Global 'indignant' movement here to stay, says sociologist

They’re peaceful, non-political protesters, who simply want to get their message across. But they’re infuriating governments all over the world. What’s more, a leading French sociologist tells FRANCE 24, the “indignant” movement is here to stay.


From Madrid to Athens, through New York and on to Paris: the “indignant” movement has been springing up all over the Western world, and is far from subsiding. It began as a youth protest on May 15 at Puerta del Sol in Madrid, and most recently, emerged as the “Occupy Wall Street” protest in New York.

On Saturday, it just got bigger. “United for Global Change” protesters took to the streets of almost 1,000 cities around the world to denounce what they describe as “an intolerable situation” for young people in the financial crisis. “We will peacefully demonstrate, talk and organise until we make it happen,” reads the website. And they mean it.

Sociologist Monique Dagnaud, who heads France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, has been following the campaign since it began five months ago. “An unprecedented movement,” she believes it will evolve into a lasting headache for Western governments, and could even have an effect on upcoming elections, including France’s presidential poll next year.

What do these various movements all have in common?

Monique Dagnaud: They’re largely young, educated, and desperate to demonstrate their resentment for a society which they deem elitist and corrupt. They all operate in a similar way – they occupy symbolic squares and streets for a prolonged period; they’re hugely active on social networks; they don’t have a group leader; tasks are shared out and decisions made unanimously.

There are differences from country to country, depending on the economic situation in each. In Spain for example, young people are protesting against the unemployment rate, because 40 per cent of 25 to 34-year-old graduates don’t have a job.

The Greeks, on the other hand, while suffering high unemployment too, are focusing their efforts on the Troika [the IMF, the EU, and the European Central Bank], which is the driving force behind their government’s strict austerity measures.

As for the Americans, they’re condemning the capitalist system, symbolised by Wall Street.

Why has the movement failed to really take off in France?

Dagnaud: Firstly, because unlike in Spain, young French graduates do usually end up finding a job. [In a survey compiled] in 2006, for example, some 74 per cent of university-educated 25 to 34-year-olds were employed in a white-collar job in France, while only 59 per cent were in Spain.

Secondly, because [unlike in many other Western countries], there are a number of far-left movements already in place in France – the Left Front, green movements, Trotskyites etc – which tend to absorb these kind of people [who would otherwise join the ‘indignant’ movement].

Could the movement affect presidential and general elections taking place in Spain, France and the US next year?

Dagnaud: In total contrast with traditional youth movements, these activists clearly don’t want to become politically active, which is why we haven’t seen any leaders emerge.

Nonetheless, the protesters as a whole could play a kind of lobbying role during election campaigns. Their presence is sure to make candidates might feel pressured into giving more weight to young people’s issues.

Does this movement have a future?

Dagnaud: I’m absolutely sure of it. As long as these people have a reason to protest, they will continue to do so. And seeing that a reprieve from the financial crisis, or an improvement in the situation for young people, is nowhere in sight, then it looks like they aren't going anywhere.


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