Monday, September 17, 2012

Protest Season

In the news headlines from the weekend I saw reports of political demonstrations all over the world. In Portugal and Spain, protests against job losses and other economic hardships. On the other side of the world in China, signs and chants against Japan. Moscow and New York saw high-profile protests against corrupt institutions; Germany, a rally against sexual violence. On the streets of India, rallies against foreign ownership of groceries, something that will be permitted for the first time under emergency rules the government adopted on Friday.

And there were more than this. Some of the protests might have been secretly sponsored by governments or business interests, but the sentiments on the streets were obviously not under anyone’s control. I can’t recall ever seeing so many large protests in so many places on so many subjects all happening at once.

It must be something in the air. One theory I have been hearing is that all the protests are really driven by increases in the price of food. The latest food price data does not seem ragged enough to support that theory. Could it be Twitter? Perhaps, though the reach of Twitter and mobile communication would not seem to have expanded that much compared to last week or last year. Is it a statistical fluke, the result of random chance? If protest fever dies away by next weekend, perhaps that will be the best answer. But if large-scale protests continue to pop up in larger than usual numbers, there will have to be an explanation for it.