Here’s Time magazine’s argument — the writer was Kurt Andersen — for why 2011 was the Year of the Protester:
So 2011 was unlike any year since 1968 – but more consequential because more protesters have more skin in the game. Their protests weren’t part of a countercultural pageant, as in ’68, and rapidly morphed into full-fledged rebellions, bringing down regimes and immediately changing the course of history. It was, in other words, unlike anything in any of our lifetimes, probably unlike any year since 1848, when one street protest in Paris blossomed into a three-day revolution that turned a monarchy into a republican democracy and then – within weeks, thanks in part to new technologies… inspired an unstoppable cascade of protest and insurrection in Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Milan, Venice… as well as a huge peaceful demonstration of democratic solidarity in New York…
Whoa, Kurt. Street protests took place around the world on a larger scale than any year since 1989 — that much I’ll give you — and might have more lasting effects than the worldwide protests in 1968. However, it’s too early to declare that 2011 marked the beginning of changes as sweeping as those in 1848, a year of genuine revolution.
My choice for Person of the Year would have been Pepper-Spray Cop, meaning not only the cop who pepper-sprayed peaceful UC-Davis protesters at point-blank range, but also the thousands of other cops who share his mindset and engage in similar behavior. There’s nothing new about protesters, or police violence against protesters, but the systematically heavy-handed approach taken by cops in 2011 did seem ominously new, at least in the United States.
These cops used military tactics to disperse or disable people who were doing nothing more than expressing their rights of free speech and assembly. Yes, cops overreacted against protestors in other eras, but now they can do so using cartoonish body armor, military vehicles, and “sublethal” weapons such as sound cannon, flash grenades and pepper-spray. And of course, by using run-of-the-mill lethal weapons.
Arguably, police departments in major U.S. cities over the past few decades have morphed into private armies with hardware and surveillance technology formerly accessible only to the military, and the courts have made it easy for these police armies to treat protesters as terrorists, just as cops in supposedly less democratic countries do.