Slow-Burn Revolution: Evaluating the Potential of Wake Up Call
This past Tuesday thousands of young people throughout the world protested in the streets and via social media in a globalized effort to have their voices heard by national governments. The demands of this new youth movement were astonishing in their specificity: citizens of Algeria demanded that the constitution be ratified to limit the presidential term to five years, with a maximum of one re-election; protesters in India asked the Ministry of Water Resources to clean the indispensable but polluted River Yamuna; and 32 young leaders in Mexico, representing the 31 states and one federal district, endeavored to ask 32 questions to each of Mexico’s presidential candidates.
As the organizers explain on their website, “the demands are specific, straightforward, and achievable. Though they vary from country to country we are united under a common goal: driving positive change in our communities, countries and the world.” While the entreaties for each country should and will be acknowledged for how specialized they are, the common threads are clear: youth employment and political empowerment, environmental conservation, and, to a lesser extent, the improvement of public infrastructures.
The United States received a wake up call uniquely suited to the election year: President Obama is being urged to pass a constitutional amendment that would forbid corporations from contributing money to elections. This would effectively eliminate the ominous and powerful PACs and Super PACs that have gotten so much attention during the current election cycle. And if you don’t think that these fundraising leviathons function according to reciprocal interests, and thus their own corporate interests, then you need a practical dose of cynicism. Wake Up Call had the discipline and presence of mind to pinpoint one potential legislation that could unravel a whole system of corruption in American politics. If all political campaigns became publicly funded, then victorious candidates would, in large part, only reflect the interests of those public constituents. If a law of this kind was passed, it has the potential to substantially change the interests and allegiances of politicians, and over time, naturally reduce the number of earmarks and corporate interests that infiltrate legislation. Of course, Wake Up Call is not the first social movement to rise up against corporate greed in America.
Comparing Wake Up Call with the Occupy movement is fairly inescapable. After all, Wake Up Call’s official commencement on February 21st came little more than three months after Occupy encampments began to die down due to sweeping crackdowns by authorities. Both are social movements determined to stand up to national governments and bring fundamental changes to their countries. Both draw inspiration and method from the Arab Spring, unleashing social media tools facebook and twitter to harness and consolidate widespread indignation for unfair societies and the neglectful governments that coddle them. But the similarities end somewhere in the middle of that sentence. The Occupy movements, especially the emblematic forebear, Occupy Wall Street, were cranky and blunt, expressing grungy contempt and abstract grievances for a society/culture/financial sector they feel betrayed them. And to be fair, most people agreed with them. As of January, of those who are aware of the Occupy movement, nearly three times as many people were favorable to it as were unfavorable. The problem was the movement lacked direction, leadership, and a specific set of demands for their governments. The movements were spontaneous and rash, like a swath of flash fires. Wake Up Call is more gradual and calculated, biding its time and building its case through strength in numbers and clear proposals. In the maturation of the Protester Age, Occupy was the fierce but impetuous adolescent; Wake Up Call is the youth come of age, a measured and articulate adult determined to bring about change in the world.
But as Stephanie Gruner explained, Wake Up Call was actually conceived at the second annual One Young World summit in Zurich last September. Seven young leaders hailing from multiple continents took the stage to announce the inauguration of the movement on 21-2-12. When the date came this past Tuesday, it was an extremely rare example of social activism coordinated at the global level. The stories were remarkably diverse: disabled activists in Nepal traveled to the Ministry of Local Development to demand disabled access to hospitals and public buildings in their country; activists in France sent over 9,000 emails to the 12 candidates in the upcoming presidential election, asking the future victor to address youth unemployment in his country; people in Guyana wrote letters to President Donald Ramotar imploring him to pass an act that would offer tax incentives to companies for hiring recent university graduates. As far as grassroots, day-of-action activism goes, Wake Up Call has been a smashing success. But can’t it be more?
Like its predecessors, Wake Up Call can be most powerful by growing and proliferating via social media. There are already well-”liked” facebook pages for all of the 84 participating countries, and they’re flung from America to Angola to Australia. With some luck and a bit of publicity, this thing could become a fleet-footed, million-headed behemoth representing a rising generation with global solidarity and a whole new way of interacting with government. A generation that not only wields a plenitude of votes but also a rapidly evolving breed of revolution with the uncheckable power of human capital.
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