The Spark of Occupations

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Occupy Wall Street movement activists lie down on the floor in front of the New York Stock Exchange during a protest at Lower Manhattan in New York, 27 April 2012. (Photo: REUTERS - Eduardo Munoz)

By: Rami Zurayk

Published Saturday, April 28, 2012

The occupy movement rose up spontaneously in several parts of the globe. Its momentum was inspired by the Arab protests, particularly those in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising.

This global movement, which demands social and economic justice, is famous for its occupation of Wall Street in New York, the beating heart of capitalism.

This was in September 2011, when the sparks of popular “occupations” spilled onto the streets and public spaces of over 25 countries – from Hong Kong to London – before the authorities suppressed them and emptied the streets and squares of protesters.

But the movement did not end with this first wave of activity. Although it may have shrunk somewhat, it is still an effective channel for political and social activity, especially in the countries where it started.

On April 22, several hundred environmental and agricultural activists occupied a plot of land owned by the University of California, Berkeley.

They planted thousands of saplings and seeds and declared it a public farm. They were protesting against a plan to sell the occupied plot of land to a real estate company, which would have quickly turned it into a residential and commercial development.

The protesters demanded that their right to produce their own food be recognized in a world where food is controlled by a handful of giant corporations.

This is a radical shift for the occupy movement, which had been described as hippie and lazy. It has moved from verbal protest to productive work.

No matter how symbolic, this act challenges the principle of private land ownership, one of the main obstacles impeding the improvement of rural people’s living conditions.

It is also a crucial part of the process of the redistribution of resources.

For example, Honduras has recently witnessed a farmers’ movement, which included over 3,500 poor rural families, who took possession of vast tracts of agricultural land owned by the government. They began to reclaim it and started to cultivate the land.

I wonder, will these activities and protests spread to the Arab world, just like the protests in Tahrir spread to Wall Street?

Rami Zurayk is an Al-Akhbar environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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