Where have I been for the last 12 days? Obviously, an ocean away from Wall Street, or I would have been there with the protestors of “Occupy Wall Street,” who have taken anti-capitalist protest to the heart of the beast — Wall Street, where the financial crisis caused by the unfettered greed of an unregulated market first manifested itself over three years ago.
The movement began in July with a call from Adbusters for people to gather in Wall Street to protest “against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America.”
“On September 17,” the announcement continued, “we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.”
That one simple demand was apparently for Barack Obama to “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington,” which seemed to me to be a compete waste of time. However, once activists picked up on Adbusters‘ call, and began mobilizing, something different emerged — a movement that drew on the anti-globalization movement of the late 90s and early 2000s, which was snuffed out by the “War on Terror,” and, of course, on the recent trajectory of protest and revolution, from Tunisia to Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the Middle East, and also in Europe, as manifested in Greece and Spain and even on the streets of the UK, and in Madison, Wisconsin, where huge protests took place earlier this year.
In response to Adbusters’ initial announcement, activists set up a planning group and a site for sharing information, and began mobilzing, announcing:
The participation of every person, and every organization, that has an interest in returning the US back into the hands of its individual citizens is required. Our nation, our species and our world are in crisis. The US has an important role to play in the solution, but we can no longer afford to let corporate greed and corrupt politics set the policies if our nation. We, the people of the United States of America, considering the crisis at hand, now reassert our sovereign control of our land.
And so the movement began. There were not 20,000 people in Wall Street on Saturday September 17, but the 5,000 people who did turn up brought with them a sense of outrage and perseverance that has not gone away, despite police brutality last week, when peaceful protestors were pepper-sprayed, and 80 of them were arrested.
With little sign that the police intend to arrest everyone involved with the protest, it is easy to see it continuing “for a few months,” if not longer. After all, those gathered here are protesting about how, while the criminals in the offices around them continue to earn astronomical salaries, they are burdened with debt and have nothing to show for it.
For the Guardian, Karen McVeigh spoke to protestors in Zuccotti Park, where a campsite of the “over-educated and under-employed” has taken root, and where those marginalized by the crimes of the banking sector (and the wholesale tax evasion practised by corporations) articulated the grievances that will not go away, and that cannot, it seems, be addressed by any existing political movement:
One student, who gave his name as Romeo C., said he was typical of the #occupywallst protesters. Romeo, 26, said: “We have a president who tells us to do the right thing, to go to school, to get a better life, but I’m not getting a better life. I am a new college graduate and I have $50,000 of college debt built up while studying business management at Berkeley. I can’t find a job to pay it off.”
“Look around us, Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs — they got us in this position in the first place. The banks get a bailout but what about us? Where’s our bailout? A lot of my friends are here. We have good degrees, we have worked hard, but now what?” […]
Marisa Holmes, a New York documentary filmmaker and community organizer, said she was here for the foreseeable future: “We are the over-educated and under-employed. Our future has been totally sold out. Politicians have failed us and the square is somewhere where we can speak out. This is the beginning. It’s direct democracy in action.” […]
Matt Parice, 17, a student at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, said he was protesting against corrupt politicians. Parice, 17, said: “When a politician runs for office, individuals can donate a certain sum of money, But corporations have donate unlimited funds to politicians and obviously that will influence the policies. Our representatives represent money, they don’t represent us.”
In further analysis of the significance of the Wall Street protests, Micah White and Kalle Lasn of Adbusters explained in an article in the Guardian on September 19:
There is a shared feeling on the streets around the world that the global economy is a Ponzi scheme run by and for Big Finance. People everywhere are waking up to the realization that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which speculative financial transactions add up, each day, to $1.3tn (50 times more than the sum of all the commercial transactions). Meanwhile, according to a United Nations report, “in the 35 countries for which data exist, nearly 40% of jobseekers have been without work for more than one year”.
“CEOs, the biggest corporations, and the wealthy are taking too much from our country and I think it’s time for us to take back,” said one activist who joined the protests last Saturday. Jason Ahmadi, who traveled in from Oakland, California explained that “a lot of us feel there is a large crisis in our economy and a lot of it is caused by the folks who do business here.” Bill Steyerd, a Vietnam veteran from Queens, said “it’s a worthy cause because people on Wall Street are blood-sucking warmongers.”
There is not just anger. There is also a sense that the standard solutions to the economic crisis proposed by our politicians and mainstream economists — stimulus, cuts, debt, low interest rates, encouraging consumption — are false options that will not work. Deeper changes are needed, such as a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions; reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act in the US; implementing a ban on high-frequency “flash” trading. The “too big to fail” banks must be broken up, downsized and made to serve the people, the economy and society again. The financial fraudsters responsible for the 2008 meltdown must be brought to justice. Then there is the long-term mother of all solutions: a total rethinking of western consumerism that throws into question how we measure progress.
It may sound facile to say that I agree, when there is no organized political movement that is willing or able to address the problems highlighted above, but it is clear that the nightmare created by 30 years of unfettered greed is not going to go away, and that, instead of addressing our global crisis in a responsible manner, politicians of all parties have no answer other than to continue to allow the thieves who got us into this mess to behave as they did before.
And as we have been seeing, in one country after another, this blind obedience to the demands of the financial sector at the very heart of government is accompanied not by an attempt to introduce new thinking into the challenging question of how to stimulate our ailing economies, but by dead-end ideologies designed to saddle the rest of us with savage austerity measures and the privatization of everything that has not already been stolen from us.
As a result, we should all be in Wall Street — and I hope that the protests there do not fade away — or get put down — but that they spread to financial centers around the world. The City of London, anyone?