gaining the good will of Arab governments (46). However, the trend is now reversing as the U.S. has come to realize the importance of promoting a pro-American Arab public. In this context, the myth of the 99% and the Twitter Revolution is a way for the United States to recreate the image of the United States as a beacon of democracy in the Arab world.
Disproving the Myth
However, the United States cannot at the same time support dictators in Egypt and Tunisia and then pretend to inspire revolutions against them. For this reason, the idea that the United States was the source of inspiration for the Arab Spring democratic revolutions is entirely false. Conversely, Michael Doran argues in Foreign Affairs that the Arab Spring uprisings were actually driven by a desire to free their nations from Western influence and American-backed dictators (17). Indeed, there is a long history of resistance to foreign interference in the Arab World, especially in Egypt where the legacy of form President Gamal Abdel Nasser is still strong. In this way, the Arab Spring revolutions were predominantly driven by nationalism rather than Western democratic ideals. Instead, Doran argues that the Arab Spring revolutionaries sought their own brand of democracy, independent from the model of the West (17). For example, this democracy is not necessarily secular; Islamist parities like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the recently elected Ennahda Party in Tunisia will play an important role in new governments (Zayani 46). In this way, the Arab Spring revolutions are not moving toward the same model of democracy as the United States; the idea of globalization and westernization is a self-serving myth.
For the same reason, the ‘myth of the 99%’ and of solidarity between Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring protesters is also false. In fact, the idea of the worldwide 99% is absurd because there is a greater magnitude of economic inequality between developed and developing world than there is income inequality in the United States. In reality, the ‘99%’ in the Occupy Wall Street movement is included in the wealthiest one percent of individuals in the world (Dowd 175). Moreover, in the past decades the world has become increasingly divided between rich and poor countries; the gap in per capita income between industrial and developing countries tripled from 1963 to 1999 (Dowd, 175). This illustrates that there is no ‘99%’ or ‘worldwide revolution’ as portrayed in the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric, and if there was, Occupy Wall Street protesters would be included in the 1%.
Thus, I have shown that the popular linkage of social media, Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street in the American media is a myth. This myth of a global movement toward democracy and equality, facilitated by American social media technology, stems from basic assumptions about the merits of globalization. More significantly, it serves to portray the United States as a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Arab World. I now will argue that the perception of Arab Spring and Occupy as one movement inspired by American technology is problematic because it gives credit to the technology, rather than the actors. In doing so, this glosses over the political and social factors of the movements. Specifically, the personal risks and goals of protesters are very different in Occupy Wall Street compared to Arab Spring, producing distinctly different movements. For this reason, I will argue that the social movements should not be categorized by their similar methods, but rather by the stakes involved. To do so, I will first show that the role of social media technology in Arab Spring was exaggerated. Then, I will compare the stakes of the Arab Spring revolutions and the Occupy Wall Street protests and analyze how the stakes affected the success of the respective movements.
The idea that social media can facilitate social activism and revolution is based on the assumption that social media has the same transformative, democratizing effect across societies. Indeed, the optimistic predictions of social media’s role in Arab Spring stem from the shared assumption that human society is shaped by technology. Evgeny Morozov describes this perspective as “technological determinism” and explains that “what is most dangerous about succumbing to technological determinism is that it hinders our awareness of the social and the political, presenting it as the technological instead” (293). Indeed, while it may be tempting to simplify these independent movements into a general trend of social uprisings inspired by social media technologies, it is neither fair nor accurate. Indeed, this perspective of ‘technological determinism’ overemphasizes the power of social media and de-emphasizes the role of activists. In reality, the different political and social restrictions placed on the internet in the United States compared to the Arab world shape how social media technologies are perceived in the respective societies. This, in turn, has changed the role of social media in the social movements. Specifically, Americans, Egyptians, and Iranians all have different experiences with the Internet due to issues of access and censorship. Whereas in the United States internet access is almost universal and the government cannot control what online content is published, this is not the case in Egypt or Iran. I will argue that the limitations placed on a society’s access to information via the Internet changes the usefulness of social media in aiding protest movements.
In particular, the role of social media in Arab Spring is restricted by the limited internet access in Arab and Middle Eastern nations. For instance, as of a 2009 study, only 24.3% of the Egyptian population are internet users; in Iran 38.6.1% of the population use the internet, the highest percentage in the Middle East (U.S. Census Bureau). In fact, the Arab world has a much slower growth in Internet use in comparison to the rest of the world. By the end of 2001 only 2.45% of the total population of Arab nations and Iran used the internet. In contrast, 78% of the United States population are internet users (U.S. Census Bureau). Moreover, Melissa Lerner points out that Internet access in the Arab world is limited to the educated elite because of the high cost of computers and web access, as well as the English language requirement to use many Internet programs (558). This limited internet access restricts the use of social media to the elite classes, and thus reduces its usefulness in protest movements. Moreover, the usefulness of social media in promoting social activism is further restricted by government censorship.
In particular, while the right to freedom of speech and information is guaranteed to American protesters, censorship is a major challenge for protesters against authoritarian regimes, especially in Iran. Western commentators, including Dalia Kaye , author of “Arab Spring, Persian Winter”, initially anticipated Iran to follow the example of other Middle Eastern countries in rising up against their long-time President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (183). Indeed, the Green Movement in Iran that emerged after the disputed 2009 election of President Ahmadinejad resurged briefly in February 2011 in solidarity with the protests in Tunisia and Egypt (Kaye et al 183). However, censorship and repression by the Iranian government largely quashed the protests. Censorship in Iran is characterized by government monitoring of anti-government activists’ activity on the Internet, and blocking their attempts to recruit people to the cause. For example, in 2001 the Iranian government required all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to remove anti-government and anti-Islamic sites from their services, and all ISPs were placed under state control (Lerner 560). A 2004 law further created 20 types of punishable web-based offenses and set up a special unit to investigate and punish Internet crimes (Lerner, 561). A similar police unit was set up in Egypt to crack down on online opposition to the government during Mubarak’s reign (Bix 335).
For this reason, the dangers for online activists in authoritarian nations are very real. By openly protesting against the authoritarian government citizens put their freedom at stake. For example, the Egyptian protester Abdel Kareem was sentenced to 4 years in prison for the harsh criticism of President Mubarak on his blog (Lerner 560). Consequently, Melissa Lerner describes how many opposition bloggers even practice “self-censorship” so as not to criticize the government so overtly as to put themselves more at risk of persecution or imprisonment (568). In this way, censorship dilutes the voices of social activists online. This contradicts predictions of the democratizing power of social media made by scholars like Clay Shirky. Indeed, social media does not shift the balance of power to the masses, but rather government retains the power to monitor and punish dissident activity. Indeed, Ameripour Aghil illustrates through his study of internet campaigns in Iran that the internet actually gives the government new tools of surveillance to monitor suspected activists (257). In this sense, the issue of government monitoring is what reduces the potential of social media for social activism in authoritarian nations compared to in the United States.
For instance, the implication of this form of censorship is that opposition groups in authoritarian states face increased challenges to reach their audience or spread their message because someone is always watching. This issue of government monitoring dissident voices on the internet changes the nature of how the internet is used to disseminate anti-government ideas. For example, the internet has been used to popularize the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the United States through their website, Facebook page, and Twitter account. Without fear of persecution for spouting criticisms of the government or financial system, the Occupy protesters use the internet as a publicity tool to build an online following. Moreover, showing support for the Occupy Wall Street movement online by following their Twitter account or liking their Facebook page has no real consequences for the individual activists. Morozov calls this type of online activism ‘slacktivism’ because it requires such little effort or risk compared to physical activism (312). In contrast, the risks for social activists operating on the internet in Iran or Egypt are much greater because online activism has real consequences. For fear of persecution if discovered, Lerner describes how social activists under authoritarian governments must use social media in secret and use strategies to hide their activity from the government, such as constantly changing domain names of their web pages (569). This limits the usefulness of social media in publicizing anti-government sentiment or organizing mass protests because the internet is constantly monitored. Thus, contrary to predictions of a ‘Twitter Revolution’, social media does not make uprising against authoritarian governments easier because online activists face the same challenges and persecution as physical activists. For this reason, compared to the Occupy Wall Street movement, social media has not become an outlet for anti-government protesters to sound their opinions in Arab nations.
Instead, social media has had the opposite effect; censorship in authoritarian nations has shaped social media into a platform for government propaganda. For example, Lerner describes how the Iranian blogosphere is not dominated by reformist voices, but rather by conservative voices that enthusiastically support the government (570). Thus, citizens of governments that practice heavy censorship have much less access to voices critical of the government than Americans do, which makes it more difficult for social activists to use social media to inspire followers. As a result, the internet and social media is more useful as a communication tool amongst already-established activists than a way to ignite a revolutionary spark amongst the population. Particularly, Acuff argues that although social activists during Arab Spring did use Twitter and Facebook to an extent to organize protest, word of mouth was just as, if not more, important (231). In this way, during the Arab Spring social media was simply one of the many tools of communication used to organize protest; the technology itself did not facilitate revolutions.
Therefore, I have illustrated that issues of internet access and government censorship have led social media to be utilized differently in Occupy Wall Street compared to Arab Spring. Specifically, social media plays a less important role in Arab nations and Iran because it is not accessible to the majority of the population, and is heavily monitored by the government. Moreover, I will now argue that issues of access and censorship actually change the way the internet is perceived in a society. In turn, the perception of the internet in Arab nations further limits the potential of social media to promote social activism. Overall, this will demonstrate that the myth of the Twitter Revolution is much overhyped.
Specifically, in the United States and the Arab World, access to the internet shapes the society’s perception of it and presents limitations for its use in social activism. For instance, in the U.S. the vast majority of the population has access to the internet, and since the internet is not censored it represents a vast, global source of information. In this sense, in America the internet represents freedom of information, a gateway to a global society, and even an equalizing agent because everyone has access to the same information. With this in mind, it is understandable that western scholars see the internet as having the power to democratize and globalize the world. However, societies like Egypt and Iran with less access and more censorship have had a different experience with the internet, and thus perceive it differently. Rather than being associated with equality, freedom of information and reflective of democracy, the internet is simply a continuation of the socioeconomic inequalities and political restrictions experienced in society. Specifically, internet access is restricted to elite and online activism is subject to government persecution. For this reason, social media is not viewed as a revolutionary, democratizing force in the Arab World. It is simply another means of communication. As a result, this perception of the internet in Arab societies limits the importance of social media in mobilizing revolutionaries. Overall, in Arab Spring, social media technology is just another communicative tool that is used in the same way similar communication technologies have been used throughout history; it has no new, transformative power.
Consequently, the role of social networking sites in the Arab Spring revolutions has been over-hyped by the western media. In this, I have disproved the myth of the ‘Twitter Revolution’ by showing that social media did not play a critical role in inspiring the Arab Spring revolutions. For this reason, I will argue that western commentators placed too much significance on the method of protest when instead they should emphasize the stakes involved in the revolution. Indeed, the myth of the Twitter Revolution gives too much credit to technology when it is really the activists and the stakes that they face that define a protest movement. By examining how the stakes differ between Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, I will show that they are distinctly different movements that cannot be generalized into one, global uprising of the 99%. In this, I will disprove the myth of the 99% and the American Autumn.
IV. Pepper Spray vs. Bullets: The Different Stakes of Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring
It is important to consider the stakes involved in different social movements because they have a central impact on how the movement is perceived by society as well as the efficacy of the movement. When I speak of stakes, I refer to what is at stake for the society as whole as well as what is at stake for the individual protester. In particular, the goals of a social movement in how it plans to alter the nation are key to consider because they determine how the movement and the social activists will be viewed by society.
For instance, much more was at stake for nations during the Arab Spring Revolutions than what is at stake for American society today.The magnitude of the goals of the Occupy movement and Arab Spring revolutions do not compare. Indeed, the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions aimed to change the very political and social structure of their country from authoritarian to democratic. For example, since 1956, Tunisia had been governed by a dictatorship; Zine el-Abidine Bel Ali ruled Tunisia from 1987 until he was ousted in January 2011 (Bix 332). The aim of the Tunisian revolution was to create new, more democratic society with a new constitution, more freedom of the press and no more secret police (Bix 333). Similarly, the goal of the Egyptian revolution was to overthrow an entrenched, corrupt President Mubarak and in the process create a new Egypt.Even now, Egyptians continue to struggle against military rule in order to realize their dream of freedom from political repression (Bix 334). In contrast, the Occupy Wall Street protests do not seek to fundamentally change society or overthrow the existing financial and political systems. Their only demand is to increase taxes on the top 1% of Americans, and have no specific plans to revise the way income is distributed in society (Reich). In this way, the Occupy movement acts as a symbol the American public’s discontent with the growing divide between rich and poor and the dissolution of the American dream. Unlike Arab Spring, it does not threaten the very make-up of the country. For this reason, I will argue that it is unfair to make direct comparisons between the Occupy protests and the Arab Spring revolutions because the stakes for society are not the same.
Similarly, and perhaps because of the movement’s societal implications, the individual risks involved in protest against authoritarian compared to against more liberal governments are inherently different. Indeed, protesters during the Arab Spring revolutions risked their lives and freedom in standing up to repressive governments, while Occupy protesters sacrifice only a certain level of comfort and security for their ideals. For example, Human Rights Watch estimates that from January to March as many as 300 protesters may have been killed during the Egyptian revolution. More recently, during the protests against military rule in Egypt, 28 protesters have died and 1700 have been injured since November 19th. Autopsies have shown that the majority of deaths are from being shot by live bullets fired by riot police, the rest attributed to asphyxiation from the tear gas used on protesters (“Egypt: Protesters’ Blood”).The situation is even worse in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad desperately tries to cling to power. Specifically, between mid-April and the end of August, Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 587 civilians were killed by security forces, and 104 more have died since November second (“Syria: Crimes Against Humanity”).
In contrast, the most outrageous instance of police brutality during the Occupy Wall Street movement so far has been the use of pepper spray by a police officer on University of California Davis students blocking a sidewalk (Preston 5). However, this pales in comparison to the instances of violence used against protesters under authoritarian governments in Egypt and Syria. Moreover, by openly protesting against the authoritarian government citizens not only put their lives at risk, but also their freedom. For example, Melissa Lerner describes how the Egyptian protester Abdel Kareem was sentenced to 4 years in prison for the harsh criticism of President Mubarak on his blog (560). Unlike their Arab Spring counterparts, the Occupy Wall Street protesters already enjoy the right to freedom of speech and assembly, and thus do not endanger their lives or risk becoming a political prisoner as a result of their actions. For this reason, it is unfair to place Arab Spring revolutionaries, who risked everything to create a better nation, on an equal level with Occupy Wall Street protesters who are not asked to choose their ideals over their lives.
By now, it is clear that the stakes involved in Occupy versus Arab Spring are very different. Now, however, it is important to ask: why is this significant? I will argue that it is important to consider the stakes involved because they directly affect the participation in the movement and how a social movement is perceived by society, which in turn impacts the success of the movement. It is the risks that social activists confront and the stakes that they overcome on a daily basis, not their methods, that truly classifies social activism. As a result, the personal risks and sacrifices social activists make on behalf of their ideals define how their cause is viewed by society as a whole. This has a direct impact on the efficacy of their social activism. For this reason, I will argue that the stakes of activism in a social movement is the key determinant of its success.
In social movement theory, there are different lines of though in how the stakes of activism influences participation in the protest. One line of thought, the rational choice theory of social movements, claims that the increased personal risk and the fear that comes with being a social activist under an authoritarian regime would discourage people from participating in protest. Indeed, this is the theory that governments base their repressive policies on, hoping that they will keep citizens from standing up against them. As Giguere and Lalonde explain, this theory is based on the idea that collective action participation is predominantly strategic, in that individuals will only engage in social activism when they perceive it to be of instrumental value (231). From this rational choice perspective, the benefits of a more democratic society must appear greater than the costs of opposing the government for people to engage in social activism. For instance, this theory would explain why the Iranian government’s swift crackdown on protesters during the Green Movement of 2009 and the February protests of 2011 was sufficiently brutal to curb the movement. Indeed, Jonathon Acuff argues that in Iran, which is more economically stable than Tunisia or Egypt, “the economy has to get much worse for most Iranians to calculate that the risks of defying the Basij militia, the police, and the military are worth the payoffs,” (228).Overall, this perspective assumes that humans are rational above all else, that self-preservation is their primary concern, and that they would not act out if the costs outweighed the benefits of social activism.
However, I will argue that repression can actually band citizens together and inspire collective action. In particular, the rational choice model would predict that more people would be involved in Occupy Wall Street than the revolutions during Arab Spring because there is less risk involved. However, in reality, a recent Associated Press poll found that only about 30% of American respondents support the Occupy Wall Street movement (Kellman). The number of Americans actively involved in the Occupy Movement is much smaller; at its peak 10,000 Occupy Wall Street protesters converged on Times Square (Kellman). In contrast, recently over a million Egyptians gathered in Tahrir square to honor the martyrs of the January revolution (Anthropology Today, i). This show of solidarity reflects the greater respect and support for the protest movements amongst Egyptian compared to American society. In fact, this is an indication that citizens living under a repressive regime felt more sympathy with the protesters, perhaps because they were portrayed as heroes or martyrs in society.
In fact, the greater respect for and participation in the Arab Spring revolutions compared to Occupy Wall Street can be explained by the importance of martyrs in bringing societies together during the uprisings. It can even be argued that the martyrdom of a single individual incited the wave of revolutions that came to be called Arab Spring. This individual was Mohammed Bouazizi, a poor, young street vendor who came to symbolize the desperation of Tunisia’s youth and poor in a time of economic depression, mass unemployment, and political repression. His sole means of supporting himself was confiscated by the government, and he was humiliated by being slapped in the face by a policewoman; in protest of his mistreatment Bouazizi set himself on fire (Bix 332). In this instance, Herbert Bix argues that Bouazizi was transformed into the first martyr of the revolution and served as a rallying point to inspire popular uprising against the corrupt and repressive government (332). Anger and sympathy for his plight and for the thousands that he represented united and inspired Tunisians to engage in collective social activism despite the risks it entailed. The stakes were indeed high and dangers very real, as 219 civilians died during the unrest of the protests. However, within a few weeks of Bouazizi’s self-immolation on December 17th, the Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, in power for nearly a quarter of a century, was ousted (Bix 332). In this case, a tragic, sympathetic example of repression by the Tunisian government provided the motivation for thousands of Tunisians to become involved in social activism despite the risks it presented.
Here, Bouazizi’s story refutes the predictions of the rational-choice perspective, because it illustrates that government repression can actually form stronger ties between individuals and inspire increased activism. Indeed, higher stakes and personal risks involved in protest actually increase the legitimacy of the protest in the eyes of society, and thus increase its ability to affect change. The victimization of protesters can often build sympathy amongst the larger population and thus build support for the movement. Moreover, the portrayal of protesters as martyrs is not culturally specific to the Arab World, nor is this tactic only successful against authoritarian governments in the Middle East. Indeed, Johnson Davis argues that during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the images of peaceful protesters being beaten by riot police and attacked by police dogs during marches in Birmingham in 1963 helped build sympathy for the plight of African Americans amongst the white majority of the population (5). In these examples, violent government retaliation against protesters can actually bring legitimacy to protest movements in the eyes of the larger population, building majority support for the movement, and thus making the activism more effective.
This strategy is also reflected in press coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. For example, Rick Hampson points out that the Occupy movement began to receive more press attention once allegations of police brutality against protesters sprang up (3). To be sure, violence captures the public’s attention; the pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis got more press attention than the ideals the Occupy movement is espousing. However, in comparison to the risks protesters took in Arab Spring and the Civil Rights movement, the stakes involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests are not high enough to win the sympathy and support of the majority of the American public. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street must overcome the negative connotations that Americans have of social activists in order to be effective. For example, Stephen Valocchi argues that ever since the era of Nazism and Stalinism during WWII, Americans have associated social activists with radicalism, explaining that “when people thought about social movements, they usually thought of these totalitarianisms which delivered misery to so many,” (15). Instead, Americans believed that their democratic systems was a model for peaceful social change, rendering mass activism unnecessary, and were suspicious of social activists. This historical bias against social activists presents additional challenges to the Occupy Wall Street movement that prevents it from earning sympathy from the majority of Americans. Overall, the small stakes as well as ingrained bias against social activists in the United States limits the efficacy of the Occupy Wall Street movement because it can only force the government and financial institutions to undergo real change if a majority of the population supports it.
Therefore, I have shown that the stakes involved in Arab Spring compared to Occupy Wall Street are strikingly different, and described how these stakes have influenced the success of the social movements. The stakes for society as well as individual protesters are much higher in the Arab Spring revolutions, and the victimization of activists by authoritarian governments has actually earned the sympathy and support of the larger population. This is the main reason why the Arab Spring revolutions have been more successful than the Occupy Wall Street movement thus far. The different stakes are also why it is unfair to put Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street on an equal level or generalize them into a global movement toward greater democracy and equality. In this, I have illustrated why the myth of the 99% and the idea of the American Autumn are inaccurate and problematic. In particular, the depiction of Occupy Wall Street as an American counterpart to Arab Spring, an ‘American Autumn’, lends the Occupy movement more power than it actually has. Associating Occupy Wall Street with Arab Spring creates unrealistic expectations of the ability of the social movement to create significant change in the United States.
V. Conclusion: Implications for the Occupy Wall Street Movement
The portrayal of Occupy Wall Street as an American Autumn and the related myths of the 99% and the Twitter Revolution all tend to paint America as the source and banner-carrier for democratic change in the world. Indeed, this construct of the global movement of the 99% toward greater democracy and equality, a movement facilitated by American social media technology, draws from the United State’s self-image as a beacon of democracy. The United States sees itself as a world leader and inspiration for democratic change in the world, but this self-image has been tarnished as of late by unpopular wars in the Middle East and America’s declining economic power in the world. However, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the myth of the American Autumn are seen as a way to correct this, to believe in the democratic image of America again.
However, styling Occupy Wall Street as an American Autumn sets up an unrealistic expectation of the magnitude of democratic change that the Occupy movement can achieve. In particular, compared to the Arab Spring uprisings, Occupy Wall Street is more of a symbol of the American public’s discontent than a truly revolutionary movement. The goals of the movement are not defined enough to convince the majority of Americans that it is a worthwhile cause, and the stakes are not high enough for the Occupy protesters to win the sympathy of the American public. In addition, Occupy Wall Street protesters must struggle against historically negative connotations of social activists as the radicals on the ‘fringe’ of society. Felix Kolb points out that social movements can only overcome this initial distrust by the American public by gaining support from the elites (56). However, Occupy Wall Street purposely distances itself from the elites by styling them as the ‘1%’ that is the source of inequality and corruption in society. For this reason, the ability of Occupy Wall Street to effect real change in America’s political or financial institutions is limited. Indeed, I believe that the symbolic Occupy Wall Street movement can only be meant with what Kolb calls, “symbolic politics” (21). If the Occupy Wall Street movement sustains a following over the next months and is able to generate this into political power, then the most it can achieve is symbolic legislative change that does not fundamentally restructure American politics or financial system. Overall, Occupy Wall Street can never be as successful as the Arab Spring revolutions have been because American society does not have high enough stakes to translate into revolutionary potential.
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