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'Occupy Wall Street' demonstrations could spread, spark backlash - Joe Gandelman

Was that a long ago-echo in my ears? The other day, I caught video of a big protest with demonstrators shouting, "The whole world is watching!" as police approached.

Wasn't that chant from 1968 when Chicago Mayor Richard Daley unleashed his police on anti-war demonstrators at the ill-fated Democratic convention? In the same video, some chanted "Un pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!" a worldwide protesters' phrase stemming from a slogan used the equally ill-fated leftist Chilean leader Salvador Allende in 1970 and popularized worldwide in a 1972 recorded song.

Wasn't that the chant I heard covering a demonstration in Franco's Spain?

Then I heard a young woman explain that wealth is bad. She used more 60s style clichés in a defining moment at the end of the day.

But those weren't echoes. They were from demonstrations the anti-corporate, pro-fairness "Occupy Wall Street" protests, which snarled traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge and ended in some 700 arrests.

The protests sparked copycat demonstrations in cities such as Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago and Boston, with future protests being planned in Washington D.C., and elsewhere.

Just as the summer of 2010's conservative Tea Party protesters screeched, "We want our country back!" from the forces that propelled Barack Obama into the White House, Occupy Wall Street protesters are saying, "We want our country back!" from corporations, banks and the campaign-donation-greased politicians who kowtow to them.

Many leftists, and some centrists, yearn for a movement to counterbalance the Tea Partiers, who check-mated chunks of Barack Obama's agenda. Progressives are now trying to organize groups to offer better pushback and advocacy. Enter Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, which reportedly attract college kids and aging hippies united in their outrage over the kind of country and dreams they see being lost, and the political and financial forces that did big damage getting away consequence free.

Protests have often impacted on their times, changed history or sparked backlash. Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent civil disobedience demonstrations helped free India from the British. Martin Luther King, Jr., took a page from his book, successfully using the same tactics in the civil rights battle.

The 1960s anti-Vietnam war protests changed public perceptions of the war, but also triggered polarization, angry "silent majority" backlash and helped elect Richard Nixon — the first step in undercutting the New Deal, Great Society and Democratic Party dominance of the courts and bureaucracy.

Opposition demonstrations I covered in India in 1974 inspired then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to temporarily suspend Indian democracy. Demonstrations I witnessed in post-Franco Spain gave then-young King Juan Carlos the support he needed to help quietly steer Spain into a democratic era. Deep spending cuts the United Kingdom's coalition government led to widespread austerity protests in early 2011.

And then there's the "Arab Spring," which made Twitter and civil disobedience potent political tools in fomenting revolution in Egypt and Tunisia and inspiring protests in Northern Africa and Middle East Arab majority states aimed at changing or toppling the existing order.

Many commentators on the left now suggest that Occupy Wall Street demonstrations could be the catalyst for a new "Arab Spring" in the United States. Filmmaker Michael Moore predicts it will soon involve thousands –– although with Moore's political prediction accuracy record, perhaps he's referring to an Arab spring mattress, while the reality is that it will take more than some noisy demonstrations to get Wall Street's attention.

But there are dangers. If demonstrations grow, a divide will grow over the protesters' points, tactics, and society's right to respond and crack down on protesters' disruptions.

There could be counter demonstrations those who don't like the protesters' tactics, plus pressure on local and national politicos to either denounce or express solidarity with the protesters. It could impact some 2012 votes.

Those who want demonstrations say that's the idea, but they seem to forget: The 1968 American anti-war version of the "Arab spring" led to the 1969-1974 Republican winter of Richard Nixon and a long period of Republican presidencies bookmarked occasional Democrats.

When the whole world is watching that also includes the country's disorder-hating center.

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist, who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and mo. His column is distributed exclusively Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.