“No I’m not going to the world cup” has gone viral. The scratchy voice of Carla Dauden explains to the world why Brazilians are so upset over a ten-cent hike in their bus fairs, which, as is with many protests, is really emblematic of much more. We’ve heard this before in the Occupy movement in New York, and we’re hearing it again in Brazil and Istanbul. Young people want more from their governments, and more from society. They want to have an ordinary life where job hunting doesn’t take years and housing prices are affordable.
As I watched “No I’m not going to the World Cup” from my hotel room in Tel Aviv, Carla’s courage and conviction reminded me of Daphni Leef, a woman I met while writing The Athena Doctrine. Long before the Arab Spring and Occupy Wallstreet, on July 7, 2011, Daphni pitched Habima Square, where four major streets converge, and major theaters mark the cultural center of the city. With this dramatic gesture, she asked that her neighbors consider the challenge that Tel Aviv’s young are facing as they try to make it in the big city. Despite “making my world as small and inexpensive as possible,” Leef had been priced out of the housing market in the city and was running out of options to avoid homelessness. Worse, she felt that the Israeli “we’re all in this together” spirit was being lost. With a post on Facebook headlined “Take a Tent Take a Stand,” she invited others to join her living on the sidewalk to protest.
Young Israelis from across the country flocked to join Daphni for the “tent-in.” Within one month, four hundred tents crowded the streets, and the protesters had organized themselves into a functioning community complete with food and sanitation services, communications, entertainment, and educational programs. Peaceful and relatively quiet, the gathering never seemed to pose a threat to the local community; it actually led to increased business for cafés and shops in the area.
Along with the crowd, the subject of the protests grew to take in a host of complaints about inequality in the economy, much like the Occupy protest in America that followed. The main difference was that the Israeli version accomplished some of its purpose: the Israeli cabinet approved a plan to build two hundred thousand apartments for low- and middle-income renters, to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, and to provide expanded and free kindergartens for all children ages three to five. A twenty-five-year-old woman with a Facebook account and a hunger for community had moved a nation.
We met Daphni at a Tel Aviv café, where the conversation was fueled by espresso and ice cream drizzled with honey. Before she became an activist, Daphni worked as a freelance film editor and struggled to support herself. In her short adult life, the competition for work had grown more intense, and rents had tripled. The last straw came when her landlord gave her three weeks to move out because he planned to convert the building to luxury apartments that could be priced much higher. Her protest idea was born in a moment she called “an emergency,” and she sparked a cascade of responses when she mistakenly clicked “invite all” to send a Facebook posting she intended for a few friends. Among her twelve hundred contacts were hundreds of people who also worked in media. They forwarded the invitation to thousands of people, and thus a movement was born.
The Tel Aviv protesters recognized that their government would ultimately facilitate the solutions to their problems—the point of their protest was to get the government to listen. Day by day, Daphni told us, that she and her fellow protesters tried to communicate with the prime minister and the government, with the intent of making the government people uncomfortable until they did something. As the Tel Aviv gatherings swelled to fill several city blocks, smaller protests occurred across Israel, even in Arab and Druze villages. The result was that “people who had never really met each other came together around needs that they had in common.” In Daphni’s view, the policy shifts that came in response to the outpouring of public demands reflected a level of empathy inherent in human nature. Although deemed to be traditionally feminine, this sensitivity to the distress shown by others is also vital to any politician, male or female, who might want to win election or reelection.
Daphni’s success brought her worldwide attention. Two weeks after we met, she was in America as a guest of the Clinton Global Initiative, explaining to an auditorium that her movement is not spun out of desire to take over the world, but simply to have a decent life.”
Daphni, Carla, and the many others that join them in protest use courage and communication—two primary elements in the Athena paradigm—to advocate change in society. According to Daphni, it was a “from the guts” appeal to common humanity, she said, that brought Israel together to address serious problems. This same combination has been used by those pressing for solutions to even tougher, larger-scale problems, and will, with the determination of those like Carla, hopefully ring true in Brazil and Turkey.