Insight: Occupy Wall St, the start of a new protest era?






(Reuters) - When Paul Friedman met the rag-tag youth camped out near Wall Street to protest inequality in the American economy, he felt he was witnessing the start of a protest movement not seen in America since the 1960s.

And Friedman should know. The 64-year-old was a student organizer during the anti-Vietnam War movement, protesting from 1964 for 11 years until the war ended. He also joined Civil Rights actions against racial segregation in America.

On Wednesday, as thousands of union workers marched to show solidarity with the movement called Occupy Wall Street, he walked shoulder-to-shoulder with dreadlocked college dropouts, unemployed youth and students, who for three weeks have camped out near Wall Street and who have no plans to leave.

"It felt in my gut very much like what I was a part of in the 1960s," Friedman said. "What people are expressing ... is an experience that their opportunities are shrinking, not growing and their hopes are shrinking, not growing, and that is an unnatural feeling for the young," he said.

The protesters object to the Wall Street bailout in 2008, which they say left banks enjoying huge profits while average Americans suffered under high unemployment and job insecurity with little help from the federal government.

What the Occupy Wall Street movement has in common with the 1960s, he said, was that the weak economy hits home, just like racism or the chance that you or your boyfriend or brother or your son might be drafted to fight in Vietnam.

Most protests since the 1960s - against U.S. actions in Central America in the 1980s or against free trade in the 1990s or the impending Iraq War in 2003 - were in solidarity with an ideal. This, like Civil Rights and Vietnam, is personal.

That more than anything else is why the Occupy Wall Street movement could spread, Friedman said....



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