Last night Marina and I had the treat of attending a “political salon” hosted by the World Policy Institute. This was a get-together with nibbles and wine, but structured around a discussion. Dr. Mira Kamdar — author of Planet India, she is American but lives in Paris and studies India — focused the discussion on the question of how to think about the many populist protest movements going on around the world — the Occupy movements here, the anti-corruption protests in India, the Arab Spring, even signs of dissent in China. The question for all of us — are these movements similar, different, connected, significant, and, where is this all going? Quite a lot to discuss in a couple of hours around a table with bright experts and professors of various sorts. The highlight for me came in a break when I got to speak to one academic who is himself an Occupier.
The main objection to the Occupy movement is that it is a protest without an agenda — I called it a “howl,” a visceral expression of pain, but not yet a party with a platform. The Occupier, whose name I did not get, made a point which suddenly explained everything to me. Occupy is actually a process, not a platform. That is, the idea of Occupation is what has spread from New York around the nation (the world is another question, see below). So anyone can follow the model of the Wall St. action. But the issues that matter to Occupiers will vary depending on the place. So, he explained, one key issue on Wall St. is very local — the actions of the NYC Police in so-called “stop and frisk” laws — actions that our local NPR station had been investigating years ago. So while the catchy slogans about 99% and 1% are national and even international, a key issue here is about policies in one city.
In her talk, Mira made a similar point. The protests in India are entirely different from those here. They are political, and indeed designed to defeat the governing Congress Party. The various expressions of Arab Spring may all involve masses of people in a public space, but the issues vary by nation. Hearing all of this, I realized that what the protests have in common is that they are the product of our moment — when, in one sense, we are instantly connected, and, in another, we clump into niches, Facebook friends, listservs. Unlike the 60s, where there was a clear Us/Them split on Vietnam, on lifestyle, hair, music, drugs, race — now there is connection and clumping. And that leads me to the CC. Because we need to prepare young people to understand and analyze these movements which are, and will be, in their backyards. Teenagers need to learn to think on the fly, to make sense of both the big picture and the local expressions. And it is those critical thinking and critical reading skills the CC stresses.
So to go back to my post about Current Events, in a way the CC is the answer — we need to teach young people to think, as new Occupations, causes, parties, and issues swirl up, and fall away, around them daily.