The Common Good

The Year of the Protester

TIME Magazine's Person of the Year 2011: The Protester
TIME Magazine's Person of the Year 2011: The Protester

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I love seeing who is chosen as TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year.

Presidents Eisenhower, Truman, Johnson, Reagan, Clinton and Bush (W not HW) each received the honor twice. But good ol' FDR — Franklin Delano Roosevelt — still holds the Person of the Year record at three times —1932, 1934 and 1941.

But sometimes TIME's honoree is not just a “Person.” Sometimes it’s “Persons” or even a thing. (In 1988 it was “Planet of the Year," so let’s not get hung up by the elastic title.)

In 1966, “Baby Boomers” were bestowed the honor, in 1975 it was “American Women,” and “The Peacemakers” (as in, "blessed are ...") got the nod in 1993.

Sometimes it’s the biggest news story of the year. Sometimes it encapsulates the zeitgeist,  global urgings, or our collective mood.

This time around, it’s all of those things: A person, a group, a zeitgeist, a news story.

According to TIME, 2011 is the year of “The Protester.”

We’ve had a rough year. Hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, famine, record droughts — the litany of woe seems endless. We've also witnessed revolutions, elections, wars, conflicts — rampant violence, no matter which word we choose to describe it.

We’ve watched dictators fall to the Arab Spring — where democracy broke through and is beginning to bloom — and we are in awe of a thawing Russia where people no longer are in the frozen grip of a despot.

We are holding our breath over Greece, Italy, and Spain, and are watching closely as the European Union navigates through the brambles of collective finance.

We are hearing the conversation change, from the Occupiers' encampment in Zuccotti Park or the footprint of St. Paul's Cathedral in London to the White House and the penthouses of the 1 percent.

And who sparked that conversation? Who started the rumblings?

The Protester.

In his introduction to TIME's Person of the Year issue (released today), Rick Stengel wrote in part:

History often emerges only in retrospect. Events become significant only when looked back on. No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in a public square in a town barely on a map, he would spark protests that would bring down dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and rattle regimes in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Or that that spirit of dissent would spur Mexicans to rise up against the terror of drug cartels, Greeks to march against unaccountable leaders, Americans to occupy public spaces to protest income inequality, and Russians to marshal themselves against a corrupt autocracy.Protests have now occurred in countries whose populations total at least 3 billion people, and the word protest has appeared in newspapers and online exponentially more this past year than at any other time in history.

Is there a global tipping point for frustration? Everywhere, it seems, people said they'd had enough. They dissented; they demanded; they did not despair, even when the answers came back in a cloud of tear gas or a hail of bullets. They literally embodied the idea that individual action can bring collective, colossal change. And although it was understood differently in different places, the idea of democracy was present in every gathering.

[Watch a slide show of all 85 TIME Magazine people of the year HERE.]

Maybe you don’t agree with them, maybe you wish they’d shut up and go home.

But whether they’re down the street or across the ocean, we’re sure of is one thing: They are here to stay.

Protesters, wherever you may be, we salute your sacrifice. Hope you got our support, our pizzas ... and our thanks.

 

Carrie Adams is the Communications Associate for Sojourners. Follow Carrie on Twitter @MadameCAdams.

 

 

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