Demonstrators protest the government of Vladimir Putin and results of the recent parliamentary elections, in Moscow, December 10, 2011. (Photo: James Hill/The New York Times)
How the occupied became the occupiers.
On the streets of Moscow in the tens of thousands, the protesters chanted: “We exist!” Taking into account the comments of statesmen, scientists, politicians, military officials, bankers, artists, all the important and attended to figures on this planet, nothing caught the year more strikingly than those two words shouted by massed Russian demonstrators.
“We exist!” Think of it as a simple statement of fact, an implicit demand to be taken seriously (or else), and undoubtedly an expression of wonder, verging on a question: “We exist?”
And who could blame them for shouting it? Or for the wonder? How miraculous it was. Yet another country long immersed in a kind of popular silence suddenly finds voice, and the demonstrators promptly declare themselves not about to leave the stage when the day — and the demonstration — ends. Who guessed beforehand that perhaps 50,000 Muscovites would turn out to protest a rigged electoral process in a suddenly restive country, along with crowds in St. Petersburg, Tomsk, and elsewhere from the south to Siberia?
In Tahrir Square in Cairo, they swore: “This time we’re here to stay!” Everywhere this year, it seemed that they — “we” — were here to stay. In New York City, when forced out of Zuccotti Park by the police, protesters returned carrying signs that said, “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”