It may surprise you to hear that one of the most powerful documents of today’s modern youth movements – from Occupy Wall Street in America to the Indignados of Spain – was actually written by a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor and French Resistance fighter.Stéphane Hessel was born in Berlin in 1917, became a French citizen in 1939, and joined the French army upon the outbreak of World War II. In 1941, while France was occupied by the Germans, he joined the French Resistance, but was captured in 1944 during the lead-up into the D-Day invasions. He was sent to the Buchenwald and Dora Nazi concentration camps, but escaped during a transfer to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, making his way across Germany to link up with the United States Army. Following the war, Hessel worked with the United Nations, assisting Eleanor Roosevelt and others in the drafting of the UN ‘s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He followed this with a successful career in diplomacy and public service, and died earlier this year at the age of 95.
Hessel argued that “indignation” – righteous anger at the offences and atrocities of fascism and Nazism – were what powered and drove the French Resistance movement and the larger international gathering of Allied Forces that was victorious in World War II. He believed that the great economic, social and political achievements of the post-war period arose because that indignation shaped a new system in which every soldier and every citizen had a stake, and in which opportunities were afforded to all. By 2010, however, Hessel had come to believe that the achievements of his generation were being undermined and dismantled by unfettered corporate profiteering and the glorification of greed. In 2010, he released his slim 35-page book Indignez-Vous! in a limited edition of 6,000 copies. It has since sold 1.5 million copies in France, and a further 3 million copies in more than 30 languages worldwide. English-language editions are titled Time for Outrage.
For the economic developer, Time for Outrage is a problematic text. Certainly, for those wishing to understand the outrage, anger and fears – in essence, the indignation – at the heart of the Occupy movement, this is a vital text. And as youth unemployment spikes across the industrialized world, savvy economic developers will be seeking answers to many of the same questions that drive Hessel, Spanish youth protests, and even the Arab Spring. But some questions are even more fundamental; Hessel decries , for example, “the Western obsession with productivity,” and calls for a more holistic approach to community building and development. While it may easy to dismiss his outrage in traditional left-right/capitalist-socialist terms, real introspection drives us deeper. Do we pursue economic development in order to maximize municipal tax revenues or corporate bottom lines? Or, rather, do we seek more subtle measures of community success and wellbeing? If it’s the latter, perhaps we should be asking ourselves why youth unemployment is so high in our communities, why so many rural communities are struggling, or why First Nations have been marginalized by the larger economy. Hessel suggests that – in asking these questions – we need to get indignant. We need to demand more. And, as economic developers, we need to do better.
For a thought-provoking read, and for insight into the ideology at the heart of current protest movements, the book is highly recommended. You can purchase a copy here.