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As 1 million people turn out for the Stanley Cup parade in Boston, hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Europe to decry proposed austerity measures:
Anti-austerity rallies have been held across Europe – in Spain thousands marched to protest against high unemployment and their government’s handling of the economic crisis.
It was the first major demonstration since the end of the so called Indignant campaign in which Madrid’s central square was occupied by activists for several weeks.
A protest movement called “The Indignant” is leading the way in Spain:
More than 100,000 protesters took to the streets in cities across Spain on Sunday, accusing politicians and bankers of implementing economic policies that led to the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone.
In Spain’s capital, Madrid, protesters converged near the parliament building where 500 police were deployed to maintain security. The police estimated that between 35,000 and 45,000 people joined the demonstrations with no reports of violence.
“I’m here because this is a con,” Juanjo Montiel, a 26 year old who works in information technology, told the news agency Reuters. …
Since its founding in May, the protest movement has fanned out across Spain with protesters on Sunday reading a manifesto calling for a general strike and for a revolution.
“The capitalist system does not work, it only benefits a few and harms the majority,” a young female protester told the news agency dpa. …
“The banks and the governments that caused this situation must know that we do not agree with the measures and the budget cuts, that we intend to be heard,” the “indignant” movement said when calling for nationwide protests.
With the official unemployment rate in Spain exceeding 20%, the rage felt by ordinary citizens is quite understandable. Their situation is in many ways similar to our own; after years of reckless profiteering by the banks and other corporations, ordinary citizens are now faced with the prospect of slashing social services to bail out the very entities that caused the crisis in the first place. There are, of course, crucial differences between them and us – perhaps the most notable being that people in Spain are actually turning out en masse to protest the latest proposed austerity measures.
But beyond that, the situation across Europe is different in that they actually have meaningful social services at risk of being lost. Universal health care, free or reduced college education and comprehensive unemployment benefits are the norm throughout the EU, meaning that normal citizens actually have a lot to lose if the proposed measures are implemented.
In the United States, we have nothing. As trillions go towards funding our bloated military and the five concurrent wars it is currently engaged in, countless millions lack access to affordable health care, a mere 26% of the population holds a Bachelor’s degree or above (and most college grads are saddled with debt), and millions face utter destitution as the meager unemployment benefits run out without any prospect of a job on the horizon.
There is little in the United States that could be cut at all. Our infrastructure is already crumbling and falling behind the rest of the developed world (even China is developing a high-speed rail system which puts Amtrak to shame), our educational system is substandard and declining, Social Security is approaching insolvency and provides a mere fraction of what is needed to survive, and the EPA exists as a mere puppet of corporate interests. Medicare and Medicaid are perhaps the two most successful programs we have, and while their loss would be devastating to the millions of people who depend on them to survive, the vast majority of Americans would be unaffected.
So in some ways it is understandable that Americans are not taking to the streets in protest in the same manner as those in Europe. Europeans have everything to lose, while we have nothing. But there are certainly some lessons that we could learn from demonstrators such as those in Spain, since they already have many of the things that we aspire to attain.
The missing ingredient in the United States is passion. People are passionate about sports, passionate about cars, passionate about music and clothes and technology, but almost no one is passionate about the politics. Virtually everyone I know has some complaint about the way things are – exorbitant insurance rates with paltry coverage, skyrocketing gas prices, predatory lending practices – but it rarely moves beyond the complaining stage. Most people will agree that things are bad, but no one seems willing to do anything about it.
One major problem is that we lack solidarity. We are isolated and fragmented, we lack the unified, coordinated movement necessary to bring out the numbers of people required to instigate meaningful reforms. Part of this is a lack of coverage from the corporate media; one reason why the Bruins rally was so well attended was that it was given widespread coverage in various corporate media outlets. In stark contrast, anti-corporate, anti-war, pro-social reform rallies attract absolutely no attention from the corporate media, regardless of how many people turn up. We could probably have a million people descend on Washington, DC demanding an end to our wars of aggression, but it would receive little more than a cursory blurb in all the major corporate outlets.
In the Internet age, we should be able to overcome this corporate media blackout. But given the vastness of the United States and the staggering scope of our problems, we shouldn’t hope to change things on a national scale – at least not yet. In the early stages, it seems prudent to focus on the local and state level, striving for such outcomes as Vermont’s recent enactment of universal, single-payer health care. And if enough local politicians are converted to the populist cause, it might be hoped that, someday, Washington will follow.