When heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly arrived in New York two years ago, they shared the spotlight with another group of people massing in the city. Lower Manhattan was becoming the epicenter of a movement that became known as Occupy Wall Street, a manifestation of the wave of people power that was sweeping the globe.
Back then, masses of everyday citizens were flexing their muscles worldwide. Demonstrators seemed to have the upper hand—peacefully toppling dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, raising complaints and demands seemingly everywhere. The very meaning of power seemed to be changing. Over the past two years, mass demonstrations erupted in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, Israel and elsewhere.
This year, all the cameras are trained on the U.N. building. The masses, the fabled “99 percent,” have reluctantly yielded the stage to more traditionally powerful forces. The world’s major conflicts are under discussion at the podium and on the sidelines of the General Assembly.