Arab Spring, American Autumn, Global Spring

Guy Fawkes graffiti in Zamalek, Cairo.

I’ve been home from my excursion to Egypt and the Netherlands for a few days now, long enough to let a few of my thoughts coalesce into something approaching coherence. The trip left me solidified my sympathy for the idea that there has been “something in the air” over the last year or so, a globalized mood of resistance that echoes earlier moments of rupture like 1848 and 1968. The ongoing occupations of Tahrir Square and Beursplein felt familiar, so much so that a friend and colleague of mine noted that the musk inside Tahrir’s tents reminded her of Occupied Zuccotti.

One of the several dozen tents occupying Tahrir Square. 

Our movements are, of course, distinct. Occupy Wall Street is not Tahrir. It’s not even Occupy Amsterdam. We have localized concerns and divergent aims. To insist that they are a single project or in functional collaboration would likely be overstatement and possibly smack of co-option. But they are, I believe, linked in the imaginations of those of us involved. It’s no secret that Occupy claims inspiration from the Arab Spring, and the abundance of Guy Fawkes graffiti in Cairo (it’s honestly more common there than in New York City) suggests that the link is felt there as well.

This link of the imagination is not as fragile and trite as it might first sound. Remember that the revolutions of the Arab Spring were each separable, spurred by specific causes and launched against local tyrants. But it was in the imaginative link–the cross-national trafficking of inspiration–that the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor in turn set the entire region ablaze.

The forces that we resist are separate, but they are linked. The inequities and injustices perpetuated by underregulated capitalism and military & political power plays pursued in the name of “national interests” know no borders. Corporations use this vision of globalization as a bludgeon, insisting that countries accede to their demands of miniscule tax rates and a neutered (preferably abuseable) workforce lest they pick up their capital and flee unregulated pastures abroad. States act similarly; in return for playing nice with Israel, the US dumps a billion dollars a year into Egypt’s military, money that is now directly funding the oppression of the country’s activists.

If the forces and entities we oppose are able to imagine their interests on an international scale, we must counter them by doing the same. A solidarity of the imagination is not imaginary solidarity. On the contrary; it’s only by imagining ourselves as sharing common cause that we can become a worldwide network of resistance. This isn’t to say that we assume that the fights of others are the same as our own–thereby denying the specific histories that brought them forth–but we also shouldn’t deny that in a world that is essentially global, our struggles are somehow essentially separate.

And judging by the “Tahrir to Zuccotti” signs I’ve seen in NYC and the Guy Fawkeses cropping up on Cairo walls, it seems like this is a realization that is already taking hold as we move into what some are hopefully calling a #GlobalSpring.

Occupy Amsterdam.

In other news, I’d be a real jerk if I didn’t share some more pics of the amazing street art I saw in Cairo:


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