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In Defence of TIME's Person of the Year

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Sometimes life just cuts you a raw deal. For Daniel Alexandre Portoraro, it's that we couldn't all be born in Syria, Egypt, or any other place where standing up for freedom puts one's life at risk. Otherwise, you're nothing but a phony.

Portoraro published a scathing critique, in this forum of Time magazine's decision to make "The Protestor" its person of the year for 2011.

The piece is very well written; elitism masked in patronizing sarcasm always makes for a good read. However, between his jibes at MacBook Pros (which I'm writing on) and circle jerks (how lewd must one really be?), his dismissive article leaves one wondering whether he even read the TIME piece in the first place, or if his contempt for his peers has made him unable to see the big picture that he misses the point.

He writes,

Yet the protesters from art school are being grouped in with the protesters from Syria. One shows a scratch she received from a scuffle with a police officer. The other holds up a cell phone with a bullet hole in it, the only reason he's still alive. One is angry he can't find a job, the other is angry because in his country, his relatives are being imprisoned. In one, protests make headlines because an officer uses pepper spray on detained protestors. In the other, protests make headlines because tanks are storming villages, and the United Nations reports a death toll of 5,000 people over the course on nine months.
So you, who went to Columbia to study film, are "Person of the Year" because you're upset you can't find a job during a recession to cover your student loans? Face it, Time Warner only put you on the cover so you would buy the issue, then years down the line point to it with a false sense of accomplishment.

Unlike Portoraro, Time does not group protestors in the Arab Spring with those marching through Europe, or camped out across North America. Instead, using nuance that Portoraro shuns, it looks at the whole, finding meaning and profundity.

Time writes,

The stakes are very different in different places. In North America and most of Europe, there are no dictators, and dissidents don't get tortured... All over the world, the protesters of 2011 share a belief that their countries' political systems and economies have grown dysfunctional and corrupt -- sham democracies rigged to favor the rich and powerful and prevent significant change... For a critical mass of people from Cairo to Madrid to Oakland, prospects for personal success -- for the good life at the End of History that they'd been promised -- suddenly looked very grim.

Summing it up perfectly, while referencing current events in Russia and rejecting Francis Fukayama's 1992 assertion that we had reached the end of history, Time concludes,"They are protesting corruption and the lack of real freedom and true democracy. Because Russia, like most of the world, has not quite totally arrived at the end of history."

I don't want to debate the merits of the Occupy movement; it's not my area of expertise. I do know enough to agree with Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney when he calls the movement "entirely constructive." But that's beside the point.

The real point is that, notwithstanding the presence of some well-off hipsters who may have been looking for that 60s thrill that has until now proved elusive to our generation, 2011 really was a year like no other.

It was a year where around the world people from all walks of life started to stand up and speak out. The stakes sure were different. However, just because one doesn't stare down the barrel of a gun to have one's voice heard doesn't mean that there's no value in that exercise, or worth to that voice.

On the contrary. At the end of the day, as Time says, protestors around the world "rejuvenated and enlarged the idea of democracy." A new conversation has been started, about the true meanings of bedrock ideals like freedom and fairness and how to make our societies more just. In 2011 we have all realized that our history has not ended.

That pockets of individuals around the world have succeed in bringing this about is more than deserving of the title "Person of the Year." It is anything but a false sense of accomplishment; and we are only at the birth.

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