The American Revolution of 1776 gave rise to the French Revolution of 1789, and the 1791 Revolution in Haiti was born out of the ideals of the American and French Revolutions, and pointed the way towards freedom for African Americans shackled in slavery in the U.S. The revolutions in Europe in 1848 paved the way for the Civil War in America that enshrined in law the principles of the, as-yet, incomplete American Revolution. The Russian Revolution of 1917 inspired a wave of unionization in the United States and began our labor movement, and the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements of the 1960’s were echoed in countries around the world. I’ve read that history, and have always been slightly jealous that I don’t live in a time like that…until this past year. If you stop to look back at 2011, you may feel the ghosts of history tugging at your sleeve, you might see a faint outline of a banner that had once waved high, being picked up out of the dirt, and lofted proudly again on the shoulders of a hopeful people.
January 2011 started with two indelible images: an aide to Gabrielle Giffords running towards the sound of gunshots to staunch her bleeding and care for her until an ambulance could arrive, and thousands of people gathering in Tahrir Square in Egypt to take on the thirty year reign of Hosni Mubarak. It may seem strange to equate the actions of one man with a movement of thousands of people, until you remember that Rosa Parks was just a woman on a bus…then the significance of the openly gay Daniel Hernandez rushing through gunfire to a Congresswoman’s side becomes all too clear. The United States of America stopped business as usual and gave a young gay hero a round of national applause when, only ten years before, the same country actively ignored the fact that Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of Flight 93 on September 11th, was being grieved by his male partner of six years. A huge part of the struggle for gay rights in this country is the struggle against invisibility; the month after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the U.S. Military, Daniel Hernandez pranced onto the stage in Arizona to the welcome deserving of a national hero. (Full disclosure, I used the word “pranced” deliberately; Daniel Hernandez is awesomely flaming and, as a gay woman myself, there was a huge part of me screaming, “you go girl” when he took the stage as a prelude to President Obama that night.) January 2011 saw a gay man on the news in America being referred to by one word: hero. I’m only 35 years old and I didn’t live through a time when there wasn’t a gay rights movement, but watching Daniel Hernandez get up on the stage at the University of Arizona with the President of the United States applauding him…I absolutely bawled my eyes out; there is nothing more moving than watching your own country go from active discrimination against people like you, to a standing ovation. While the laws are still discriminatory, January 2011 showed that the attitude of the nation has shifted towards equality.
The United States saw the people of Wisconsin stand up to their union busting governor and defeat him. And once Occupy Wall Street began, and started to spread to cities around the country, all of a sudden it wasn’t just “protesters” responding to attacks on their rights, one by one; it was a nationwide movement on the offensive, declaring that our country should not be run on the basis of what is best for business, that our government can’t give tax cuts to the wealthy and wage a senseless war in Iraq, and then turn around and try to balance their overdrawn checkbook on the backs of the people who can least afford it. The American Spring that began with Occupy Wall Street has escaped continued attempts to present it as the work of people outside of the mainstream of American society; with recent polls suggesting that 54% of Americans think a third political party is needed in the U.S., the idea that our government is not representative of the people is the very definition of mainstream thought.
And that is a thought worth taking note of. To go into 2012 with a majority of people believing that they are not represented by their government, and also believing that neither of the two major political parties is capable of representing their interests, means that the Occupy movement of 2011 may have only been the beginning of the American Spring.
We are living in a time of quiet and unexpected heroes; a time where women are continuing to march on Tahrir Square to protest police brutality in Egypt, a time where the Occupy movement in America that was declared dead just shut down one of the largest ports in the country over two weeks ago, a time where people around the world have coalesced around similar demands for economic justice…we are living in a time where history is being made right before our eyes.
Sarah Warden is the author of the novel, Three Fifths of Love, available as an ebook for 99 cents from amazon http://www.amazon.com/Three-Fifths-Love-Marriage-ebook/dp/B005EZ3QU2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318174116&sr=8-1
Painting “The Spirit of ’76 by A.M. Willard from the public domain. Image of the French revolution By Pierre-Antoine_Demachy (1807) (site Gallica) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Image of the Haitian revolution engraved in 1845 by french anonymous (http://www.worldgallery.co.uk/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Image of protest in Tahrir Square by Jonathan Rashad (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image of protest in Greece by Ierapetra2501 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image from Occupy Wall Street by David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.