17N: the global revolutionary wave of 2011 thunders on

by Jerome Roos on November 18, 2011

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Right when the media were declaring the movement to be in decline, a massive global day of action radically reversed the expectations of the skeptics.

Imagine you had been asleep for the past year or so, and you suddenly woke up and tuned into today’s news: clashes in Rome and Milan, mass demonstrations in Athens, an uprising in Damascus, sit-ins in San Francisco, arrests in Madrid, huge protests in Chile, an enormous rally in New York, a worldwide student strike, and so on. Depending on whether you’re a career politician or an unemployed revolutionary, you’d either shit your pants in agony or jump through the roof in joy.

Having been attentively following and covering this movement from the very first day of the Egyptian Revolution — with an article entitled “The Global Revolutionary Wave of 2011?” — we have always hammered on the idea that this whole thing would spread, go global, and keep growing exponentially. But even I, the hopelessly naive romantic — obsessed as I was throughout my youth with 1789, 1848, 1917 and 1968 — had never expected to live through anything like this. Witnessing what 2011 has bloomed into just leaves me speechless.

This movement has had many key dates, all of which acquired special symbolic significance for those who were involved in organizing and rallying around them: January 14, the day the Tunisian Revolution toppled Ben Ali; January 25, the day that marked the beginning of the ongoing Egyptian Revolution; May 15, the start of the indignados movement in Spain; June 28-29, the 48-hour strike and brutal police crackdown on anti-austerity protesters in Athens; July 14, the start of the largest protest movement in Israeli history; August 24-25, the general strike and largest protests in Chile since the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship; September 17, the occupation of Wall Street and global anti-banks day; October 15, a global day of action and the spread of occupations around the world.

To that list, we can now add November 17: the day of the commemoration of the Polytechnic Uprising in Greece; the re-occupation of Wall Street by tens of thousands of protesters; the violent clashes in Rome, Milan and Turin following the installation of a non-democratic government in Italy; the mass student protests and worldwide university strike for International Student Day; and the global day of action in solidarity with the evictions in the US and in celebration of the 2-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. It was a day packed with action. Let’s break it down.

Greece Commemorates Polytechnic Uprising

In Athens, police fired tear gas and over 70 people were detained as tens of thousands marched through the city to commemorate the start of the Polytechnic uprising of November 17, 1973, which eventually toppled the US-backed military junta the year after. Today, 38 years later, many in Greece feel they are once again faced with a form of dictatorship — this time under the aegis of the markets. As Occupied London wrote, “then with tanks, now with banks.”

“We have an economic and political junta,” said Marita, a student at the Polytechnic, referring to last week’s installment of a so-called “technocratic” coalition government composed of neoliberal economists and self-declared neo-fascists. The coalition, headed by Lucas Papademos, a former Vice-President of the European Central Bank, will be responsible for enacting the most severe budget cuts so far and the largest privatization drive in Western history.

As is custom on 17N, the demonstrators marched on the US Embassy to protest against the dark role played by the United States in supporting and propping up the brutal military dictatorship. At the Embassy, violent clashes broke out with police, leaving at least one person severely injured and with two broken legs after falling down from a ledge while being chased by riot police.

Occupy Wall Street Fights Back!

Thought the Occupy movement was dying out? Think again. Two months after the start of Occupy Wall Street and following the violent eviction of the New York encampment on Tuesday, tens of thousands today re-occupied Zuccotti Park, shut down the Big Apple, and entirely blocked off all entrances to the New York Stock Exchange for a while. Afterwards, they marched on Union Square, Foley Square and Brooklyn Bridge in one of the largest rallies in the US so far.

Once again, the NYPD tried desperately to retain at least the illusion of control over the situation. The New York Times already reports over 200 arrests for today, with one protester seen leaving the scene with blood pouring from his face, and reports of attacks on photographers and peaceful protesters. None of this could stop Lower Manhattan from grinding to a near-complete halt, with protesters blocking off roads and occupying dozens of subway stations throughout the city .

Meanwhile, thousands of students from the occupation at the City University of New York blocked traffic as they marched to the streets on their way to the New School. Police tried to set up barricades but failed to stem the unstoppable flow of popular outrage from flooding into the streets. Labor unions were mobilized, too, and all marches eventually converged on Brooklyn Bridge — right where the NYPD pointlessly arrested 700+ protesters in October.

Students Strikes and Protests Across the World

While the actions in New York were the most headline-grabbing, similar rallies and occupations took place throughout the United States — and, indeed, throughout the world — as people everywhere expressed their solidarity with the evicted Wall Street occupiers and celebrated the 2-month anniversary of the Occupy movement. Rallies took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley, Portland, Washington, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, St Louis, Milwaukee, Nashville, Chicago, Boston, Vancouver, Toronto and countless other cities throughout the US and Canada.

In Spain, students started a one-week general strike and took to the streets of Madrid, Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, Tarragona, Palma, Sevilla, Santiago de Compostela, Murcia, Valencia, Castello, Alicante and Zaragoza. In Italy, clashes broke out in Milan as students tried to occupy Bocconi University, which is headed by Italy’s new Prime Minister, Mario Monti, in protest against the bankers’ government he heads. Thousands marched in Rome, Turin and Palermo, followed by more violent clashes with police.

Meanwhile, the epic saga of the Chilean student uprising continued with another day of protests in the city of Valparaiso. Once more, the students were faced with brutal police repression as water cannons and tear gas rained down them as they rallied in front of Congress. Remarkably, the students were joined by an astonishing 2,500 professors who arrived from all over the country in a 55-bus caravan.

In Paris, police broke up the occupation of the Defense business district. In Germany, student strikes, occupations, flash mobs and rallies took place in over a dozen cities, confirming the fact that the movement has even managed to penetrate into the bastion of European capitalism — one of the few eurozone members that has managed to stay on its financial feet throughout this crisis (at the expense of brutal austerity measures imposed on its neighbors).

Just witnessing all of this unfold in its beautifully chaotic cacophony, it is undeniable that something incredibly historic is afoot. Not only has the movement gone global in an unprecedented kind of way, it also appears to be picking up steam right at a time when critics and skeptics were starting to declare its slow demise. Far from fading out, the global revolutionary wave of 2011 just keeps thundering forward — and we’re still riding its crest. In fact, we’re only just getting started!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Juan Cárdenas November 18, 2011 at 11:17

Granada, Spain, students are occupying the Faculty of Philosophy and marched in protest yesterday


lidia November 18, 2011 at 16:30

“an uprising in Damascus”?

While in all other places there could be something connected to revolution, in Syria it is clearly the next state of imperialist intervention which has ruined Libya and is turning it into new Somalia. There is NO revolution if NATO and Saudis are on the side of it.


Jérôme E. Roos November 19, 2011 at 02:45

Since when is NATO in Syria?


lidia November 19, 2011 at 11:08

Since NATO included Turkey and Turkey, if you are not aware, are actively supporting armed Syrian “opposition”. Not mentioning France, for ex.

I see that you are not asking where are Saudis in Syria :(

Or do you believe that Saudi -made “revolution” is good enough?


lidia November 23, 2011 at 08:59

it seems we have no more disagreement, so could I ask you that next time you list revolutions, spend a minute to check the list up for any NATO/Saudi style “revolutions”.

Thanks and best wishes for real revolutions


Julien Febvre November 18, 2011 at 16:47

You could add this as well
In Ireland, over twenty thousand students demonstrated in Dublin yesterday against the introduction of student fees and the cutting of student grants. The main demonstration organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) but also the Free Education for Everyone was also included. (Find our more on Workers Solidarity Movement)


Fantastic article. I am going to translate it in Greek later…
Keep up this fantastic work


Julien Febvre November 18, 2011 at 16:51
Jérôme E. Roos November 19, 2011 at 02:46

Thanks Julien! Appreciate it!


Stephen November 18, 2011 at 17:36

It seems to me the fate of the movement rests in the EU right now. If the banksters retain power in elected governments in Italy and Greece the message will be very clear as to where control really lies. If the appointed technocrats can be forced out without violence then the movement will be unstoppable.


dave November 18, 2011 at 21:41

Nice piece Jerome, but I am curious why in your youth you weren’t obsessed with 1871 or 1936? At least as deserving of study as 1848 or 1968 no?


Jérôme E. Roos November 19, 2011 at 02:40

Totally! I wrote them down but decided it was too many numbers, so I kept the ones I expected to ring home with most readers. But you’re right, Barcelona’s social revolution and the Paris Commune are actually my two favorite historical episodes.


maja November 18, 2011 at 22:08

Hey Jerome E Roos at some stage please add to your list other ‘smaller’ countries where similar movements are taking place. I already mentioned that 99% (as we decided to call ourselves) is growing in Serbia. I think throughout the Western Balkans (eg. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina) people are joining up TO stand up to injustice. Check us out and join our group (yeah, its in Serbian but why not:)) THANKS !!! http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/SeRBian-ReVOLUTION-Globalna-ReVOLUCIJA-2011/188807321170391


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