The Arab Spring and European Summer have now inspired a wave of demonstrations in the U.S. as well. It may well prove to be the most significant wave of protests the nation has seen in many years.
The occupation of Wall Street began on September 17th and quickly mushroomed into dozens of occupations around the country – and all of this before the long planned major occupation in D.C. that began on October 6th.
The timing is propitious. Forty-nine percent of likely voters “think neither party in Congress represents the people,” according to the conservative polling agency Rasmussen.
The Washington Post reports that “Americans have reached a new level of disgust toward Congress that has left nearly all voters angry at their leaders and doubtful that they can fix the problems facing the country. Whether Republican, Democrat or independent, more Americans disapprove of Congress than at any point in more than two decades of Washington Post-ABC News polling.”
There are some in the public who still support the record of the legislative branch: 14 percent.
The discontent reaches beyond displeasure with the particular representatives currently in power to encompass fundamental aspects of the nation’s governance.
Gallup finds “Americans Express[ing] Historic Negativity Toward U.S. Government,” with “A record-high 81% of Americans… dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has been building over the past 10 years.”
Elites are admitting the structural causes leading to the popular anger. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the Congressional Joint Economic Committee that protesters are blaming “with some justification the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess. …. At some level, I can’t blame them.” The Wall Street Journal accurately characterizes this as a warning to legislators. Action must be taken to ensure the continued stability of the system.
In much the same way, a politburo official in the old USSR might have acknowledged that mistakes were made by the state leading to the unrest, and a course correction will be needed.
Those structural roots of the crisis include one third of Americans, including those earning higher incomes, living with so little savings that they would miss their next rent or mortgage payment if they lost their job.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Procter & Gamble Co. is the latest corporation to adapt to what Citigroup has identified as the “Consumer Hourglass Theory.” P&G,
“which estimates it has at least one product in 98% of American households, [will] fundamentally change the way it develops and sells its goods. …. The world’s largest maker of consumer products is now betting that the squeeze on middle America will be long lasting. …. A wide swath of American companies is convinced that the consumer market is bifurcating into high and low ends and eroding in the middle. …. [Citigroup has] since 2009 has urged investors to focus on companies best positioned to cater to the highest-income and lowest-income consumers. It created an index of 25 companies, including Estée Lauder Cos. and Saks at the top of the hourglass and Family Dollar Stores Inc. and Kellogg Co. at the bottom.”
A society with a gouged out middle class – of designer clothing for a few, and meals of Frosted Flakes in water for the rest – is bound to be more prone to restiveness. As is the case globally, the youth are particularly burdened by diminishing opportunities.
In another sign of the times, Sesame Street is introducing a new Muppet that is bedeviled by food insecurity to “bring awareness to the ongoing hunger struggles that families face in the United States.” There are 17 million children in the country with “limited or uncertain access to food.”
“They’re small stories of people who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it. Or, worse, they have tens of thousands in debt to show for it.
College debt shows up a lot in these stories, actually. It’s more insistently present than housing debt, or even unemployment. That might speak to the fact that the protests tilt towards the young. But it also speaks, I think, to the fact that college debt represents a special sort of betrayal. We told you that the way to get ahead in America was to get educated. You did it. And now you find yourself in the same place, but buried under debt. You were lied to.”
Here in New Orleans an occupation began on Thursday. (It cannot have come soon enough. As I write this, out my window on the street below a thin middle-aged man is up early picking through the garbage bins of the apartment complex, eventually strolling away with his harvest of recyclables.)
The Occupied Wall Street Journal – an early print run ran to 50,000 copies on the strength of $10,000 quickly raised – featured a timeline of the global movement, beginning on December 17th, 2010, when the Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, seeing no economic prospects and nothing but harassment from the government, lit himself aflame in public. It was the beginning of a response to, as an article in Slate puts it, the “global class war.”
Elites have also connected the occupations to the global revolt. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg commented, “You have a lot of kids graduating college, can’t find jobs. That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kinds of riots here.”
The genesis of Occupy Wall Street came from a call published by AdBusters. Weekly organizing meetings began in early July.
David Graeber, who was involved in the process, observed (in a Washington Post interview conducted by Ezra Klein, to their credit, though it was only published on the paper’s blog) that:
“One thing that helped a lot was a smattering of people from Spain and Greece and Tunisia who had been doing this sort of thing more recently. They explained that the model that seemed to work was to take something that seemed to be public space, reclaim it, and build up an organization headquarters around that from which you can begin doing other things.”
Much like other occupations of 2011, dozens of committees have been created to manage the day-to-day tasks of a 24/7 occupation. The Greek protestors in Syntagma Square have had over two dozen committees operating in their Square.
Graeber writes that there are “30 different working groups for everything from handling sanitation to discussing labor issues and tax policy. …. Of course, this is nothing compared to what happened in Tahrir Square, where they even had dry cleaners.”
Nathan Schneider characterized the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly as “a horizontal, autonomous, leaderless, modified-consensus-based system with roots in anarchist thought.”
One can only hope that the use of consensus does not become a road block – consensus is a nice goal to aim for in any group decision-making, but it should rarely be a rigid requirement and can sometimes act as an impediment to timely or democratic results.
The extent to which these protests are dominated by people totally new to protesting is an immensely encouraging indication of the opportunities present for this movement to grow. There is a profound opportunity for humbly undertaken educational programs – listening as well as teaching. Ideologies are diverse and, among many, surely newly forming and fluid – this is precisely as it should be.
Food is ordered by people all over the world to feed the “American indignados.” Pizza has become the medium of global solidarity.
“The protestors have transformed the park into a village of sorts, complete with a community kitchen, a library, a concert stage, an arts and crafts center and a media hub.”
On October 5th, unions joined the Wall Street occupation.
The bureaucracies of the establishment unions recognize the occupation movement as important, but remain uncertain of how to capitalize upon it. The New York Times reports:
“Several union leaders complained that their own protests over the past two years had received little attention, though they had put far more people on the streets than Occupy Wall Street has. A labor rally in Washington last October drew more than 100,000 people, with little news media coverage.”
While the corporate media certainly do minimize events like last fall’s One Nation rally, it is hardly shocking that their tepid events fail to generate substantial popular interest. The politically cautious centrism and bland rhetoric of the establishment unions does not exactly inspire hope that they are building a meaningful movement.
Perhaps the current occupations will nudge them towards greater militancy. The Times reports that labor leaders were hearing from union members wondering why organized labor was missing in action.
Of course, the conservatism of the labor bureaucracy has not disappeared. “Behind the scenes,” the Times comments, “union leaders have debated how to respond to Occupy Wall Street. …. [Some] said they were wary of being embarrassed by the far-left activists in the group who have repeatedly denounced the United States government.” Heaven forbid.
Fortunately, thus far such sentiments appear to have been drowned out. Certainly, many in the rank-and-file appear eager to participate. A 32-year-old lawyer and union member told the Times, “We’re so fed up and getting nowhere through the old political structures that there needs to be old-fashioned rage in the streets.”
A spokesperson for the “historically militant” Transport Workers Union even said of the decision to endorse the Wall Street actions within his union: “A motion was brought up to endorse the protests’ goals; I don’t know why it took us so long to do it.”
The Democratic Party
The support of the unions may be vital and welcome, despite the risks created, but the interest of Democratic Party operatives is a dangerous hazard.
With the initial success of the Wall Street occupation, there is now this is the real threat of cooption and redirection into Democratic electoral politics. The Times reports that, “Democratic strategists… said they viewed it as a potential boon.”
Yves Smith quotes a Venezuelan aphorism: “A politician is someone who gets in front of a mob and tries to call it a parade.”
One of the most promising aspects of this wave of occupations is that they are happening under Obama’s watch. After the evaporation of the antiwar movement in the midst of presidential campaigns for John Kerry and Obama, the return of dissent is very welcome.
It is crucial for the occupations to retain complete independence from all politicians, in keeping with the spirit of the rest of the global occupations.
Already there are indications of Democratic representatives attempting to get in front of the developing movement. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, it is not at all clear the occupation movement will be easily coopted. When Representative Charles Rangel visited Zuccotti Park, he was apparently booed, though Joan Wile, writing on Michael Moore’s site, saw things differently.
From talking to the demonstrators in Syntagma Square over the summer it was abundantly evident that all the Greek politicians are discredited. That a similar attitude is prevailing in the U.S. occupations is a huge step forward.
Slate reports that,
“There was almost no talk about politicians. ‘The last six or seven presidents have been fakes,’ shrugged Teddy Curtis, who’d taken off work early from his job at a waste energy conversion company to hoist an ‘End the Fed’ sign. ‘I think they know who we’re going to get before we do. Nothing changes.’”
As Greenwald aptly notes:
“What will determine how long-lasting and significant is the impact of these protests is whether they allow themselves to be exploited into nothing more than vote-producing organs of the Democratic Party — the way the GOP so successfully converted the Tea Party into nothing more than a Party re-branding project. There is no question that such efforts are underway, as organizations that serve as Party loyalists try to glom onto the protests and distort them into partisan tools.”
The dynamics can also operate in the other direction. These occupations have the potential to radicalize people.
Matt Stoller, despite a long background of working within the Democratic Party, spent time in several of the Occupy Wall Street general assemblies and praised the “communal sense of power” they created. Like Greenwald, he warns that:
“Many liberal groups want to “help” by offering a more mainstream version, by explaining it to the press, by cheering how great the occupation is while carefully ensuring that wiser and more experienced hands eventually take over. These impulses are guiding by the received assumptions about how power works in modern America. Power must flow through narrow media channels, it must be packaged and financed by corporations, unions, or foundations, it must be turned into revenue flows that can then be securitized. It must scale so leaders can channel it efficiently into the preset creek bed of modern capitalism. True public spaces like this one are complete mysteries to these people; left, right, center in America are used to shopping mall politics. ….
Interestingly, the first speech I heard at #OccupyWallStreet during soapbox time was a fairly explicit rejection of the notion of an American dream. Many people draw their inspiration from Tahrir Square, hardly a fount of Americana circa 1950. In other words, many of these people simply do not seem to be traditional liberals; they seem to see themselves as a transnational leftist class who believe gender, race, and economics are bound up into one struggle against oppression. .…
Power clashes in extremely odd ways. The Democratic establishment is finding itself tied in knots over how to react to the protests. Many want a left-wing version of the tea party, whereas others are deeply uncomfortable with democratic impulses like this one.”
Even a Washington Post blogger concludes that “an alliance between Democrats and the Occupy movement” is not possible, “at least not without Democrats renouncing the influence Wall Street holds on them.”
The blogger Kevin Gosztola comments, “The segment MSNBC host Ed Schultz did on October 5 indicates liberals, whom the Democratic Party counts on to deliver votes, will be working to contain this movement and make it seem these are really frustrated Obama supporters.”
For Schultz, the protesters are “not going to change the government of the United States but they can change who runs it.” Of course, the Democrats were in charge of both branches of Congress and the White House for two years and even now still retain control in two out of the three. Yet, still the problem is only one of restoring Democrats to the House.
Gostztola accurately sums up the prevailing elite mindset:
“The Obama administration sees itself as the adults. People who challenge the administration, who always oppose the administration on its every move aren’t acting grown-up. The occupiers are children. They can go out and protest but at some point they have to step aside and let the adults do the hard work necessary to eke out some sort of agreement or compromise. This is the culture Obama has promoted. It is why vision and policy ideas are secondary to how best to manage the country.”
The Obama Administration recalls the “new mandarins” that Noam Chomsky scorned over 40 years ago – technocrats that are spiritual descendants of Kennedy’s Camelot. Unfortunately for Obama, the country is far less deluded about the wholesome innocence of the American power elite than they were in the Kennedy era.
Fortunately the nascent occupation movement appears to understand that direct action, rather than electoral politics, is the most likely route to social change.
However, direct action is not cost free: it poses legal and physical risks.
Though bankers may have no reason to fear for their personal safety (media implications of looming violence to the contrary), protesters do. Videos and images of police abuse are legion (see, for instance, here and here), and the caught-on-camera unprovoked pepper spray attack on three nonresistant young women even garnered respectful and concerned corporate television attention – indeed such incidents helped to spark greater coverage of the occupations.
The corporate media coverage obscuring a dynamic of police violence and protestor nonviolence is such a commonplace it scarcely surprises, making objective segments like that of Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC (see the link above; O’Donnell’s language and assessment of the police abuse is remarkably uncompromising) notable.
The shifting Times coverage of the mass arrest (from their behavior it seems the police were seeking a pretext for making a mass arrest, having passively watched or actually encouraged the crowd movement onto the street, thus blocking traffic) of 700 people last weekend on the Brooklyn Bridge to deflect responsibility onto the protesters themselves was quickly detected and widely circulated online.
Meanwhile, JP Morgan has made a record-breaking $4.6 million donation to the New York City Police Foundation.
It is noteworthy that the Wall Street protesters currently perceive themselves unable to even erect tents in Zuccotti Park (which “police have indicated may violate sanitation rules”!). The extent of freedom permitted contrasts unfavorably with the situation at some of the occupations internationally. Extensive arrays of semi-permanent tent encampments have arisen in Syntagma Square and Tel Aviv, for instance.
The protesters have been unable to even use electronic sound amplification in the “very residential neighborhood of mixed income.”
The white shirts, as higher-ranking New York City cops are known, have been unusually prominent, “directing the rough arrests,” and perpetrating much of the gratuitous violence, while the lower-ranking blue shirts stand aside.
One possible reason for the dramatic leading role played of the white shirts not mentioned by the Times is suggested by the surprised reaction of a blue shirt in the video of the pepper spray assault upon young women (“I can’t believe he just fuckin’ maced her.”): fear of uncertain obedience from the blue shirts. The organizers also received unconfirmed reports that some one hundred police officers failed to report for work in a show of solidarity with the occupiers.
Disagreement on the proper relationship for protesters to adopt towards the police has sparked discussion on the left and among the occupiers, though there is no evident dilemma. At a general level, one can simply note that aimless hostility is unproductive, though it is important not to sow illusions among fellow demonstrators.
Take a scene related by the Times:
“Outside 1 Police Plaza on Friday evening, the seasoned agitator known as Reverend Billy tried to curry sympathy from the more than 60 officers standing across a police barricade. His sentiment was summed up in a protest sign that read, “The Working Class Must Unite (Hey, Cops, That Includes You).”
This need not reflect naiveté – merely a plausible strategy – so long as it is also made clear (in a movement in which many are protesting for the first time) that we must disabuse ourselves of expectations for decent treatment or sympathy from the police.
In an excellent new article, Kristian Williams, author of “Our Enemies in Blue,” surveys the prevailing historical patterns of police enforcement of class rule and the occasional exceptions, providing superb context for assessing how to approach the police presence.
Violence is not the only threat posed by the police. In the era of extrajudicial state murder of U.S. citizens, the surveillance state does intelligence reconnaissance (for instance, by photographing the crowds, as well as developing databases of dissenters from the mass arrests) on law abiding protesters.
The power elite need not rely solely upon state surveillance however. A Philadelphia Inquirer financial columnist blogged:
“Corporations who grab marketing data from Twitter, Facebook and other social media posts are curious about who’s behind the Occupy Wall Street protests and the mobilizers of spin-off demonstrations. Here’s how it looks to one veteran data miner: “‘We’ve been watching it for three weeks. Over the weekend, with the arrests in New York, it’s really taking off… The volumes have increased 20X, 30X. There are millions of communications.’ What’s the message? ‘Politics this year, it’s going to be the workers against the rich.’”
The police abuse has helped push the story onto the front pages. As Yves Smith wrote:
“Police efforts to contain OccupyWallStreet have had the opposite effect to what the officialdom no doubt assumed would happen: that the demonstrators would either become discouraged or become violent, which would make it easy to discredit them. Instead, the macing of a group of women last weekend, followed by the arrest of over 700 people on Brooklyn Bridge on Saturdy, has given the movement legitimacy and media attention. It was the lead item on the BBC website over the weekend.”
In general, international coverage of the occupations has been more generous.
As the Institute For Policy Studies’ invaluable Too Much online weekly observed, “the international press is so far covering [the occupation of Wall Street] much more seriously than media in the United States.”
Predictably, much of the corporate reportage has exhibited varying degrees of disdain and other forms of bias (Vijay Prashad finds examples in the Associated Press and Boston Globe here). Glenn Greenwald wrote “the now-familiar journalistic tone of a zoologist examining a bizarre new species of animal discovered in the wild.”
The lack of demands meme is transparently absurd – did anyone belittle the Egyptian protesters for not having a unified list of demands regarding the system (what they want) that was to replace Mubarak (what they’re against)? As it happens there were a wide range of views on what kind of governance should follow his overthrow. This was somehow not seen to be an indication of their lack of seriousness.
The notion that the protests have been lacking clear demands and should produce specific policy aims is a bizarre standard never applied to protests looked upon with favor (not to mention putting the cart before the horse – people are gathering precisely to permit democratic dialogue about aims, not to elaborate at the outset the need for, say, a particular tax rate on financial transactions).
It is easy enough to compile some short term demands – say, raise the capital gains tax to match paycheck taxes, a measure that would overwhelmingly target the top one percent (see the October 3rd edition of Too Much “Inequality By The Numbers” graph) – if in fact, a ten point program is called for. But it is the long term demands, about which there can be no artificial consensus, which are the most important – and those can only come through a process of mutual education and discussion.
Public perceptions, informed by the corporate media, continue to lag behind reality in one realm – only “45% [of those polled] say American society is divided between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’” while “52% say it is incorrect to think of the country this way” – that may limit broad participation until popular education improves. Yet this too has been slowly changing: “Over the longer term, however, the number seeing themselves in the have-nots has risen substantially. In 1988, half as many described themselves this way (17%) as is the case today (34%).”
The most dramatic cause in recent years for a renewed faith that we live in a united society was Obama’s election, the effects of which are now finally wearing off: “The percentage of Americans who see society as divided between haves and have-nots declined shortly after Barack Obama took office, but has rebounded since.”
Rasmussen Reports found, “Seventy-nine percent (79%) of Americans agree with the statement that the “The big banks got bailed but the middle class got left behind.” Just 10 percent disagreed. Or as the president of the conservative polling firm summarized it, “Americans continue to overwhelmingly believe that government and big business work together against the rest of us.” Despite these numbers, the corporate portrayals of the protests (backed up, no doubt, by a lifetime of socialization against displays of dissent) have had an impact:
“Americans are divided on the protestors themselves. Thirty-three percent (33%) have a favorable opinion, 27% hold an unfavorable view, and a plurality of 40% have no opinion one way or the other. Fifty percent (50%) of Democrats have a favorable opinion while a plurality of Republicans (43%) say the opposite. Among those not affiliated with either major party, a solid plurality (45%) have no opinion. Most unaffiliateds are not following the story.”
With news coverage like that of Erin Burnett on CNN, not to speak of Fox News, it is little wonder a chunk of the population reflexively recoils. Still, the protests are more popular than not – and far more popular than Congress.
On Monday, October 3rd, CNN debuted the new show Out Front, hosted by Erin Burnett. Her background includes stints working for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. The segment can serve as a case study in propaganda as it trotted out all the media techniques to neuter the danger of the occupation movement. The laughable crudeness makes it particularly easy to identify the tropes.
Burnett visits Occupy Wall Street, where she finds a “tent city meets Woodstock kind of feel.” (Trivializing: subculture). “I asked several protesters what it was that they wanted. Now, they did not know. …they did know what they don’t want.” (Trivializing: ignorant). She then proceeds to venture her best guess: “So what do you want, protesters? It seems like people want a messiah leader just like they did when they anointed Barack Obama. But, if you don’t know what’s wrong, no one can fix it for you.” (Misinformation: red herring).
The notion that the protesters are looking for a leader from without to save them is about as contrary to the spirit of the protests as an idea could be, though Burnett appeared so disinterested in hearing the demonstrators that she may have even been sincere in her ignorance.
John Avlon, a CNN talking-head regular, is brought on to help Burnett ridicule the irrelevant new social movement:
Burnett: “I was in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution, and this lacked the intensity, to say the least.”
“It’s not remotely parallel. Look, drum circles don’t start problems. And it’s tough to get your demands taken seriously dressed when you’re dressed as a zombie. There’s no parallel to the grievances these folks have and some of them are legitimate. People should be angry at some of the economic environments — but to compare this and the United States of America to Tahrir Square and the Egyptian government or Syrian protesters is very self-congratulatory. But it has got nothing to do with reality.” (Trivializing: grievances; subculture.)
Burnett: “…there’s a little part of you that warms to such idealism.” (Condescension: damning with faint praise.)
Burnett: “…it’s peaceful and it’s fine now, but it could become something like we saw in London where disaffected youths become violent” (unfortunately, Avlon didn’t play along on that trope). (Potentially violent).
Avlon: “Having fun, this is not about protest and that’s a good thing.” (Trivializing.)
Avlon: “…conservative populism has always played a major role in American politics. Liberal populist marches like this tend to alienate more people than they attract at the end of the day. I don’t think you’re going to see a presidential campaign built around this for example.” (Trivializing.)
Burnett then seamlessly transitioned into the next segment, on a potential Chris Christie candidacy:
“But here’s the bottom line, can he even raise the money to win at this point? A lot of big money Dems tell me they’re going to give money. A major bank CEO, one of the biggest in the country, said last week to me I’m a lifelong Democrat, Erin; I’d vote for Christie and give him money. You’ve also got the new CEO of Clear Channel, Bob Pittman (ph), among the many that I saw at a mobile conference in Idaho this summer telling Chris Christie they wanted to give him money. …. Well, to compete in the primaries, Christie needs a whole lot of money. Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton both raised hundreds of millions, 223 million for Clinton, 105 million for Romney, and that wasn’t enough. They lost in 2008 — the ultimate winner, Barack, winning with a cool $745 million. Can Christie get that kind of cash?…”
And so forth. Somehow, viewers are expected not to see the connection between the protests and this political system. Only the most well trained minds will see no problems here.
Burnett then returned to the occupation: “And now for a story that made us say, ‘Seriously?!’ The occupied Wall Street protests entered its third week today.” (Trivializing.)
Burnett: “…their books, banjos, bongos, sports drinks, catered lunch. Yes, there was catered lunch, designer yoga clothing — that’s a little lemon logo — computers, lots of MacBooks, and phones …. and by the way, to Dan the very ardent software developer he had a lovely MacBook.” (Implications of hypocrisy.)
The transparently over-the-top extent of the bias may have made the show less than effective as propaganda, but CNN is trying to compete with Fox News in employing entertaining performance artists posing as hosts – most coverage is more subdued.
An inside peak at how newsroom editorial boards shape coverage can be seen in the portrait sketched by journalist Will Bunch:
“I’d successfully lobbied my editors at the Philadelphia Daily News to send me up here, but they loaded me down with questions. What do the protesters want, exactly? Why is this different from all the other left-wing protests? Why now? And be sure to write about all the fringe people — the Ron Paul fanatics and the bandana-wearing anarchists and what not.”
Interestingly, the business press has had some of the most sympathetic coverage.
David Weidner, a financial columnist for MarketWatch the Wall Street Journal website, wrote a remarkably positive assessment. Under the title “Occupy Wall Street is a tea party with brains,” Weidner opines:
“It’s been called the Woodstock of Wall Street, but that’s hardly an apt comparison. The gathering at Max Yasgur’s farm 42 years ago was built on a generation looking for peace, love, some drugs and acid rock. The kids today are looking for real, tangible change of the capitalist sort. They’re organized, lucid and motivated.
Actually, they have more in common with the tea-party movement than the hippie dream, with one key difference: They’re smart enough to recognize the nation’s problems aren’t simply about taxes and the deficit.
They want jobs. They want the generation in power to acknowledge them. They want political change. They want responsibility in a culture that abdicates it. They want a decent future of opportunity.
If that isn’t American, then what is?
Another key difference between today’s kids and their hippie forefathers: They’re willing to gut it out.
Not only is Occupy Wall Street showing no signs of dying out, but it’s getting stronger. On Sunday, a night of rain dampened the crowd at Zuccotti Park, but then the sun broke through, and they were back at it: challenging police, marching and drawing attention to their cause.
This isn’t just some anarchist or lefty agitating. Many of the protesters are furious with the Obama administration’s kow-towing to Big Finance. They’re critical of Federal Reserve policies. Refund California is aligned with 1,000 faith-based groups. ….
The press seems confused. There were signs about Afghanistan, taxes, Wall Street greed, corporate responsibility and just about every pet cause out there. But what some decry as a lack of focus is really about them not getting it: This movement is about money. It’s about wasting money. It’s about greed for money guiding those in power. It’s about the inequitable distribution of money.
Most of all, it’s about process. In a ‘general assembly’ meeting Saturday, Occupy Wall Street came up with its first official document. It is a powerful summation of grievances, not just of the young, but of many Americans: home foreclosures, workers rights, Internet privacy, health care and bailouts. Read the declaration of Occupy Wall Street.
‘No true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power,’ the declaration states. ‘We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.’
The protesters urge others to join them in public spaces everywhere. ….
But for a generation accused of being lazy, unwilling to work and living under their parents’ roofs for far too long, these kids have shown a hell of a lot of mettle so far. The odds are still long, but they’ve succeeded in the first step.
They’ve gotten our attention.”
Even the Economist, in its blog, was prompted to cheer, “woo!”
Mark Provost, an economic journalist, visited the Boston occupation and shared the following anecdote:
“I asked a well-dressed young man exiting work for directions to the park. He didn’t know the location, and I didn’t tell him why I was going (fearing he may intentionally misdirect me). Unfortunately, my cover was blown when ‘Brian’ asked a coworker for the whereabouts. Brian pointed me in the direction of South Station and offered his opinion, “I work for an investment bank. I am a capitalist…but I don’t agree with American-style capitalism.” Without pause, he refined his thoughts, “I am a socialist.” I was running late, so I simply nodded. He repeated this heresy, and wished me luck.”
The financial press is much less obliged to serve a propaganda function – and when the system appears broken even to some of its beneficiaries, it is free to express it.
Capitalism is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy. As David Graeber wrote in the Guardian, since the 2008 economic collapse it has been evident that:
“Everything we’d been told for the last decade turned out to be a lie. Markets did not run themselves; creators of financial instruments were not infallible geniuses; and debts did not really need to be repaid – in fact, money itself was revealed to be a political instrument, trillions of dollars of which could be whisked in or out of existence overnight if governments or central banks required it. Even the Economist was running headlines like ‘Capitalism: Was it a Good Idea?’”
In Egypt and Tunisia, the task was to bring down Western-backed dictatorships. In the U.S., the challenge is to topple the dictatorship of Wall Street.
How long these occupations will last in anybody’s guess. As with most uprisings, the most likely outcome is a fizzling out. Occasionally they explode.
As Bunch found in talking to the occupiers, one protester said: “since Obama was elected I’ve pretty much lost all hope in the two-party system. …. I’ve been waiting for this day for years” (a “frame of mind mirrored most of the folks that I talked to in Zuccotti Park” Bunch notes).
Another protester, a 47-year-old who came to occupy Wall Street all the way from San Francisco said, “I’m here for as long as it takes for this revolution to take off.”
The one percent on Wall Street are concerned about the protests – “the chief executive of a major bank” in Manhattan was worried enough to call a stooge reporter at the Times to investigate how fearful they should be; and when Anonymous endorsed Occupy Wall Street, the Department of Homeland Security issued an unusual warning to the nation’s bankers.
The Financial Times referenced the Diggers as a historical antecedent, while assuring its readers that “the average US voter may be irate at the financial system but is a long way from turning into an anarcho-syndicalist.” True, but perhaps less robustly so than Wall Street imagines.
In a survey of the occupiers, a retired teacher and grandmother from Middletown, Conn. told MSNBC, “If it has to be a revolution, it may be just that time – and I’m willing to work for that.”
By Steve Fake