Can’t say anything but agreeing completely. From the people at Tahrir square, Egypt and in Tunisia to those in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Qatar, from the 15-M movement in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, to the Occupy protesters on Wall Street, New York, in London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, to those now marching against Putin in Russia: whatever the cynics, ‘realists’ and conservatives say, 2011 has been the year of the democratic protester.
Let’s hope it continues - in the Middle East, in Russia, and the West - in 2012. It’s still more than necessary.
As I’ve blogged before, I’m kinda tired of writing about the eurozone debt crisis. The results of the once again ”crucial” European summit that starts today are fairly predictable: announcements of more, even radical, fiscal discipline and sanction mechanisms across the European Union (or the eurozone), a further integration of tax and labour market policies, and no hopes whatsoever for an expanded role of the ECB in the form of it acting as lender of last resort or as issuer of eurobonds. Everything that Germany wants, happens.
In other words: in order to please the financial markets, only one of the structural deficiencies of the eurozone is being addressed: the disparity in budgetary policies across member states. The other ones - the existence of separate bonds markets and the absence of a true central bank, which leads to Europe’s heightened exposure to the judgment of financial markets and credit rating agencies - are not addressed at all. All this because of Germany’s fear of inflation.
The European debt crisis is now starting to become a democratic crisis as well. This is happening on two levels. First, in order to please the financial markets, “reforms” and budget cuts are being imposed on southern European countries at huge social and economic costs without the population having any say in it. Elected politicians are removed not by elections or the people on the street, but replaced by so-called “technocrats” under pressure of the financial markets. Moreover, across the entire eurozone radically tightened fiscal discipline, which will have a huge bearing on social and economic policies, is being imposed without the population having any say in it; once again, to please the markets. The German, i.e. the conservative/(neo-) liberal policy solution for everything – fiscal discipline, budget cuts and market reforms - is imposed throughout the eurozone by Diktat.
Whether you like this particular economic policy package or not (I’m personally not against it), there’s no escaping the fact that the past months we’ve witnessed a huge shift in sovereignty from democracy to the market. Financial markets dictate what must be done; and it is reinforced by those policy-makers in charge who happen to walk in tune with those markets.
The second level at which democracy is under attack is in the transfer of powers from the national level to the European one. It is by now accepted that the only solution for the eurozone is a further federalization of fiscal, social and economic policies. The European Commission (EC) is likely the institution that will benefit the most from this. Yet, whether you are in favour of the European project or not, the EC is ultimately a technocratic institution; it is a super-regulator that issues “directives” and “regulations” to be imposed uniformly across member states without interference of national parliaments. The European Parliament (EP), the only European institution that is truly democratically legitimized (but only by a minority of voters), does not have the right of initiative; it is the barely legitimized EC that is the one policy ”motor” of the European Union. This situation will only be exacerbated by the current eurozone crisis.
In short, there’s a double crisis of democracy going on: one in the shift of decision-making power from the political sphere to the market, and a second in the transfer of powers from the national level to a barely legitimized European one. In between, the voice of the people is crushed. Particularly worrying is the talk, to be heard here and there, that “democracy” really is just one way to govern a country, that it was a nice experiment, but that it doesn’t really work in an age of globalized financial markets and much-needed technocratic European governance. Have we now really entered a 1930s-style “crisis of democracy”? Is the democratic principle itself being questioned?
To me, the need for a more unified Europe if the single currency is to be saved is clear. But the democratic deficit is getting painful. German solutions mean a half-hearted attempt to create a fully functioning economic zone, but an almost complete transfer of fiscal discretionary powers to an incompletely legitimized supra-European entity. Is that what we want? Do we have any say in that? In my view, the democratic level of the European Union is to be deepened if any of this is the result of current talks. This would mean a broadening of the powers of the EP to become a fully-fledged representative body with legislative powers, as well as finally some concerted effort on the part of European and national policy-makers to promote European democratic institutions amongst the populace. The ECB should also really be allowed to function as a central bank.
Otherwise, the result will be something we have now, but even more overbearing. A soft kind of technocratic regime, composed of an intricate byzantine web of committees, networks, councils and summits and a super-regulator, governed by one particular budgetary philosophy, all the while constricting national discretion to formulate policies, that is whipped from here to there by the financial markets. Even if this solution is, for now, accepted by those financial markets, I don’t think it will hold in the future. And there is no place for democracy in it either.
So the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg – who happens to be a former Wall Street banker and the 12th most wealthy person in the US – has evicted the nucleus of the Occupy movement from Zucotti Park, where they had been camping for two months. In that process, the NYPD has not shunned violating constitutional rights, including the right to free speech and the right to protest, in addition to preventing the democratic press from doing its job. Books were burned.
This process is likely to repeat itself elsewhere. In the Netherlands, local politicians of the conservative liberal (and, arguably, banking-aligned) VVD party are demanding the exit of Occupy protesters from public places throughout the country. Public attention has declined. So what’s next for the Occupy movement?
In all honesty, personally, while I am very sympathetic to a vocal social movement addressing the immense wealth and especially political power of global financial institutions, the injustices in that sector (such as exorbitant bonuses, the sale of intransparent financial products, and the power of credit rating agencies to almost topple entire economies), and rising economic inequality, I had become a bit disappointed with the Occupy movement. During my (admittedly short) visit to Occupy Amsterdam, what I saw was a shanty town with a lot of pot smokers and squatters, talking vaguely about the need to discuss, not have any organization, etc.
Of course any movement that starts out from a feeling of discontent needs time to organize and formulate demands, but the point of Occupy seemed to be to disavow any kind of organization or concretization. Again: I very much admire proto-democratic experiments, and disagreed with the choir of commentators who kept blattering from the very beginning that it was unclear what Occupy was about (that’s very clear), but even a die-hard communal hippie has to admit that a certain point, you need organization and representation.
Occupy has historical predecessors way earlier than the Tahrir Square protesters. The early labour union movement in the nineteenth century everywhere started out grass-roots democratically; but during the way, they learned to organize, formulate demands, and still keep an internal democratic process. You need a distinction between principles and concrete demands, for instance; or a distinction between a general assembly and working groups; and people who specialize in tasks they’re good at (like creating leaflets, organizing, negotiating, doing practical stuff, etc.). In that way, you can develop from an inspired, resounding but vague movement to an organization that actually works.
Once again, I completely understand the distaste of Occupy protesters for “standard” kinds of political organizaton, like political parties and trade unions, and wouldn’t want them to develop in that way. But any movement that doesn’t develop further than a general assembly that discusses every tiny little detail doesn’t get very far (the meeting reports of Occupy Amsterdam attest to that). And now, public attention has declined, the authorities have zoomed in and it will probably not take long before the physical manifestion of Occupy on squares around the world disappears.
So what’s next for Occupy? Opinion polls are showing that they have struck a nerve – in the US, but I imagine also elsewhere, economic inequality and financial malpractices are on the agenda, and opposed by a majority of voters. In that sense, Occupy has already been a success. Some people are arguing that the forced removal of protesters from squares may re-ignite the movement (it would have been wiser for the authorities to wait for winter). Others are saying that the Occupiers need to penetrate existing movements and organizations to address their (and our!) concerns.
Personally, I would like a vocal and identifiable Occupy movement to remain in existence, get its act together, and start thinking about ways to reform the system while continuing to exert pressure on the political-financial axis. This could be done by spreading awareness (the big pro of this movement) and keep protesting, even occupying places. After all, the big invention of the Arab Spring was the protesting technique of permanently occupying a place, rather than having your average one-afternoon demonstration. However, it is essential (I think) to develop an organization, first to make sure that encampments aren’t turned into shantytowns, trouble makers are fended off, and violence doesn’t spread; second to develop ideas, demands and rallying points, appoint representatives, and create a more focused media outreach.
Will this happen? Probably not, but I hope so. The Tea Party has shown that you can move from a vague movement to something approaching a working organization. For Occupy as well, it’s probably time to move from subcultural self-expression to a fight for political change.
[The] truth is, Bloomberg might have just done Occupy Wall Street a favor. Next week, temperatures are projected to dip down to the high 30s. Next month, they’re projected to dip into the mid-20s. The month after that, as anyone who has experienced a New York winter know, they’re going to fall even lower.
The occupation of Zuccotti Park was always going to have a tough time enduring for much longer. As the initial excitement wore off and the cold crept in, only the diehards — and those with no place else to go — were likely to remain. The numbers in Zuccotti Park would thin, and so too would the media coverage. And in the event someone died of hypothermia, or there was some other disaster, that coverage could turn. What once looked like a powerful protest could come to be seen as a dangerous frivolity.
In aggressively clearing them from the park, Bloomberg spared them that fate. Zuccotti Park wasn’t emptied by weather, or the insufficient commitment of protesters. It was cleared by pepper spray and tear gas. It was cleared by police and authority. It was cleared by a billionaire mayor from Wall Street and a request by one of America’s largest commercial real estate developers. It was cleared, in other words, in a way that will temporarily reinvigorate the protesters and give Occupy Wall Street the best possible chance to become whatever it will become next.
The question is what, if anything, comes next for Occupy Wall Street. The movement has already scored some big wins. As this graph by Dylan Byers showed, they have changed the national conversation. Income inequality is now a top-tier issue. Before Occupy Wall Street, it wasn’t.
And perhaps that will be the legacy of Occupy Wall Street. That would certainly be more than most protests achieve. If they are to go further, however, they are going to have to figure out a way to wield power in a more direct and directed form. The movement has always been uncertain on whether it wants to do that, and if it does, how to do it. It requires a willingness to work with the system that is, in certain ways, inimical to the founding of Occupy Wall Street. The good news, if they choose to make that transition, is that they don’t need a park to do it. The bad news is that, in most cases, it requires more hierarchy, clearer leaders, a more obvious agenda.
Back in October, I asked Rich Yeselson, a union researcher and a scholar of social movements, what he thought Occupy Wall Street would need to do to survive and succeed. “Whether they will grow larger and sustain themselves beyond these initial street actions will depend upon four things,” Yeselson said. “The work of skilled organizers; the success of those organizers in getting people, once these events end, to meet over and over and over again; whether or not the movement can promote public policy solutions that are organically linked to the quotidian lives of its supporters; and the ability of liberalism’s infrastructure of intellectuals, writers, artists and professionals to expend an enormous amount of their cultural capital in support of the movement.”
I still think that’s right. So then: Can the post-Zuccotti Park incarnation of Occupy Wall Street furnish skilled organizers who are able to keep the protesters involved, come up with solutions — or at least problems — they’re willing to agree on and fight for, and attract the sort of media attention that they need if they’re going to be able to continue forcing their issues into the national conversation?
The odds are probably against it. The odds are against any social movement, always. But it’s probably likelier under these conditions, where the occupiers were cleared from the park all at once, under sympathetic conditions, and so all of them can agree that this is the moment in which to decide what comes next.
Supporters of the Occupy movement are gearing up for a national day of protest and direct action across America, taking in dozens of events from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles.
Thursday has been declared a day of “solidarity” with the Occupy Wall Street activists in New York after their camp in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was raided and dismantled by police. But it is also aimed at highlighting several of the movement’s broader aims in terms of income inequality and a desperate need for job creation in America’s floundering economy.
The Occupy movement, which began two months ago with the occupation of Zuccotti Park, has since spread to scores of cities and towns across the country, with varying success. It has often rejuvenated left-leaning political activists but also brought down a heavy police response, frequently at the behest of city mayors.
In recent days, police evictions and crackdowns on protesters in New York, Seattle, Berkeley, Portland and other places have caused widespread condemnation of alleged heavy-handedness by police.
In New York, protesters are planning actions all day in each of the city’s five boroughs. A potential early flashpoint will be a rally planned to begin at 7am that will target Wall Street itself, as the protesters seek to disrupt the operations of the New York Stock Exchange before the ringing of the opening bell that signals the start of trading at 9.30am.
Since the protests began, Wall Street has become a virtual permanent protest zone, ringed by steel fences and heavily policed. Later actions are planned to take place across the city’s subway system, as marchers will enter at 16 different stations and begin protesting.
Finally, the day will end with a rally at Foley Square, near New York’s Town Hall, and then a march to the Brooklyn Bridge, where hundreds of protesters were arrested in a previous headline-grabbing mass action.
Bridges will be the focus of some actions in other cities too. In Boston, Detroit, Washington DC, Portland and Seattle, protesters, some allied with union workers and community groups, will march on high-profile bridges in order to highlight the problem of America’s crumbling and underfunded infrastructure.
The range of activities across America spans a spectrum from the dramatic to the small-scale, including teach-ins, rallies and direct actions aimed at banks and corporations. In Portland, Oregon, protesters plan to target a city bridge and then try to organise flashmobs to go to local banks. In Detroit, protesters are marching from their camp downtown to the city’s municipal centre, where they aim to highlight the brutal impact of government cuts on ordinary citizens.
Check out Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman in the NYT on the response of both Wall Street financiers and Republican politicians to the Occupy Wall Street protests, aptly titled ‘Panic of the Plutocrats’:
It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent.
And this reaction tells you something important — namely, that the extremists threatening American values are what F.D.R. called “economic royalists,” not the people camping in Zuccotti Park.
Consider first how Republican politicians have portrayed the modest-sized if growing demonstrations, which have involved some confrontations with the police — confrontations that seem to have involved a lot of police overreaction — but nothing one could call a riot. And there has in fact been nothing so far to match the behavior of Tea Party crowds in the summer of 2009.
Nonetheless, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has denounced “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” The G.O.P. presidential candidates have weighed in, with Mitt Romney accusing the protesters of waging “class warfare,” while Herman Cain calls them “anti-American.” My favorite, however, is Senator Rand Paul, who for some reason worries that the protesters will start seizing iPads, because they believe rich people don’t deserve to have them.
Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor and a financial-industry titan in his own right, was a bit more moderate, but still accused the protesters of trying to “take the jobs away from people working in this city,” a statement that bears no resemblance to the movement’s actual goals.
And if you were listening to talking heads on CNBC, you learned that the protesters “let their freak flags fly,” and are “aligned with Lenin.”
The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.
Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.
Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.
This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of Elizabeth Warren.
So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.
What I think the best thing of Occupy Wall Street is is that it finally puts the financial malpractices of an industry very much related to the actual top 1 percent of super-rich people in the US, in combination with their rescue by 99 percent of tax payers (i.e., the public), on the democratic agenda.
But the fundamental injustice in pretty much the entire Western world nowadays is the fact that the welfare state, a scheme for the public good, is being dismantled as a result of costs made to save the financial industry. An industry that through its own corrupt schemes, not beneficial to anyone but themselves, has itself created the greatest economic recession since the nineteen-thirties. They should not be awarded bonuses. And poor, sick and unemployed people should not have to suffer for them. There is nothing ‘left-wing’ about that. It’s common sense. That’s why I would love to see these protests spread to Europe, even though I myself am in favour of a regulated form of capitalism.
Finally – not from Paul Krugman – to point out empirically how disparagingly vast the gap between the top 1 percent and the lower 90 percent in the US is, check out these stats from Mother Jones. The first shows the composition of the top 1 percent; the second shows their wealth.
I mean, seriously. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of wealth inequality. But you don’t need to be a socialist to understand that such a huge gap between rich, middle class (if not already vaporized) and poor is not beneficial to any society, let alone a democratic one. And this gap has widened exponentially in the last thirty years, it wasn’t there before. The most fucked up societies are the ones with sudden, huge material inequalities. With the exception of the UK, Europe’s not as bad as the US in this respect – but getting close.
Now that they’re growing, spreading and getting some more serious attention, here’s a couple of news articles and blog posts that I thought were worthwhile to get some insight into how the Occupy Wall Street movement developed, what the background is, and what they seem to express. There’s also some stuff that compares them to the Tea Party (as a progressive variant, of course), and people speculating at how this might help Obama and the Democratic Party. In short, it provides some perspectives that might be interesting or useful.
The Occupy Wall Street protests, for their part, shine a spotlight on an industry that has attracted mass disgust yet escaped accountability. Almost everybody hates Wall Street, but the anger at Wall Street was deflected to the financial bailout, and thereby (even though it preceded him) to Obama. In a development that may have appeared shocking three years ago, Wall Street has resumed its place of privilege in Washington. Politicians are courting the financial industry, its barons speaking out with pre-crisis confidence. The Republican Party has openly pledged to kill the Dodd–Frank regulations.
The protests, for all this incoherence, restore Wall Street to a central place in the economic narrative. Here is the financial industry, not just as recipient of taxpayer funds but as originator and aggravator of the crisis. The protests may not have an agenda, but they do not need an agenda other than to return political focus onto Wall Street.
The larger role of the protests, should they continue, ought to be to reestablish the terms of the political debate. Historically, liberalism best succeeds when compared against a radical alternative. In the thirties and sixties, fear of extremism and mob violence made business elites eager to accept liberal compromise designed to preserve the system. Since 2009, the question of how to respond to the economy has been framed as a debate between meliorative liberalism and vicious reaction. In this climate, Wall Street has been howling about Obama’s mild verbal scolding of the industry, his plans to impose some measure of regulation upon it, and ever-so-slightly raise the tax levels of the very rich.
It’s not the arrests that convinced me that “Occupy Wall Street” was worth covering seriously. Nor was it their press strategy, which largely consisted of tweeting journalists to cover a small protest that couldn’t say what, exactly, it hoped to achieve. It was a Tumblr called, “We Are The 99 Percent,” and all it’s doing is posting grainy pictures of people holding handwritten signs telling their stories, one after the other.
These are not rants against the system. They’re not anarchist manifestos. They’re not calls for a revolution. 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.
Let’s be clear. This isn’t really the 99 percent. If you’re in the 85th percentile, for instance, your household is making more than $100,000, and you’re probably doing okay. If you’re in the 95th percentile, your household is making more than $150,000. But then, these protests really aren’t about Wall Street, either. There’s not a lot of evidence that these people want a class war, or even particularly punitive measures on the rich. The only thing that’s clear from their missives is that they want the economy to start working for them, too.
But you look around and the reality is not everyone is suffering. Wall Street caused this mess, and the government paid off their debts and helped them rake in record profits in recent years. The top 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation’s income and 40 percent of its wealth. There are a lot of people who don’t seem to be doing everything they’re supposed to do, and it seems to be working out just fine for them.
But this is why I’m taking Occupy Wall Street — or, perhaps more specifically, the ‘We Are The 99 Percent’ movement — seriously. There are a lot of people who are getting an unusually raw deal right now. There is a small group of people who are getting an unusually good deal right now. That doesn’t sound to me like a stable equilibrium.
The organizers of Occupy Wall Street are fighting to upend the system. But what gives their movement the potential for power and potency is the masses who just want the system to work the way they were promised it would work. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans are really struggling. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans want a revolution. It’s that 99 percent of Americans sense that the fundamental bargain of our economy — work hard, play by the rules, get ahead — has been broken, and they want to see it restored.
I’m embarrassed to admit my first reaction to Occupy Wall Street was cynicism. Along with some other folks on Twitter when it began Sept. 17, I wondered aloud why it started on a Saturday, when Wall Street was quiet. I couldn’t find a list of its goals. Visiting New York a few days later, I walked along Wall Street in the rain trying to find protesters, but though there were barricades all along that dark canyon, and cops everywhere, nobody was protesting; I later saw a few dozen people among tents at Liberty Plaza, but by that time I was running to catch my plane home.
The next day, the New York Police Department cruelly pepper-sprayed female protesters, and suddenly the movement came alive. Ever since, I’ve been struck by the good sense the protesters have used in dealing with the police (in contrast with the poor sense of some of the cops): They are not making them the enemy. In fact, as 700 people were being arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday, they were chanting at the cops: “We’re fighting for your pensions!” It didn’t keep the protesters from getting arrested, but it kept them on the moral and political high ground.
The over-reaction of the police, the restraint of the demonstrators and the irresistible enthusiasm of the Occupy Wall Street crowd now has powerful allies streaming to support the movement. On Wednesday evening, major New York unions, including SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers and the Transit Workers Union, will join what is likely to be the biggest protest yet. TWU head John Samuelsen filed a federal injunction to stop the police from using city buses to transport protesters, the way they did on Saturday. “We intend to stop the NYPD from pressing our people into service to transport people who shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,” Samuelsen told the New York Daily News.
MoveOn is backing the expanded Oct. 5 Wall Street protest, and national union leaders, including the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, have endorsed the movement. Trumka’s “been publicly supportive and I know a number of local unions are getting directly involved,” says AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein. “As for our direct involvement, we want this to continue in the organic way it has. How we can be supportive and not overshadow it is important.” The federation’s executive board will vote Wednesday on whether to make a formal endorsement.
Even some politicians are beginning to express support for the demonstration. The co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus, Raul Grijalva and Rep. Keith Ellison, released a statement supporting it on Tuesday. “We have been inspired by the growing grassroots movements on Wall Street and across the country,” the pair wrote. “We join the calls for corporate accountability and expanded middle-class opportunity.” Asked whether President Obama is following the protests, press secretary Jay Carney said he was sure he was, although they hadn’t spoken about it. Then he added, “to the extent that people are frustrated with the economic situation, we understand.” Don’t expect more from the White House, but it’s almost certain other liberal Democrats will begin to speak out to support Occupy Wall Street, unless the Wednesday protest goes awry.
Yes, young people are on the front lines of protest again, but this time, they’re more intrinsically sympathetic, and emblematic of what’s gone wrong in our country. Youth unemployment is the highest in decades. Only 55 percent of Americans aged 16 to 29 are employed today, compared to 67 percent in 2000. A third to a half of African-American youth, depending on the under-30 subgroup examined, is unemployed. College educated students are leaving with unprecedented levels of debt; about 15 percent of student loans are currently in default. On the movement Tumblr blog, “We are the 99 percent” – the 99 percent of the country left out of the prosperity monopolized by the top 1 percent – the voices and photos of unemployed and underemployed young people are some of the most riveting.
Political action on the ground can (…) lead to increased presence at the polls. The Tea Party mobilized so many voters because of its activism prior to the 2010 mid-terms. Asking a political group to go back in time to get voters to the polls is absurd. Telling people to just shut up and quietly vote for one of the two parties is to misunderstand democracy. It’s more than just voting.
Furthermore, as Matt Yglesias convincingly argued, the lack of a mobilized left and a mobilized youth movement is largely the fault of Democratic leadership, including president Obama. Matt writes, that in light of the Occupy Wall Street protests “it’s hard not to be reminded of the lost opportunity to mobilize a left-wing popular movement back in the winter of 2008-2009 and the spring of 2009. That was a time when Congress was psychologically prepared to address the issues of joblessness, the availability of health care and education, and the ecological sustainability of the global economy.”
Writing off protesters because they’re young, because they weren’t politically active before, or because their demographic didn’t hit the polls as hard as the already-organized conservative base is really off-base.
This sort of condescending nonsense was hurled at the Tea Party. That movement has effectively pushed the entire national conversation the right, and the Republican party along with it. I respect the activism and drive that they drummed up to achieve that. They didn’t do it by just voting either.
After Tunisia and Egypt, we were mightily inspired by the fact that a few smart people using Facebook and Twitter can put out calls and suddenly get huge numbers of people to get out into the streets and start giving vent to their anger. And then we keep on looking at the sorry state of the political left in the United States and how the Tea Party is passionately strutting their stuff while the left is sort of hiding somewhere. We felt that there was a real potential for a Tahrir moment in America because a) the political left needs it and b) because people are losing their jobs, people are losing their houses, and young people cannot find a job. We felt that the people who gave us this mess — the financial fraudsters on Wall Street — haven’t even been brought to justice yet. We felt this was the right moment to instigate something.
We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement. Those are the people who gave birth to what many people think was the first global revolution back in 1968 when some uprisings in Paris suddenly inspired uprisings all over the world. All of a sudden universities and cities were exploding. This was done by a small group of people, the Situationists, who were like the philosophical backbone of the movement. One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote “The Society of the Spectacle.” The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme — a very powerful idea — and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of.
1968 was more of a cultural kind of revolution. This time I think it’s much more serious. We’re in an economic crisis, an ecological crisis, living in a sort of apocalyptic world, and the young people realize they don’t really have a viable future to look forward to. This movement that’s beginning now could well be the second global revolution that we’ve been dreaming about for the last half a century.
Originally we thought that the idea of one demand was very important. There’s been a debate going on between the one-demand vision and this other vision that is playing itself out right now on Wall Street. I think it’s a wonderful debate and there are good pointers on both sides. Currently this leaderless, demandless movement — that is still growing in leaps and bounds — I think it is fine the way it is. After these assemblies have been conducted and debates have been had in cities all around America, demands will emerge. These demands will be specific things like reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a 1 percent tax on financial transactions or the banning of high-frequency trading. We will get into specifics, just give us time.
The political left has always had problems with this. All my life I’ve been sitting in meetings where loony guys get up and talk, and eventually very little happens. This is the kind of weight that is dragging the political left down. We don’t seem to have the clarity of vision that for example the Tea Party has. This may be our undoing again. This whole movement may fizzle out in a bunch of loony lefty kind of bullshit.
Then again, at the same time, I’ve been in daily touch with dozens and dozens of people in cities all around the world who are involved in this. And I have a feeling that because of the Internet and a different kind of mentality that young people have, a horizontal way of thinking about things, this movement may not just come up with some really good demands and put incredible people pressure on our politicians, but a more beautiful thing may come out of this movement: a new model of democracy, a new model of how activism can work, of how the people can have a radical democracy and have some of their demands met. This new model may well be a new kind of a horizontal thing that in some strange way works like the Internet works.
Here in the Netherlands (the country that we write this blog out of), people may be largely oblivious to it, as a dictatorship may take over here tomorrow and all Dutch people will still sit outside on terraces enjoying their drinks. But in the rest of the world, Western and non-Western, mass demonstrations have for months been at the order of the day. These demonstrations – whether it is in Egypt or Madrid – are primarily attended by the young. This is Generation F*cked – a generation already suffering from mass unemployment, that is now also hit by the financial crisis.
It is a grave injustice that, for instance in Europe, massive budget cuts are made and the welfare state is pretty much done away with, to save a capitalist financial system that was wreckaged by a few corporate elites. I’m no socialist, but you can’t ignore the structural wrongness of the current neoliberal political-economic structure that has been in the making for thirty years and now seems to be at its apex. Why, really, should the public at large suffer to save free-for-all financial capitalism? There is something rather wrong with that.
It is therefore heartwarming to see that throughout the Western world, inspired by the Arab Spring, young people have taken to street to semi-permanently occupy public spaces and form something of an alternative, proto-democratic movement. The main examples are the acampadas in Madrid and Barcelona, of course, inspired by Tahrir Square. People here are camping out, debating, discussing, having fun, united by a shared loss of trust in the system. And since two weeks, the global heart of financial capitalism, Wall Street, is also subject to a similar youth movement: that of Occupy Wall Street.
The funny thing is that it’s almost completely being ignored by most established media. Of newspapers, only The Guardianpays serious attention to it. While the goals of the movement aren’t really clear, everybody at least wants to show signs of protest to the system that through sheer irresponsibility and recklessness is causing continuing mass suffering. Wanna know you manages your pension money? Who finances, in the US, every politician that wants to get elected? Who through malpractice has brought the entire Western economy to a halt? Occupy Wall Street.
So here’s how to inform yourself on the movement, that is gathering more crowds everyday (I read this morning that the unions are planning to join in) and keeps demonstrating. These are not only young people, by the way. Check out:
Check out The Guardian‘s live blog. Glenn Greenwald – neither, as far I know, a utopian, “leftist” or radical but like many people in the wake of the financial crisis simply concerned with the structural injustice of the current financial system, and happy that at least someone is sending a message - has the following commentary:
Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power – in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions — is destroying financial security for everyone else? Beyond that, criticizing protesters for the prominence of police brutality stories is pure victim-blaming (and, independently, having police brutality highlighted is its own benefit).
And before that, about Wall Street’s hold on American (in this case, Democratic) politics:
Following up one some questions asked yesterday about the progress of reform and democratization in Egypt, some news. The combined opposition is asking for the replacement of the current cabinet, backed by the army and led by former Mubarak minister Ahmed Shafiq, by a ‘technocratic government’ during transitional period to elections. In addition, they’re asking for an end to the state of emergency, and the release of political prisoners. And they want to stage a demonstration for that (even though the army has indicated no more protests are allowed).
In Egypt, an opposition coalition — including the Wafd Party, the Nasserist Party, the Tagammu Party, the newly founded al-Wasat Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and youth representatives — has called for the replacement of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s government with a technocratic government during the transitional period to elections.
The coalition also demanded a new Constitution for a parliamentary state, the dismantling of the state security apparatus, the ending of the state of emergency, the release of all political prisoners, and the dismantling of the National Democratic Party and of corrupt local councils.
With all the attention focused on Libya, let’s not forget about that other revolution we so happily cheered on: Egypt. Because what happens after the departure of Mubarak might be more important than his departure itself.
How are things going in Egypt? Has the state of emergency already been lifted? Are constitutional reforms underway? Are political prisoners released? Does the opposition play a role? How’s the army Supreme Council communicating with the people?
The answer to those first four questions today: no, or not really, or unsure. Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books (which I recommend to read entirely!):
The fate of Egypt’s revolution – brought to a pause by the military’s seizure of power on 11 February, after Mubarak’s non-resignation address to his ‘children’ – remains uncertain. Mubarak is gone, but the streets have been mostly cleared of protesters and the army has filled the vacuum: chastened, yet still in power and with considerable resources at its disposal. Until elections are held in six months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will be ruling by decree, without the façade of parliamentary government. The parliament, voted into office in rigged elections, has been dissolved, a move that won wide support, and a new constitution is being drafted, but it’s not clear how much of a hand the opposition will have in shaping it. More ominously, the Supreme Council has vowed to punish anyone it can accuse of spreading ‘chaos and disorder’. The blunt rhetoric of its communiqués may be refreshing after the speeches of Mubarak, his son Gamal and the industrialists who dominated the ruling National Democratic Party, with their formulaic promises of reform and their talk of the nobility of the Egyptian people but ten days ago in Tahrir Square the protesters said – maybe even believed – that the army and the people stood together. Today the council’s communiqués are instructions, not proposals to be debated, and it has notably failed to answer the protesters’ two most urgent demands: the repeal of the Emergency Law and the release of thousands of political prisoners.
So far, most Egyptians have been willing to give the Supreme Council the benefit of the doubt. As in any revolutionary situation, the desire for order and security is nearly as strong as the desire for change, and, after 18 days of protests, the army has provided both – with a decided emphasis on the former.
Egypt’s military rulers swore in a Cabinet with 11 new ministers yesterday, a nod to the protest movement that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
However, three former members of the Mubarak regime retained senior posts.
The move comes as the military leadership overseeing the country’s transition is trying to assure Egyptians that it is committed to democratic reforms.
However, the decision to keep Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and Justice Minister Mamdouh Marie — three former Mubarak loyalists — in their posts drew criticism from youth activists who helped launch the uprising on Jan. 25.
And, the Muslim Brotherhood has invited back to the country one Sheik Yusuf Al-Qaradawi: a 84-year old popular (television) preacher who is not known for his fondness of the West, Israel, or Jews. While the truth of the assertion, done by some, that this guy is Egypt’s Ayatollah Khomeini is very questionable, Al-Qaradawi does seem to have spoken to a crowd of 1 million in Tahrir Square. This seemed to have overshadowed or blocked a performance by Google executive Wael Ghonim, who became the young face of the revolution during the uprising.
One of the western media’s favorite Egyptian rebels is Google executive Wael Ghonim. No surprise there: if you had to choose among radical clerics like al-Qaradawi, hooligans like those who assaulted Lara Logan, and a suave, Westernized Google exec, whom would you want to interview? Ghonim was present on Friday and intended to address the crowd, but he was barred from the platform by al-Qaradawi’s security. He left the stage in distress, “his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.”
Yusuf Qaradawi, the 84-year-old preacher whose roots are in the old Muslim Brotherhood before the latter turned to parliamentary politics, is nevertheless no Ayatollah Khomeini. Qaradawi addressed thousands in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday. Qaradawi called for Muslims to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda alongside US troops in 2001. On Friday he praised the Coptic Christian role in the Egyptian revolution and said that the age of sectarianism is dead. Qaradawi is a reactionary on many issues, but he is not a radical and there is no reason to think that either the Youth or Workers’ Movements that chased Hosni Mubarak out of the country is interested in having Qaradawi tell them what to do.
And here’s a video of Sheik Al-Qaradawi making some very nasty comments about Adolf Hitler and the Jews, accompanied by commentary from a reader of Andrew Sullivan.
If the recent proclamations from the Muslim Brotherhood about “freedom for all,” “true democracy” and “human rights” aren’t just the convenient talking points of the moment (for political expediency), but represent a genuine commitment to reform, then why would they invite Mr. Qaradawi to return from 30 years in exile and preside over that truly historic event on Friday? Are there no other more “moderate” preachers they could find in all of Egypt?
So, all the more reason to remain ever so vigilant about what happens in Egypt post-Mubarak!
The Economist interviews The New Republicwriter Damon Linker about his new book, The Religious Test, on the compatibility of certain types of religious beliefs with the basic tenets of liberal democracy. The entire interview is very interesting, as it covers the subjects of the positive-negative equation in the contribution of religion to American democracy, the theocon and evangelical movements, the role of religion in the backlash against Obama, the new atheism, and the religious views of the Founders.
I thought this citation particularly interesting:
History shows us that traditionalist religion can be compatible with various forms of non-liberal government (theocracy, absolute monarchy). The same can be said for strident atheism and totalitarianism. Conversely, when religion is liberal—when it makes few supernatural claims, when it is doctrinally minimal, and when it serves mainly as a repository of moral wisdom—it can play a significant role in a liberal society. But the relationship between traditionalist religion and liberal politics is far more contentious—especially as we approach the most intense forms of piety and the most exalted forms of citizenship (which involve serving in high political office). A deeply devout Christian—someone who places his faith at the centre of his life—will tend to think of himself first and foremost as a member of the one true church working toward the establishment of the kingdom of God under Jesus Christ, if not in this life, then in the next. His ultimate loyalty will be to Christ, just as the ultimate loyalty of the most observant Jew will be to God and the Torah, while a Muslim’s will be to Allah and the Koran. Liberal citizenship at its peak, by contrast, requires devotion to the liberal institutions and democratically-enacted laws of the political community above all else. That’s why American presidents and other high officials swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and not natural or divine law of any kind.
These divergent loyalties may not come into direct conflict every day, but they nonetheless stand in deep and abiding tension with one another, forever threatening to pit the theological duties of the devout believer against the political duties of the citizen.
I’m conflicted between two views regarding this statement. On the one hand, I very much agree with it, as it reinforces the view that absolute certainty in religion (or anything else, for that matter) is a folly, and that one should always let a measure of doubt permeat one’s world views. This automatically leads to a more liberal religion that is more flexible in its interpretations, and hence can – probably – function well in a political system that revolves around structures to resolve or live with fundamental disagreements (i.e., liberal democracy).
On the other hand, recent trends in philosophy and sociology acknowledging that we live in a “post-secular” world in which religion is here to stay seem to run against this “submission” of religion to a substantive form of liberalism. Indeed, I can imagine the citation above feeling a little downgrading to people who adhere to a more strict form of religion and yet want to live in a democracy – as if their religion is only good enough when it’s filtered down to suit the secularist’s tastes. Instead, some post-secular thinkers advocate a “radical pluralism” that accepts the place of, for example, fundamentalism in a political system as well. But then still you’ll need a measure of (religious) toleration on both sides to function in one and the same system.
For the first time in history, the Australian outcome means that every key ‘Westminster model’ country in the world now has a hung Parliament.These are the former British empire countries that according to decades of political science orthodoxy are supposed to produce strong, single party government. Following Duverger’s Law their allegedly ‘majoritarian’ electoral systems (first past the post and AV) will typically produce reinforced majorities for one of the top two parties.
But now the table below shows that four of the five key countries have coalition governments in balanced parliaments where no party has a majority. The one exception is Canada, where the Parliament has been hung since 2004, across three general elections. But somehow Canadian politicians have still not got the knack of constructing a coalition government.
These developments do not mean that the whole of the ‘Westminster model’ concept should be ditched quite yet though. Although Duverger’s Law is clearly dead, and the idea of using a voting system to artificially create Parliamentary majorities is on its deathbed. But in all five these countries, the executive is still in a powerful position relative to the legislature. This is especially true on budgeting issues, as a new book from Joachim Wehner clearly demonstrates.
Yet although‘Westminster model’ countries continue to share a powerful institutional heritage, it seems doubtful that the electoral aspects of the model can ever be the same again. For the UK’s forthcoming referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote, this recognition that the world as a whole is changing towards more complex and multi-party politics may sway some more voters and politicians towards backing reform.
Even though I’ve come to think over the past year that President Obama’s “postpartisanship” or “pragmatism” are nothing more than a pandering to conservative views once considered extreme, in a misguided attempt to please the minority Republicans (consider the healthcare debate, but consider especially Obama’s totally deceitful continuation of the Bush-Cheney ”War” on Terror, his expansion of executive authority and constraining of civil rights, all under his blessing of “bipartisanship”) - this is actually still a good quote:
“If you’re someone who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in awhile. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not often be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. So too is the practice of engaging in different experiences with different kinds of people.
For four years at Michigan, you have been exposed to diverse thinkers and scholars; professors and students. Do not narrow that broad intellectual exposure just because you’re leaving here. Instead, seek to expand it. If you grew up in a big city, spend some time with some who grew up in a rural town. If you find yourself only hanging around with people of your race or your ethnicity or your religion, broaden your circle to include people who’ve had different backgrounds and life experiences. You’ll learn what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, and in the process, you’ll help make this democracy work,”
Spoken by Obama at the Spring commencement of the University of Michigan.