High schools and universities were extremely politicized in Italy, when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Every teacher had an opinion they were not afraid to voice with their students, they all proudly belonged to a trade union and would be kind enough to tell us in advance when they were planning to strike. Anathema to a politically correct American way of thinking but it’s what we knew. As students, the right to protest and put forth demands was also strongly felt, or just welcome, if it meant missing a whole day of school. Some of us did participate in the protests, some simply stayed home and watched tv. Either way, entering the political arena so young made for opinions formed early and for the conviction that making our voices heard would amount to change.
Thirty years later, comfortably settled in the States, my convictions are wavering. The right to strike and protest is still heavily exercised in countries like Spain and Greece (and, I imagine, in Italy soon) that have been hit the hardest by the draconian economic measures demanded by the European Union to achieve fiscal health. But I am wondering how much conviction lies at the heart of such protests and demands, in the knowledge there is no money to satisfy them. Rather, it feels like the venting of pent-up anger, directed at inept and corrupt leaders, at a banking system that has failed us globally and at personal situations that seem to have no positive outcome.
The Occupy Wall Street movement inspired many across the board and, if it achieved one thing only, it was to put the massive failure of our banks and economic system as a whole at the forefront of the public discourse. It became impossible to ignore how the mortgage crisis came about and the impact that Big Money had on a teetering middle class that was lured into taking bigger and bigger steps into the murky world of borrowing.
For a brief moment, it felt like the Occupy movements that were springing up all over the country, all the offshoots of Zuccotti Park, from Boston to Tampa, would coalesce into a crescendo akin to the protests against the Vietnam war. Maybe the clear lack of demands and of leadership, exactly what the movement wanted to avoid, failed it and rendered it ineffective. Too much democracy without a codified system drowned the hopeful voices, a Spring that quashed itself.
We continue to be amazed that big bonuses are still being awarded to some of the culprits of the mess we find ourselves in, that nothing much has changed in our banking system, that nobody has really paid for a financial collapse that has affected 90% of the American population’s pockets – but how many of us stopped to ask questions of our Representatives and Senators, transferred our checking accounts, looked into our mortgages? Maybe we were just too busy trying to get by but I would like to think that organized protests, with clear demands and sustained participation can still achieve change. Or have I become as archaic as my ideas?
As sofagirl pointed out, sometimes when so much is so wrong, the only option we have is to scream. Whether we are screaming in the right key or not .. Is unimportant … At least the silence is broken.