*Another reflection from class. I rarely comment twice on a subject, but this piece is well-written and more reflective than the first.
Going back to the readings from week 3 about the critiques of the vagueness and confusion caused by the term global civil society, I would like to offer some insights in the context of two recent transnational movements: The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.
In this regard, I find Hardt & Negri’s (2000) interpretation in Empire useful for understanding these broader movements that are situated in regional contexts, but immediately leap to international awareness. They note:
“Furthermore, these struggles not only fail to communicate to other contexts but also lack even a local communication, and thus often have a very brief duration where they are born, burning out in a flash. This is certainly one of the central and most urgent political paradoxes of our time: in our much celebrated age of communication, struggles have become all but incommunicable.” (p.54)
This is certainly true of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which encompasses a fragmented plethora of different issues like the critique of cut-throat capitalism, labour rights, indigenous rights, women’s rights, developing countries, income inequalities, and the list goes on. However, this movement has managed to displace media attention on the real human rights abuses in the Middle East’s Arab Spring, especially with the atrocities being committed in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen.
Certainly, the transnational movement of the Arab Spring fits all the characteristics of biopolitical resistance and legitimate appeals to forming a civil society outside the state with the help of transnational linkages and foreign media presence. The occupation of Tahrir Square, the online presence of Egypt Twitter users, and the bloody repressions of protesters in the Syrian and Libyan regimes is proof enough of the universal nature of the democratic principle behind transnational movements. The Arab Spring is a legitimate part of global civil society with moral authority and political power that does not seek to impose itself on unwilling peoples, but seeks to inspire fellow peoples under authoritarian regimes to fight for the liberties that are essential to human development and progress.
However, in the case of Occupy Wall Street, I would certainly not label it as an instance of meaningful global civil society compared to the graver events occurring from the Arab Spring. In most democratic countries experiencing the protests, the police nor the army have tried to suppress these protests through brute force, unless the protesters themselves begin to perpetrate violence. As citizens in liberal democratic countries, the protesters are entitled to free expression, while the Arab Spring protesters do not enjoy the same luxury. Therefore, the Occupy Wall Street movement is NOT a case of sovereign-subject conflict due to the permissibility of their protests in open, democratic society. The subaltern is represented and heard at these protests, as well as “marginalized” groups like women, Native Americans, and other minorities.
As well, public space is always reclaimed in the name of some ideology, natonalist sentiment, or individual/group interest. With regard to the Occupy Wall Street protest, I think it is important to ask: For whom is Wall Street being reclaimed?(that is, for whose interests) rather than Who is reclaiming Wall Street? I think the successful ability of the Occupy movements to distract attention from the Arab Spring is perhaps the ultimate example of the discontented nature of global civil society as a concept. That is, Western priorities seem to have a greater and louder voice in these movements than other countries, which is problematic in my view. Capitalist greed should be the least of our problems when other countries in the world do not enjoy the civil liberties that can enable more equitable and free societies.