“American Spring”

Some demonstrators camping out in Wall Street and in other US cities protesting corporate power say they are taking inspiration from the “Arab Spring”. Except for the sleeping bags and volunteer caterers, it doesn’t seem obvious that the comparison holds. In Egypt the protest movement was bringing down a long standing political dictatorship risking death, prison and torture. At it’s most trivial, the Wall Street demonstrators when asked what they intended to do could say, “hand out chalk to write grafitti on walls”. But that is not the end of the story. Both the American and Arab springs want to have a system where the real power holders are held accountable.

Hosni Mubarak was Egypt’s supreme power. He is now in the dock. Egypt had the skeleton of democratic institutions. It held rigged elections. It looks like there will be flesh on upcoming elections, where the voters’ ballots will count.

In the US, protestors are not after the military or executive branch dictators. They are after corporate power for using its resources to subvert democratic accountability. In Egypt, political institutions were not responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people. This might seem to be analogous to protestors’ view of the situation in the US, where money trumps the express preferences of the people. After all, poll after poll shows the American public in favor of increasing taxes on the wealthiest. Why aren’t their taxes increased?

To answer that question, it isn’t enough to say that corporate money is responsible. Polls reflect the general public’s preferences. However, only 41.6% of the eligible voters voted in the 2010 elections (a record for mid term elections). If election day was a day off from work in the US, as it is in a number of European countries, perhaps elections would play their role in holding power accountable, as more citizens exercise their rights.

Protestors should look to solutions that are right under their noses. For example, at the same time they work to expose corporate misuse of power, they should work to stop efforts in a growing number of states to suppress voter turnout in the 2012 elections. We don’t have to rebuild democratic institutions from scratch, just repair them.
— Elizabeth Spiro Clark