Sunday, October 2, 2011

How Do You Expect to Succeed Today Without a Good Education?

You just can't satisfy some people. Yesterday on NPR's comedy quiz program Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!, one of the panelists told host Peter Sagal she'd heard someone call the Occupy Wall Street protesters "the most overeducated group of protesters that's ever assembled" (at 6:06 in the podcast), which I guess is a bad thing. She must have forgotten the students and teachers who opposed the Vietnam War, racial segregation in the US, apartheid, nuclear proliferation, and so on.

Sagal did, at least, mention the protesters who were pepper-sprayed by the police, which is more than the BBC could bring itself to do. In an article recounting the temporary release of hundreds of protesters who'd been arrested while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, the Beeb mentioned delicately, "The protesters have had previous run-ins with New York's police." Also, "Some protesters accused the police of not issuing warnings or of tricking them on to the roadway, accusations the police denied." Official denials usually amount to confirmation, of course. And that's not to mention beatings, throwdowns, body slams, and copping the occasional feel. (Bad pun, I know, but I couldn't resist. Also, the significance of the white shirts:)

Even the corporate media are finally covering these protests, which they initially derided as too small and insignificant to merit their attention. (They don't say that about right-wing protests, of course, no matter how small. Fox News will even use video footage of bigger marches to make it seem that the Tea Party is a bigger draw than it actually is.) Not too surprisingly, numerous "progressives" agreed at first with the media. The protests are spreading across the country, which is a hopeful sign.

But not too hopeful. It looks as though the Arab Spring protests may not have been too successful in the long run. In Egypt, for example, Mubarak was forced out of office and put on trial; but his successor was another thug, the Supreme Military Council took over the government, and so far the promised transition to civilian rule is nowhere in sight.

Military trials of Egyptian civilians persist and the military leadership has expanded and extended the 30-year-old, widely criticized Emergency Law once used by Mubarak to justify his authoritarian tactics.
Now that the canaille are mostly off the streets and the Egyptian military is securely in control, it's safe to talk in Western media about democracy in the Arab world.

The references to the Arab Spring I've seen in coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests reminded me of the huge protests that rocked South Korea three years ago, objecting to President Lee Myung-bak's autocratic and corrupt rule, and to his collaboration with international business interests. For months, Koreans of all ages and from all walks of life gathered in downtown Seoul (and later, in city centers around the country) every night in candlelight vigils, coordinated via cellphone and Internet; sound familiar? There were even calls for Lee's impeachment.  Americans writing for the English-language press in Korea clucked and tut-tutted over the foolishness of the unruly masses. I wrote a lot about those demonstrations on this blog at the time, and I was perplexed at the lack of interest they inspired among progressives in the US. Our corporate media paid more attention, just because the protests threatened to derail the "Free Trade Agreement" that Lee and George W. Bush (and later Barack Obama) wanted to impose on the country.

Lee did a lot of damage control, making pro forma apologies and reshuffling his cabinet; for a while it looked like some of his pet crony-capitalist projects, like the cross-Korea canal (a bonanza for land speculators) would have to be abandoned. But after the protesters declared victory, Lee returned to his old tricks, trying to intimidate the media and the public to prevent any further interference with his plans. The canal is back on track. Even US beef imports, the nominal focus of the first protests, were permitted. President Lee's party took a serious hit in the municipal elections last year, leading to more apologies and cabinet reshuffles by Lee, but no change of course. Nowadays Lee's administration is riven by corruption scandals (much like that of his predecessor, the late Noh Mu-hyun), and Lee claims that his administration is "morally perfect." The Obama administration has worked comfortably with Lee, no doubt because of our president's own perfection.

Whatever success the Occupy Wall Streets achieve, there will be concerted efforts to roll them back, by people in high places with plenty of money. Democracy is always embattled. This is only to be expected; those who support this new movement should bear it in mind.