Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Understanding the “Occupy Wall Street” movement

On September 17th, a relatively small group of people frustrated with the United States' financial crisis and the government's response to it assembled out at Zuccotti Park in New York City – next to the former site of the World Trade Centre and nearby Wall Street.

One week after New Yorkers started camping out, 80 protesters were arrested and at least four pepper sprayed by police as they marched through New York's financial district.

After two weeks, thousands of marchers headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge, and 700 were arrested as they walked directly onto the famous span that reaches between New York's boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The action has come to be known as 'Occupy Wall Street', a trending issue that has gone viral on Twitter, Facebook, and as organisers hope, in the streets too

The protest was originally called for by the Canadian activist group Adbusters taking its inspiration from the Arab Spring movement and from the Spanish Indignants.

The participants of the event are mainly protesting against social and economic inequality , corporate greed , and the influence of corporate money and lobbyists on government, among other concerns. Adbusters states that, "Beginning from one simple demand – a presidential commission to separate money from politics – we start setting the agenda for a new America.” The protest organizers hope that the protestors themselves will formulate their own specific demands, expecting them to be focused on "taking to task the people who caused the economic meltdown.

There’s no doubt about it that Wall Street is a place millions of Americans love to hate and that hatred have had been seen back in the 1960s, where a gang of Yippies, a politicised arm of the hippies led by the late Abbie Hoffman, who had wormed their way into the tour of the New York Stock Exchange throwing the US legal tender (coins and bills) below on the trading floor. The bills barely had time to land on the ground before guards began removing the group from the building. Outside, the activists had formed a circle, holding hands and chanting "Free! Free!" At one point, Hoffman stood in the centre of the circle and lit the edge of a $5 bill while grinning madly, but an NYSE runner grabbed it from him, stamped on it, and said: "You're disgusting.” All this showed US citizens dislike towards political process being run by economic interests and by giant corporations in particular.

This present movement is no different from the previous one, for it too has the purpose of an expression of frustration about the way that corporations, politics and money controls their lives and controls the way that they live, breath and function in society.

With the system being broken at every level, where more than 25 million Americans are unemployed, more than 50 million live without health insurance and perhaps 100 million Americans are mired in poverty, where the fat cats continue to get tax breaks and reap billions while politicians compete to turn the austerity screws on all of us, obviously would lead to furor of such a magnitude.

The positives of the movement lie in the fact that the people are raising their voice against the rich, powerful and corrupt, that they are exhibiting political and civic consciousness and which is what the situation demands in its present hour. At some point the number of people occupying Wall Street - whether that’s five thousand, ten thousand or fifty thousand - will force the powers to offer concessions. No one can say how many people it will take or even how things will change exactly, but there is a real potential for bypassing a corrupt political process and to begin realising a society based on human needs not hedge fund profits.

It is indeed a very powerful and strong movement with a lot of potential but it also posses a quick threat of getting extinguished in real. Although many of the Wall Street protesters are following the tactics of the Arab Revolutions, they've begun on a higher plane politically. The Arab dictatorships made for an easy target and helped unify working people against the regimes; the Wall Street protesters, however, have already identified the money interests behind the bad government in the U.S. — a very similar money interest that rules post-Mubarak Egypt that Egyptians are still mobilizing to dethrone. The need for concrete political demands becomes all the more important now that the financial elite are the target. And although the Occupy Wall Street movement has put forth some excellent demands, they have not elaborated specific policies that would achieve these demands. Some examples of their demands include: "Ending wealth inequality, ending homelessness, ending poverty, and ending political corruption.”

The protesters might think that making the demands broad enough will open the gates to a wider number of people. But these demands create two dangers:

1) working people may simply view the demands as unattainable, since all people would like to end poverty but see no way to achieve it.

2) vague demands invite political opportunists into the fold, who would like to join the movement in order to kill it.

For example, President of the group Rebuild the Dream, Van Jones, has recently pushed his Democratic Party-friendly organization into the Occupy Wall Street fold. And although Rebuild the Dream puts forth some progressive demands, its ultimate purpose is to mobilize people to re-elect President Obama, a puppet of Wall Street.

More specific demands would also help to accelerate the number of labor unions who join the movement. The more unions that join the movement, the more logs go on the fire, and the more ability to reach out via labor's resources to the wider oppressed community. It is no surprise that the labor unions in Egypt — after having helped activate the younger activists via strike waves — are now leading the charge, post-Mubarak, with a new, larger flurry of strike activity. If Occupy Wall Street made a special effort to attract union support, the movement as a whole would benefit greatly.

All in all, the movement has successfully re-focused the nation's debate on who ruined the economy and who should be targeted by shifting blame away from immigrants, unions, and other groups of working people, energizing a teeming million who want to collectively organize for progressive change in the interests of working people and for the nation as a whole.

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