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Monday, 17 October 2011

Wall Street protesters inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Anna Hazare

MUMBAI The late Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela, who led vast movements to bring equality and freedom to their people, have often acknowledged the inspirational role of Mahatma Gandhi. These leaders, notably King as well as movements like Poland's Solidarity, were users of Gandhian techniques such as civil disobedience, apart from drawing broader inspiration from the leader of India's epic struggle for Independence.

The Indian influence is echoing again and this time at an unlikely place - Wall Street, New York, the financial capital of the world. Thousands of American citizens, protesting under the banner Occupy Wall Street, against alleged greed and corruption in that country, are using tactics made famous by Gandhi and recently used by the mass movement in India against corruption, led by his self-proclaimed follower Anna Hazare.

"The spirit of Mahatma Gandhi is felt tremendously here. Occupy Wall Street is a non-violent movement," said Guillaume Marceau, in an email interview. Marceau, a PhD student in computer science, is a representative for the New York General Assembly that spearheads the protests whose organisers describe it as a "leaderless resistance movement".

Marceau says Occupy Wall Street is drawing on the "technical and spiritual leadership of the classic non-violent leaders, such as Gandhi".

"The community here has gone to great reconfirm its commitment to non-violence, even in the face of the growing numbers of people here in Liberty Plaza who have been victims of police attacks. As Gandhi taught, the discipline of non-violence displayed by the people here at Liberty Plaza helped convince millions of people - visibly, viscerally - that we hold the moral high ground. With each wave of police action, we grow stronger next day," Marceau added.

The first call for mass protests came from a Canadian anticonsumer, pro-environment group called Adbusters, which on July 13 issued a call to 'occupy' Wall Street. Since then similar protests have sprung up in 1,500 locations across the US. Occupy Wall Street claims to represent the 99% that is paying for excesses of the 1% which comprise the ruling elite. And they "will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%".

The movement, which is still debating its goals and demands, is keen to get the government to provide relief for the 12 million people who are long-term unemployed - as a starting point.

While Anna Hazare's anticorruption agitation is widely followed, Marceau argues there is a significant difference between the two movements. "Anna Hazare's movement's main thrust was to push specific Bills through the government. Here at Occupy Wall Street, (it) is not at all clear whether people trust this channel of action anymore.

Still, all the options are on the table while the conversations and strategic planning continues," Marceau added. While Indian media is credited with acting as a force multiplier for Hazare, thus putting pressure on the government, the US media, which was eager to report on Tahrir Square protests, has been accused of ignoring a mass movement closer home.

"Certainly, you can imagine a character, maybe an uncle, who finds faults in everyone around him, but never in himself. We imagine countries would rise above the biases commonly found in people, but they really don't. After all, countries are made out of people," the activist riposted.

But the movement has now got the media's attention. "That said, after four weeks of protests...we are happy that we are getting broad news coverage, and enough popular support across to withstand (New York) Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg's eviction threat."


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