Watching Lewisburg’s Occupy Wall Street protests this weekend I couldn’t help but compare it other recent protests that I’ve witnessed. Last Fall in London I got a front row seat to watch the British university students protest the increases in university fees – they literally marched down the street in front of my window. Traditionally British universities were free to students who were accepted but recently Parliament passed legislation that allowed universities to charge fees (tuition). As an American who is used to this, particularly a Bucknellian who pays over $50,000 a year, I thought they were overreacting. The fees were in the ballpark of like £6,000 a year to attend Oxford. Despite my misgivings, the protests actually started gaining momentum, until they turned violent.
In more than one instance, what were supposed to be peaceful rallies turned into angry mobs. They looted, attacked police vehicles, and even attacked Prince Charles and his wife. The violence was initiated by a small group of anarchists who weren’t even students. But once they provided a spark, the huge crowds of protesters fell victim to the mob mentality and all hell broke loose. Dozens of people were arrested and the legitimacy of the protest was compromised effectively ending any hope they had of getting the university fees revoked.
As of now, I haven’t heard of any of the Occupy Wall Street protests getting violent. This is a relief because history has shown that nothing ends a protest more quickly than outbursts of violence eroding a movement’s credibility. As long as the Occupy Wall Street movement remains peaceful and focused, it may well achieve some financial reforms, particularly if it continues to grow at its current rate.