Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Of Wall Street Protests and Echoes of Gdansk

October 13, 2011

Activists and analysts are increasingly comparing the current Occupy Wall Street protests with the recent Arab Spring demonstrations, but other comparisons can be drawn, and ultimately, “I look back to 1980 for my final historical frame,” says Institute Professor Michael D. Kennedy.

He and other professors were part of the "Thinking Crisis: Thinking Change: a Teach-in on the Occupy Movement" at Brown on Wednesday.

“Some invoke 1968 to warn that 2011 is doomed to failure," he writes in an article, “Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and Historical Frames: 2011, 1989, 1968,” published in the Jadaliyya online magazine. "Without roadmaps, without leaders, without clear and realistic policy choices, movements like these are destined for takeover by ideologues detached from knowing how to institutionalize democratic and peaceful change, and for destruction by authorities who know how to divide and conquer and/or to stimulate violence and hate within civil society if simple state repression is not enough.”

In contrast, “the largest social movement in history was named for the value that was its greatest resource, allowing it to organize more than nine million men and women in a non-violent movement for radical change, leading with workers’ rights while extending democracy, freedom, and equality. Poland’s Solidarity movement of 1980-81 grew in its demands, but was dedicated first and foremost to recognizing how demands might be local, but solutions are found by recognizing the struggles of others and sharing their burden across class, religious, and regional lines. And that lesson of solidarity was born in the struggles of 1968, where Polish communist authorities mobilized workers against protesting students, arguing that their calls for freedom marked them as enemies of socialism, justice, and equality."

"Identifications between Tahrir and Wall Street’s Liberty Square are nice, but solidarity remains to be made, and becomes increasingly important if the negative lessons of 1968 are not to be repeated. Solidarity, more than any other policy prescription, might be the greatest good to be realized in 2011, in anticipation of what 2012 can bring.”

Kennedy is a professor of sociology and international studies. His research explores the relationship between knowledge practices and global transformations.

Jadaliyya is an independent Internet magazine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, an organization that produces the Arab Studies Journal.