Generation Y: Changing the World Since 2008 (5)



On October 24, 2011, Zuccotti Park welcomed a visit by Egyptian activists Asmaa Mahfouz and Ahmed Maher. They came with a message of solidarity to the hundreds of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who were there camping. Mahfouz and Maher, founders of the prolific “April 6 Youth Movement”, which struggles for democracy in Egypt, were there to affirm that all of they shared a common struggle, one against the “systems of repression, disenfranchisement, and the unchecked ravages of global capitalism.”


Asmaa Mahfouz, born on February 1, 1985 and Ahmed Maher, born on December 2, 1980, had been deeply involved in the January and February 2011 demonstrations at Tahrir Square, which lead to the downfall of Egypt´s dictator Hosni Mubarak. On their own account, the autocratic regime of Mubarak was nothing but an offshoot of the global neoliberal policies that Occupy Wall Street was publically disapproving.


Mahfouz and Maher presented Occupiers with an Egyptian flag that read “From Tahrir Square to Wall Street.” Generation Y´s political odyssey had just come full circle.


The political rise of Generation Y started around the Web 2.0-fuelled protests in Moldova and Iran, both of them to denounce national fraudulent elections. They set the standard to the subsequent Arab Spring revolutions, most notably in Tunisia and Egypt, against perennial western-friendly dictatorships. The Arab Spring, in turn, was an inspiration to the 2011 wave of protests across South Europe, particularly against the IMF-sponsored austerity policies which followed the sovereign debt crisis, and in retaliation to the overall iniquities of post-industrial capitalism. A broader message which rippled across the Atlantic Ocean to conjure up in Occupy Wall Street, and then back and forth, up to the October 15, 2011 worldwide protests.


Since the 2008 world economic collapse, we have seen countless of young activists, students, unemployed or low-paid workers, aiming at the re-definition of the socio-political landscape. Across the world, intertwined through social networks, building a common political identity via blogs and Web 2.0 sites, demonstrating at encampments and marches in city squares, Generation Y has been gradually coming to political adulthood. They call for a fairer global political system, more transparent and participatory democracies and more egalitarian and self-sustainable economies. They struggle for the dreams of solidarity and social prosperity that their parents and grandparents had envisaged. They denounce the dysfunctional and unfair policies that they actually inherited.


For example, at the age of 25, Moldova reporter Natalia Morar called for a protest in Moldova´s capital Chişinău, to denounce fraudulent elections perpetrated by the country´s Communist regime. Through instant messages, emails and Web 2.0 sites, she helped ignite the 2009 wave of protests that eventually lead to the downfall of the regime. Also known as the first “Twitter Revolution”.


At the age of 26, Iranian demonstrator Neda Agha-Soltan was killed amidst protests against the fraudulent 2009 Iranian Presidential elections. Her tragic death in Kārgar Avenue, Teheran, was filmed with a mobile phone by a protester, who sent it to a friend abroad. In a matter of minutes, the video was uploaded into YouTube and published in Facebook. It attracted over a million views in under a week, helping the world to know and sympathize with Iran´s plights.


At the age of 17, Swedish student and photographer, Felicia Margineanu, called for a protest against the rise of the far-right in the 2010 Swedish general elections. Through a Facebook event, she single-handedly assembled 10 000 people at Stockholm´s square Sergel Torg.


At the age of 26, Mohammed Bouazizi, a poor street-vendor at the city of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, set himself on fire in protest against the corruptive practices and poor living conditions in his country. When he died, on January 4, 2011, demonstrations on his behalf had spread across Tunisia, echoed by the Al-Jazeera media network and through thousands of Facebook and YouTube posts, eventually leading to the demise of Ben Ali´s autocratic regime. This was the “Jasmine revolution” which triggered the wave of protests against similar dictatorships, across North Africa and the Arab Middle East, dubbed the Arab Spring.


At the age of 30, Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim helped in the planning for the January 25, 2011 “day of rage” in Cairo´s Tahrir Square. He was arrested a few days after the first protest, and endured 12 days in captivity, before being released as one of the heroes of the Egyptian civil uprising.


At the ages of 25, 27, 26 and 25 respectively, four former Portuguese university classmates, Alexandre de Sousa Carvalho, António Frazão, João Labrincha and Paula Gil, called a nationwide protest, via Facebook, to denounce the rise of unemployment and the poor working conditions in Portugal, particularly for the youth. Hundreds of thousands across dozens of cities, joined for the biggest popular demonstration in the country, since the Democratic Revolution, on April 25, 1974. And a source of inspiration to the series of similar demonstrations in neighboring Spain, dubbed the 15-M movement.


At the age of 29, North American Micah White, with 69-year old Estonian Canadian Kalle Lasn, both co-editors of Canadian counter-culture magazine Adbusters, inspired by the Arab Spring and the Spanish 15-M, sent the initial call to Occupy Wall Street through their mailing list. This call triggered the national and international Occupy movement, successful in turning the US political debate to the most poignant problems millions of North-Americans are facing: poverty, home evictions, unemployment, homelessness and lack of access to affordable education and health care.


These remarkable women and men represent some of the most notorious examples of Generation Y´s ongoing political achievements, each with its distinctive features and protagonists, specific cultural settings and different outcomes. But they all resonating as pieces of that same common global narrative, one of a collective struggle, driving from the generational angst and feeling of deprivation, fuelled by the same sense of urgency and idealism, channeled through similar worldviews and aspirations, civic participation, solidarity, justice, and equality, conjoined and magnified by the global networking tools that are currently  available.


They display one generation that already stands in its own two feet, as a full-fledged political force, even if with its path to maturity still in the early stages.


They have set the example. But the journey is only starting.