But I digress. Expanding and explaining the previous post, what do I mean by déjà vu? It is not about the OWS phenomenon in itself. Again, protests are good. Challenging is good. Paying attention is good. My increase annoyance is towards some college professors and towards what can be called 'progressive', educated individuals (both in real life and in the blogosphere) who, when somebody dares to raise an objection to the idea of the "99%" or that the OWS as it stands is really a challenge (as in threat) to capitalist power, reply either with personal accusations ("You think you are different and you are immune to the catastrophic economic situation") or with a bullet point that is loosely based on the political concept of the multitude as elaborated by Negri and Hardt and Paolo Virno among others (yes, I know they are not the same but I am oversimplifying for the sake of not turning this into a theoretical discussion), without any critical or contextual elaboration of the concept.
Regarding the phrase "We are the 99%", I think that regardless of how accurate or not it is in itself to describe a certain state of things in the United States currently, it is better to think of it as a political slogan, as a way of communicating a message. How successful it is in the long term will be proven not by abstract analysis or discussions, but by how many different groups and people actually join the movement. And that is impossible to determine right now. The uncritical embrace of those mass protest as a fresh, exciting new way of challenging global capitalism is not new, but has its origins in the late 1990s conceptualizations of anti-globalization movements (Seattle et al.). My problem is with the idea that it necessarily constitute a serious threat to the status quo. In other words, what I refuse to do is to accept the idea that any massive protest necessarily constitutes a challenge (as in threat) to the capitalist system and provides the potential to articulate new, more radical and egalitarian democracies. Why? Because I've seen the same argument used 10 years ago, to a very different phenomenon. Déjà vu.
As I said in a previous comment, this rhetoric brings me too many flashbacks of Argentina, early 2002. And, as profacero argues, this isn't Argentina 2002. Exactly my point. Let me explain a little better. In late 2001, the neoliberal economic policies implemented in the country in the 1990s had been such a failure that the whole country's economy literally imploded. To quote from that never-ending source of knowledge, Wikipedia:
Social unrest was also growing. Since the late 1990s, protest movements had formed in Argentina, notably the piqueteros ("picketeers"), initially made up of unemployed workers. The piqueteros blockaded major roads and highways demanding government subsidies and other welfare measures. This entire crisis came to a head on November 29, 2001, when Argentines took to banks and financial institutions to withdraw millions of pesos and dollars from their accounts. Had the withdrawal continued, Argentina's entire banking system would have collapsed.
The unrest started when Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo, introduced restrictions to the withdrawal of cash from bank deposits, intending to stop the draining of deposits that had been taking place throughout 2001 and had reached the point where 25% of all the money in the banks had been withdrawn. These measures were aimed at controlling the banking crisis for a period of 90 days, until the exchange of Argentina's public debt could be completed.
Although people could still use their money via credit cards, checks and other forms of non-cash payments, the enforcement of these measures caused delays and problems for the general population and especially for businesses. Massive queues at every bank and growing reports of political crisis contributed to inflame Argentina's political scenario . . .
[President] De la Rúa's position had become unsustainable . . . Between December 16 and December 19  there were several incidents involving unemployed activists and protesters which demanded the handing-out of food bags from supermarkets. These incidents ended up with outright looting of supermarkets and convenience stores on December 18, taking place on Rosario and the Greater Buenos Aires areas...
[On the night of December 19th], De la Rúa addressed the nation to announce the state of siege and to call the Peronists to negotiate a "government of national unity". Following the broadcast, spontaneous cacerolazos ("pot banging") took place throughout Buenos Aires and other major cities, signaling the middle-class' own unrest. December 19 concluded with the resignation of Domingo Cavallo, who had lost whatever support he had within the government. Groups of protesters mobilized throughout Buenos Aires, some of them arriving to Plaza de Mayo, where there were incidents with the Federal Police forces.
The next day the situation and the violence worsened, not only in Plaza de Mayo but throughout the country. More than 20 people were killed because of police repression that day. On the late afternoon of December 20th, 2001, President De la Rua resigned. The following 12 days, Argentina probably beat a World record: it had 5 presidents within the period. Finally, former Vice-President Eduardo Duhalde was named president by the Legislative Assembly (basically, it was the legal and constitutional way to do it, but Duhalde was not elected by the popular vote). The crisis had produced creative responses and forms of protests from the Argentine population: from the above mentioned piqueteros, to neighborhood assemblies, to barter systems for those who could not access their money in the bank. And as I said in the comment to my own post,
I was in Plaza de Mayo the night of December 19th, 2001 (that's a story for a whole post). And for 6 month after that, Argentina was the hottest thing on the planet, as far as revolutionary scholars go. Too much of what I read now reminds me of what was written about Argentina in 2002
I apologize if I don't link directly to anything, but most of what I've found is in Spanish. However, many foreign political theorists (and a few Argentine ones) hailed the Utopian possibilities of these movements. Whether it was the piqueteros or the "cacerolazos", it didn't matter. Notwithstanding the fact that their reasons for protesting were absolutely different. In the case of the piqueteros, it was because they were unemployed working class that had been devastated by the loss of (mostly) factory jobs in the 1990s. The people who participated in banging pots where usually middle class (loosely defined) who were protesting that they could not access to a "normal" financial system. In 2001, their interests coincided and it was powerful enough to overthrow a hated government. To assume that the alliance would last for long, though, was far-fetched at best.
As I said before, for six month to a year after December 2001, Argentina was the hottest thing on the planet, as far as revolutionary scholars go. It was a really weird personal experience to read so many things written about the situation by First World academics who were very quick to apply certain fashionable theories to the Argentinian context. Paolo Virno, for example, linked the "cacerolazos" to what had happened previously in Seattle and Genoa. Even more bizarre was to arrive to my graduate institution in 2002 and witnessed at least 3 (American) students from other departments (English and Political Science, I believe) planning their PhD dissertations on some of the phenomenons that had arisen as a response to the crisis. I say bizarre not because I don't consider the "cacerolazos" or the "piqueteros" or the (short-lived) barter system organizations important, relevant or worthy of writing about. I say bizarre because of what I found was an a-historical, utopian faith in what these phenomenons represented.* They were putting theory before practice and really did not care about how well it fit. I found that to be some sort of new form of "academic cultural imperialism", where Thirld World countries keep providing the First World academics revolutionary movements they can be excited about and write about. It is not old-fashioned Che Guevara or Fidel Castro, but it is the same model adapted to the neoliberal ages. This has become too long again, so I will cut this post in half. Keep tune for part 3.
* As an example, by 2004 President Duhalde had managed to split the "piquetero" movement in different fractions, using the very old-fashion method of welfare handouts to some of them who accepted to be re-absorbed into the Peronist party. Personally, I have no problem with welfare distribution methods. But it certainly demonstrates the relevance of the State apparatus. The same "cacerolazos" (urban middle class) that had came out and toppled De la Rua in 2001 was out on the street in 2008 . . . protesting a bill that would have introduced progressive taxation to wealthy landowners (difficult and long to explain, but related to the very particularities of Argentina's history).