Keeping with a tradition that started 84 years ago, Time this morning announced "The Protester" as the magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year.
Announcing the choice on NBC’s "Today Show," Time Managing Editor Rick Stengel said that the nameless, female protester dressed in a traditional head scarf is intended to represent both the men and women around the world — and particularly in the Middle East — who risked their lives to bring about transformational change.
“They are changing history already and they will change history in the future,” he said, adding that the current wave of global protests can be traced back to protests in Iran two years ago.
“Iran prefigured what was going to happen in the Arab world. And then what happened in the Arab world did influence Occupy Wall Street, and Occupy Oakland, and the protests in Greece and Madrid,” Stengel told hosts Matt Lauer and Ann Curry.
Navy Adm. William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, who commanded the secret SEAL Team Six raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden came in second on the Time list.
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who spent 81 days in secret detention, finished third, followed by Rep. Paul Ryan, who put forth a plan to tackle America’s burgeoning national debt.
Britain’s Kate Middleton, who married Prince William, finished in fifth place.
“Admiral McRaven captured bin Laden and the Duchess of Windsor captured our hearts,” Stengel said. “They represent people who affected us in one way or another, who swayed the conversation, captured our imagination.”
Absent from the list of finalists were the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered a head wound when she was shot by a gunman during a public appearance before constituents in her home state of Arizona.
“It’s not a lifetime achievement award and Steve is someone I’d venerate, but it wasn’t really a year where he transformed anything,” said Stengel, noting that both Jobs and Giffords are featured elsewhere in the magazine.
Stengel said that the global protesters are all connected by technology.
“They all talked about how they had been influenced by other protests and how social media brought all of them closer,” Stengel says. “It’s really an extraordinary combination of demography and technology that brought about this change.”
The tradition of selecting a person, thing — or in the case of The Protester, a concept — began with the selection of aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1927 as the first Man of the Year.
The distinction has since been held by presidents, political leaders, innovators, captains of industry and even the infamous, including Adolf Hitler in 1938, Joseph Stalin in 1943 and Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.
In the case of the Middle East, Stengel says that no one could have predicted such a transformational outcome.
“There was no movement there. We thought these dictators are not going to be toppled. And then these people, who risked their lives, risked their livelihoods to go out there and brought about change that nobody had expected,” he explains. “It’s a transformational change and I think it is changing the world for the better.”
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