Could a 94-year-old former French resistance fighter from World War II become the sage of the Occupy Wall Street movement in America?
Reaching across generations, Stéphane Hessel has written a pamphlet-sized manifesto on rebellion that is inspiring youthful uprisings not only in the United States but across Europe. “Indignez-vous!”, first published in France a year ago, has sold nearly 4 million copies in Europe and has now appeared in the United States under the title “Time for Outrage” (Twelve, $10). The public television newscast Democracy Now has cited the tiny volume as an inspiration to Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York. And William D. Cohan, a Bloomberg columnist and author of “Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World,” suggested this week that the book “could come in handy for the growing Occupy Wall Street movement as it continues to search for its voice and its raison d’etre (as the French would say.)”
The book, a 41-page red hardcover as small as a pack of cigarettes, was meant originally as a remembrance of the values that sustained French resistance fighters more than 65 years ago. “The basic motive of the Resistance, ” Hessel writes, “was indignation.” The pamphlet’s message of anger, engagement and nonviolence — elevated by references to Hegel, FDR and Sartre — struck a chord with a wide audience, which even Hessler found surprising. “When it came out I thought it would have 8,000 copies and it would be of interest to old French resistance workers,” he said in an interview with his American publisher, Twelve. “And then it hit a moment where so many people in so many countries are unhappy about the way they are being led.”
In the book, Hessler strikes a balance between battle cry — “Let us not be defeated by the tyranny of the world financial markets that threaten peace and democracy everywhere”— and Gandhi-esque conciliation — “Hopefulness and the hope for nonviolence must be favored over violence.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement has gotten a sympathetic pat on the head from many writers — among them the illustrious Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood and the rebellious Naomi Klein and Cornel West — but it’s Hessel, the elderly concentration camp survivor and former United Nations diplomat who speaks most clearly in the language of the protesters. “It's time to get angry!” he tells the young. “When outraged, as I was by Nazism, you will become militant, strong and engaged. You will join the great course of history as it flows toward greater justice [and] greater freedom.”
Follow me on Twitter @SteveLevingston