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Occupy Chicago Fri Oct 28 2011

Tariq Ali on the Arab Spring and #OccupyWallStreet

"Hey! think the time is right for a palace revolution
But where I live the game to play is compromise solution"

"Street Fighting Man," often hailed as the Rolling Stones' most political song, was allegedly inspired by Tariq Ali — political thinker, novelist, filmmaker and activist. Ali was involved in protesting the Vietnam war, and has written more than two dozen works of non-fiction and seven novels. Last night, he spoke at the Biograph Theater on the relation between the protests that resulted in the Arab Spring and the occupy movements that are spreading across the globe.

While he sees Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs as indication that "things are beginning to move" here in the US, he remains realistic — the occupations may not achieve the results the 99% want, yet are "creating a space" for something "totally different": for the realization that there is and must be an alternative to the "corporate capitalism" that rules what is effectively a one-party system. Democrat or Republican, the US government is comprised of what amounts to an "extreme center," in which politicians, when in power, wind up doing the same thing as their predecessor, regardless of party affiliation. And that one thing is simple: stay in the pockets of corporate capital, and stay in power.

Ali began his talk by pointing out how even the smallest beginning of a grassroots movement can have a global impact. When the Egyptians saw what the Tunisians had achieved — "not known for their political activities — they thought, "If they can do it, so can we." Those who ignited the Arab Spring were resoundingly doubted — no one thought they could do it. What the world witnessed during those months was not, certainly, unprecedented. Ali was clear that this had been brewing for three or four years prior to the eruption, as seen in factory strikes and demonstrations on a smaller scale.

The points here are two-fold: whether the occupy movements taking shape across the US and abroad would have happened at all without the impetus of the Arab Spring is doubtful, although possible in perhaps another form, and the occupy movements may amount to some of the "smaller demonstrations" that prefaced a larger uprising and true change brought about by Tahrir Square.

The Arab Spring and the occupy movements may differ in scale, but qualitatively they are very similar. The occupiers are railing against what they see as the "paralysis that has afflicted their politicians" and the "widespread disillusionment" in the wake of the Obama presidency. Obama (or at least the idea of him) who Ali cites as the "most inventive apparition the [American] Empire could develop," is little different from his predecessor. What the US got isn't change, it's "continuity with other imperial presidents before him."

At the end of the day, #OWS, #OccupyChi, and their brethren represent an opportunity, to which Ali really has only one thing to say: "Don't waste it."

If you missed last night's discussion, you can read more about his thoughts on the occupy movements and the Arab Spring here.

 
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