Occupy Vienna: Global Revolution Hits Home

The wave of citizens' protests across the world has reached Vienna, where local and global grievances go hand in hand

News | Peter Diller | November 2011

Photo: Peter Diller

Emerging from the escalator at the Westbahnhof U-Bahn station, the crowd surged forward, carrying us directly into the swelling group of activists-.

"We’re gonna make this change in peaceful way," a male voice boomed in German, as scattered shouts urged him on. "We will take a stand! We will not be forgotten, overlooked or overheard! WE ARE HERE!" he barked, each demand louder and more compelling, as the crowd roared in approval. "We are taking the future into our own hands and will not let go!"

By the minute, the numbers kept growing: Young people in hooded sweatshirts fell in with the 30-somethings in ski jackets together with middle-aged overcoats, the balding and the grey. They were all ages and social classes, students rubbing shoulders with electricians and pensioners. As they headed off down the Mariahilferstrasse for Heldenplatz, police estimated a crowd of 2,000. To those present, it seemed like many more.

Many carried signs: "Freiheit statt Angst! (Freedom instead of Fear!)", "Global Revolution!" "Make Capitalism History!" – messages of outrage toward a system that was failing the people. The placards screamed slogans like thought clouds above the energised throng: "Komm mit, wir retten die Welt vor den Banken! (Come with us, we’re saving the world from the banks!)" "Unemployed of the world unite!"

As on Wall Street, in Washington D.C., Madrid and Frankfurt, the time had come to "Occupy Vienna!"

The crowd mulled about, shifting for places as the police prepared to lead them down Mariahilferstraße and into the city. The scene trembled with an anticipatory energy, everyone seeming friendlier than usual. Some participants said they were there in solidarity with the Austrian metal workers who were striking for a 5.5 per cent pay increase. Others said they were supporting the Indignados in Spain, and still others with the "Occupy Wall Street" protests spreading across the United States. The lines between local and global issues had been blurred: bank bailouts, university fees, corruption, xenophobia, nuclear power, global warming. The common thread: democracy that works.

"This protest is no different from the others," said Sebastian, an activist from Vienna. "We are all in this together."

A Global Day of Action had been called for 15 Oct., with protests across Austria, in Salzburg, Graz, Linz, and in more than 1,000 cities around the world.  From Tyrol to Tokyo, this was the day to speak your mind.

The protesters’ were upbeat, the energy positive as police led the march along Vienna’s busiest shopping street. Groups shouted slogans like "Demokratie! So schaut's aus!" ("This is what democracy looks like!"). A self-described leftist activist had brought a bullhorn to lead the chant "If you hate the fucking system, clap your hands." The familiar tune went for several rounds, giving the crowd an opportunity to act in unison, stomping their feet and doing a jump. The chorus repeated again and again: "If you hate the fucking system, if you hate the fucking system, if you hate the fucking system, throw a fist." Passing shoppers looked stunned, some amused, some bewildered. Here and there, some joined in.

As the parade of opinions reached the Ring, the crowd completely filled the street as far as the eye could see, snaking down from Mariahilferstraße, on through the imperial Heldentor and into Heldenplatz. The autumn sun shone brightly, as the season’s first cold bit bare faces. As the stream of people passed through the gate, drums beat in unison, whistles blew in piercing bursts and people cheered. Groups threading in from several sides gradually melded into one.

Marchers settled into the square and formed a circle. Passing a microphone around, individual dreams and fears were born in public. Some spoke of corruption in the government, while others warned of corporate greed. Mostly, it was the citizens’ desire to reclaim their voice that took centre stage.

Standing near a truck loaded with speakers was Gregor, a student who had helped spread the word about the protest. Looking too old for the braces on his teeth, Gregor was one of about 10 activists who had met on a weekly basis since July at the Vienna University Campus, planning to take action. Their aim was to organize an event to coincide with the other Oct. 15 events, to amplify protests happening elsewhere and put pressure on those in power.

"This protest covers a lot of points: sustainability, corruption, our futures." Gregor stressed that the demonstrators would continue to organise events with the aim of finding common ground, as participants were invited to speak their mind: "That is why we need to work together and decide what our Oct. 15 stands for."

To do so, the organisers have created a group on www.weriseup.net that plans a collective manifesto, operating as an open source document, enabling any user who registers to make additions or changes to the text. The hope is to reflect the hopes and desires of people calling for action.

As the evening wore down, many lingered, passing the microphone, speaking their minds. With the fresh cold of the autumn night setting in, a banner was unfurled at the other end of the open circle. "RESPECT," it read in bright handprints. While the request may not seem like much, it may be more than the protesters can expect.

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