Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: The Way We Were and the Arab Spring

This essay may be reproduced and reprinted.

Occupy Wall Street:
 The Way We Were and the Arab Spring

Edward Renner, PhD

In 1960 the largest age group in the United States was under five years of age. The next largest groups were those 6 to 10 and 11 to 15. These were the Baby Boomers.

The smaller, immediately older 15 year age group of 16 to 29 matured in the wake of World War II, and the Cold, Korea and Vietnam wars. Many of these “children of war” were veterans attending college as mature learners; others faced military conscription through the Selective Service Draft.

Together, the two groups accounted for 51% of our National Population of 180 Million. The Median Age Was 29. Their motto was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” They did not like the future they saw in front of them. They saw an "establishment" locked into dead ideas from previous eras.

They orchestrated and witnessed the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements. They marched, protested and created music which gave voice to an alternative optimistic vision of equality of opportunity in a Great Society. This "Greening of America" was an inspiration for the rest of the world.

We were what others hoped to become.

Now, 50 years later things have changed. The age distribution of the Arab Spring is structurally similar to that of the United States in 1960. Well over half of the populations of Egypt, Libya and Syria are under 25 years of age.

 The youth do not like the future they see in front of them. A small elite establishment exercises excessive authority and wealth in the face of limited opportunity and wide spread poverty.

It is 1960 all over again. Similar to the way we were, they do not trust anyone over 30.

Except this time it is the United States, and much of the Western world, where the New Establishment is the baby boomers and the children of war who are still the single largest age group.

The “American Spring” of 1960 has turned into the American Winter of 2010. As a nation we are locked into old ways of thinking. Now, the New Establishment does not trust anyone under 30 as having a clue of how to live a responsible (non-digital) life. Our youth, who are currently coming of age, do not have the same space in front of them as did their parents and grandparents in 1960.

Perhaps it is us in the United States, with a large majority of our population over 30 years of age, who are out of step with both our children and with the rest of the world. We are trying to hold on to a past that no longer exists. We are trying to protect the dead ideas of unfettered capitalism and individualism, and the large wealth and income disparities they have fostered, exceeded only by Brazil and Mexico.

We are no longer what others hope to become. We have become what the emerging countries of the world are protesting against.

Just maybe, it is us, two endless but unpaid for wars later, global warming, an unsustainable national debt, a broken civic process, and the Tea Party as our potential response, that is the problem.

After having made a mess of the open opportunity we were given fifty years ago, it may be time to start seeing our own future in the faces of the current millennial generation.

The Facebook fueled, “Occupy Wall Street,” movement may be the first sign of a new American Spring. Are we ready?
Professor Renner teaches in the Honors Program at the University of South Florida. This essay is based on his podcast series at:

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