If you ever heard the name, you’ve likely forgotten it. I forgot it, and I’m not even sure I once knew it. Mohamed Bouazizi is just a produce vendor on the streets of Sidi Bouzid, a town of 40,000 people in the middle of Tunisia. Think Wilkes-Barre.
Mohamed Bouazizi is no different than any other vendor in his hometown, probably no different from any shopkeeper anywhere. Think of a Joseph Lukowsky in Wilkes-Barre. He’s just someone who keeps working day after day to support his family.
The one difference, however, is that over the years of economic difficulties, police harassment, extortions and bribes, the indifference of his local government wore on Mohamed Bouazizi.
On December 17, 2010 police overturned Mohamed Bouazizi’s cart and confiscated his scales when he was unable to pay the demanded extortion. Less than an hour later, frustrated after the local government refused to hear his complaint, Mohamed Bouazizi stood in the middle of traffic shouting, “How do you expect me to make a living?” Then, dousing himself with gasoline, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire.
Mohamed Bouazizi’s death on January 4th, 2011 incited the pent up anger felt by his fellow citizens over their economic and political status. His death led to the Arab Spring, a continuing, widespread movement that toppled the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. It has led to uprisings in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, Algeria, all have seen mass protests expressing the anger and frustration symbolized in the death of one man. One man from nowhere, who no one knew.
The United States, too, is currently experiencing its own widespread, thankfully peaceful, mass protests. Known as Occupy Wall Street, this movement took its inspiration from the Arab Spring uprisings, tapping into an anger and frustration felt by many American citizens. At first ignored, then dismissed, then ridiculed, this movement has continued across this country with no signs of abatement since it began on September 17th.
Individuals from across the nation have joined together, expressing a common sentiment that there is something about the nature of State and corporate influence upon each other that is unsettling. There is something about this relationship that comes at their expense. There is something about this they want to change.
This sense of frustration is felt everywhere: in large cities, in quiet towns, in rural communities. It has been asked, however, whether or not smaller towns are worth occupying? Such a question is backwards, dismissive, and full of contempt; contempt for the opinions of individuals in smaller towns, and dismissive of their concerns.
The question is backwards because smaller towns are not being occupied. Rather, the people of smaller towns feel the same frustration as their countrymen elsewhere and choose to stand together.
This past Saturday some local citizens and students chose to stand together in Bloomsburg’s Market Square and express their concerns and opinions. It does not matter whether or not you agree with them. I disagree with much of what the Occupy protesters express. What is important, however, is that these people stood. What is important is that their opinion matters. What is important is that they, the residents of a small town, no matter how small, felt enough concern, enough passion, to stand in unity with each other. They stood for themselves and with people across the nation.
They cannot, must not be dismissed.
Think again of Mohamed Bouazizi, a man so frustrated he burned himself alive. Think again of the global revolutions an individual act caused. Think again of your fellow townspeople who, while not so desperate, chose to stand alone to express their frustration, and together in common support with people in small towns and great cities across this country. They chose to stand with a movement whose concerns are real, and whose popular support continues.
The people of Bloomsburg need not give a rose to the local Occupy demonstrators for their opinions. They should, however, give them a bouquet for standing up publicly and peacefully for what they believe because, for what it’s worth, there’s something happening here.