This year, Time's Person of the Year is sort of you: It's The Protester. Time's managing editor Rick Stengel said, "No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor in a town barely on a map set himself on fire in a public square, it would spark protests that would bring down dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and rattle regimes in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Or that that spirit of dissent would spur Mexicans to rise up against the terror of drug cartels, Greeks to march against unaccountable leaders, Americans to occupy public spaces to protest income inequality, and Russians to marshal themselves against a corrupt autocracy."
Kurt Andersen wrote the cover story, noting "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. Any day that Tunisians, Egyptians or Syrians occupy streets and squares, they know that some of them might be beaten or shot, not just pepper-sprayed or flex-cuffed." He also looked at how technology has fueled and helped the protest, and offered a personal story: His 24-year-old nephew Daniel joined Occupy Wall Street after reading about it on his Twitter and Facebook feeds.
As soon as he arrived at Zuccotti Park, he went to the information desk. "It was staffed by someone who wasn't very articulate," he told me, "who wasn't the face of what I thought this should be." He offered to pitch in and thus became a member of the information working group. He helped guide the general assemblies, OWS's daily town meetings, reveling in the process of debating and deciding. To me it sounded like being a facilitator at a corporate management retreat — except outdoors, with everyone voting by means of kooky hand signals and making sure the anarchists are heard. Even if I were a 24-year-old idealist, I told Daniel, I would have zero patience for the process. He'd get annoyed from time to time by "craziness, by a sense of entitlement, anger, resentment," he said. "But there are jerks in every organization no matter how 'pure' the organization."
After my wife and I kicked him out of our house — three weeks seemed like a fulfillment of avuncular duty — Daniel slept at the park most nights. At around 1 a.m. on the final night of the encampment in November, he was at a friend's apartment when he got a text message — police en route, eviction imminent. He rushed downtown, but new police barricades kept him and other protesters a block away up Broadway. They were ordered to scram, most of them refused, the pepper spray came out, and the police announced they'd be arrested if they didn't leave the sidewalk. Daniel spent 38 hours in custody, charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration.
I found out about his arrest and release — via e-mail and a Facebook status update — in Cairo, as I walked through Tahrir Square during the first of the recent, huge anti-junta protests.
The cover was created by OWS-supporter Shepard Fairey.