Several thousand kilometres from the heart of the growing anti-Wall Street protests in New York, Kalle Lasn says he is astounded that an idea he and a few others hatched in Vancouver is now expanding across North America and beyond.
“Of course, we had some hopes and dreams, but we had no idea it would turn into a movement in the United States, then into Canada, and become global,” said Mr. Lasn, co-editor of the influential, Vancouver-based, anti-consumer publication Adbusters, which first called for a people’s occupation of Wall Street.
“The way this has bubbled to the top is quite amazing. We really didn’t expect it.”
After the weekend arrest of more than 700 demonstrators on the Brooklyn Bridge, American unions are joining in. The next big protest is scheduled Thursday in Washington and strategy sessions are being called in Canadian cities to plan similar actions.
The escalating wave of protests stems from a routine brainstorming session of five or six people this past summer at Adbusters.
“We just felt America was ripe for a Tahrir moment of its own,” said Mr. Lasn, referring to the throngs who congregated in Cairo’s central square earlier this year to bring down Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The group conceived a centre spread in the magazine’s July edition, depicting a ballerina delicately balancing on the iconic Wall Street bull, with the words: “What is our one demand?....#OCCUPYWALLSTREET, September 17, Bring tent.”
The slogan quickly captivated Adbusters’ 90,000-strong network of self-styled “culture jammers.” Word began to spread.
“We just did this thing and watched as it started to grow and grow,” Mr. Lasn marvelled. “Then some groups in New York got behind it. The buzz grew, and suddenly it took off, and now it’s a real movement.”
Mr. Lasn believes that the swelling anti-corporate protests, which have yet to focus on specific demands, have the potential to revive the long-dormant left wing in the United States.
“I was scared the loony left would take over again, and the whole thing would fizzle into nothing. But real, substantial people are turning up, people with a bit of backbone,” said Mr. Lasn, who describes himself as being old enough to remember the sixties.
“They are starting to have the same sort of chutzpah that the Tea Party has. That’s what the political left sorely needs.”
Protests have been slower to come to Canada, Mr. Lasn said, because economic conditions are much worse in the United States.
“They are losing their jobs, their houses. Nearly 40 per cent of young people between 19 and 25 can’t find work. There is a lot of anger out there. I think that the moment was absolutely ripe for this to happen.”
In the United States, protests are springing up from Florida to Boston to Los Angeles.
“This could have legs to it,” observed Moneyball author Michael Lewis, who has also written about Wall Street and global economic turmoil.
Activists in Toronto and Vancouver are holding meetings Friday and Saturday to plan protest occupations starting Oct. 15.
Young people, with their Internet and social media savvy, are in the forefront of Occupy Wall Street, Mr. Lasn said.
“Egypt and Tahrir Square proved that a few smart people on the Internet can call for something and, if it captures the public’s imagination, it can get tens of thousands of people out on the streets.”
Adbusters, meanwhile, is relishing its role in what Mr. Lasn calls one of the most hopeful moments in the magazine’s 20-year history.
“This was all cooked up right here at Adbusters. It’s a Canadian adventure,” he said.
In the past, the publication has galvanized action around campaigns such as Buy Nothing Day and Digital Detox Week. “But this takes the cake,” Mr. Lasn said.
With a report from The Associated Press