Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales visits Rothschild protest tents
"When Americans see that the changes to balance the budget are unfair, we may see them hit the streets."
7 August 11 17:18, Roy Goldenberg
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales today visited the Rothschild Boulevard protest tents in Tel Aviv, where equality is not seen on the horizon, but where the voice of the masses, just like his free online encyclopedia, is heard far away.
Wales is visiting Israel for the first annual meeting of the country's Wikipedia supporters as part of a series of Wikipedia events. "The main connection between Wikipedia and the protest in Israel is the right of people to express themselves and be heard in public," he said.
Israeli protests are nothing new to Wales. Six weeks ago, he attended the President's Conference in Jerusalem, during the height of the cottage cheese protest. "On my last visit here, Israelis were protesting against the price of cottage cheese, and some people laughed. That protest was apparently a warm-up for this one," he said, during his walk among the dozens of tents while receiving simultaneous translations of the protest signs against housing prices and the high cost of living. "People told me themselves, 'Why only protest against the price of cheese? Let's protest against more serious things, such as rent and the price of housing.'"
Amid the drops of sweat on Wales' face caused by the humidity, it was possible to see the enthusiasm that launched the free knowledge revolution. "This is an amazing time for Israel, with all the protests around," he said. "Many people around the world are watching what's happening here. This is different from what we saw in the revolutions in the Arab world - here there are no tanks surrounding us, only people using their basic right to go out and demonstrate. Yesterday, I couldn’t make it to the demonstration because of the conference, and I regret that. This is amazing."
The Israeli protests became mass protests because they went viral online. "The Internet helps people organize without large organizations. Things happen faster than in the past. There used to be mass demonstrations, but they were organized by large organizations. Today, it's much more spontaneous and faster - and that's the amazing thing," said Wales.
While the people in Israel are protesting, people in the US are mostly dealing with the unprecedented credit downgrade. Wales believes that this could bring Americans onto the streets. "Although it's a bit abstract to demonstrate over something like the credit downgrade of the US, but when it becomes necessary to balance the budget and the debt, there will be cuts. And when Americans see that the changes are unfair, we may see them hit the streets," he says.
Asked if he would set up a tent to protest the US government, Wales said, "I use my tent to go camping in the woods, so I doubt I'll set up a tent on Capitol Hill."
There are also many differences between Wikipedia and the tent protest. "At a time when we're tying to keep Wikipedia neutral, a protest cannot stay that way. When demands are made for changes in the society in which we live, it's very hard to stay outside politics and conflicts between opinions and positions," Wales said.
Before departing back to the US, Wales will attend the Israel Internet Association event, where he will discuss open Internet access. "To make the Internet accessible to everyone, it is necessary to remove market barriers and make it much more competitive," he says. "The moment there isn't one or two players making huge profits from control of the local Internet market, it will be possible to provide access to more people at a minimal price."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 7, 2011