This trailer for David Cronenberg’s (Videodrome, The Fly, eXistenZ, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method) new movie looks pretty awesome. Like a kind of near-distant dystopia featuring Occupy-style protesters and slick Wall Street traders. It seems to revolve around a 24-hour trek through Manhattan, and looks pretty old-school Cronenberg.
New York City, not-too-distant-future: Eric Packer, a 28 year-old finance golden boy dreaming of living in a civilization ahead of this one, watches a dark shadow cast over the firmament of the Wall Street galaxy, of which he is the uncontested king. As he is chauffeured across midtown Manhattan to get a haircut at his father’s old barber, his anxious eyes are glued to the yuan’s exchange rate: it is mounting against all expectations, destroying Eric’s bet against it. Eric Packer is losing his empire with every tick of the clock. Meanwhile, an eruption of wild activity unfolds in the city’s streets. Petrified as the threats of the real world infringe upon his cloud of virtual convictions, his paranoia intensifies during the course of his 24-hour cross-town odyssey. Packer starts to piece together clues that lead him to a most terrifying secret: his imminent assassination.
Cronenberg revisits subjects that fascinate him: how the organic and the psychological are inextricably intertwined, society’s anxieties and phobias, and letting repressed impulses and paranoia run wild. COSMOPOLIS is a culmination of his masterpieces that addresses the alarming global financial crisis of today’s world.
This is fantastic. Check the video below. It looks and sounds like a Michael Moore, i.e. a left-wing documentary, in its critique of unrestrained capitalism. The focal point of critique is Republican forerunner Mitt Romney, who during the campaign has always touted his ‘private sector experience’ as an aid in creating jobs as president. Yet Romney was CEO of Bain Capital, an asset management company specializing in private equity and venture capital; in other words, a company that buys other companies to ‘restructure’ them, fire lots of people, and re-sell it to make huge profits out of it. It made Romney a millionnaire.
While some people might see such a company as a necessary feature of free market capitalism, others might see it as Gordon Gekko-style profiteering over the backs of other people. That’s at least what Newt Gingrich, whose campaign has created this 28-minute video, seems to imply. Yes, Gingrich, one-time leader of the Republican Revolution, Speaker of the House and prominent conservative, who got trashed by Romney in Iowa. You gotta love this.
It’s funny to me how die-hard Republicans are now adopting Occupy Wall Street language in order to defeat one another. Obama can sit back and enjoy while Romney’s image is trashed among blue-collar workers. And seriously: while the physical manifestation of Occupy may have disappeared in cities, they have struck a note in their critique of financial capitalism that is still resounding. Even in the Republican Party.
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.
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.
The character of ‘The Dude’ Jeff Lebowski in the most epic movie of all time, The Big Lebowski, was actually based on real dude: Jeff Dowd. This LA resident shares with the movie Dude his first name, an activist past, but above all certain manners and ways of expression. New shit has come to light, man.
So here’s a video of the real-life Dude visiting Occupy LA:
While “the Dude rambles on here” (his words), he makes a fairly cogent argument about the shift in the last few decades from a “production-based” economy to a “financially based” one. “What we do want is an economy where it doesn’t pay to be speculative,” he says, ”but it pays to be productive.” He is among those who both support Occupy Wall Street and admire Steve Jobs, whom he praises as someone who stood for “making things.”
Dit stuk van Rutger van der Hoeven in de Groenevertolkt precies mijn mening over de establishment-opiniemakers in dit land, en hun reactie op de Occupy-beweging. Voorspelbare zuurheid, gemakkelijke kritiek, en dédain voor elke vorm van protest die buiten de bestaande lijntjes gaat. Oeh, je zal maar eens systeemkritiek hebben, eng! Of eens iets geks doen als ergens een tent opzetten. Laten we vooral allemaal netjes PvdA en GroenLinks blijven stemmen, dan komen we er wel uit.
Een uitzondering daarvoor wil ik maken voor de Groene zelf. In dat tijdschrift wordt wel al maanden geschreven over de enorme jeugdwerkloosheid in vrijwel alle Europese landen, over de actievoerders die op de pleinen van Madrid en Barcelona experimenteren met nieuwe vormen van democratie, en over voortdurende malversaties in de financiële sector. Wat een verschil met de overige opiniemedia in dit land, waar het immer gaat over de leiderschapskwaliteiten van Job Cohen, en de laatste uitspraken van Geert Wilders. Gaap.
De ‘progressieve’ opiniemakers in de Volkskrant en het NRC doen in dit opzicht niet onder voor de rechtse, trouwens. En van die laatste kan ik de kritiek nog begrijpen.
Wat Occupy Amsterdam verder nog zal brengen, in ieder geval heeft die demonstratie ‘s lands opiniemakers collectief te kijk gezet als een oubollige kaste die zich enkel tenenkrommend blasé, pruilerig en hautain weet op te stellen tegenover de eerste publieke roerselen in verband met de wereldwijde economische crisis.
Om in grove streken de algemene strekking te schetsen van wat de Nederlandse columnisten en sprekende hoofden te zeggen hadden over Occupy Amsterdam: verzet? Ach, wij hebben het allemaal al lang gezien. De wereld willen verbeteren en boos zijn op ‘het systeem’, het is zo Kinderen voor kinderen, zo jaren zestig. En bovendien zijn alle demonstranten 1) in feite ontzettend verwende rijkeluiskinderen; 2) BN’ers die alleen maar kicken op aandacht.
Het collectieve gemopper is weinig verheffend, nota bene omdat dezelfde groep de afgelopen jaren collectief schande heeft gesproken van de mentaliteit van zelfverrijking in het bankwezen die door geen crisis of reddingsplan kon worden aangetast. De bekende oude mannen met hoge zuurgraad roeren zich, maar ook een doorgaans zeer lezenswaardige auteur als Bas Heijne verstrikte zich in NRC Handelsblad in een warrig betoog met merkwaardige verwijten (‘de bestormers van de Bastille riepen wat anders’) en de onwaarschijnlijke constatering dat er niets met alle kritiek op het huidige economische stelsel gebeurt vanwege een gebrek aan engagement. In Het Parool beweerde Theodor Holman dat alle demonstranten heimelijk antisemieten waren. Sheila Sitalsing voer in de Volkskrant uit tegen ‘volgevreten eerstewereldbewoners’ die zich overgaven aan ‘vrijetijdsprotest in een waterdicht tentje’ en zich ‘pedant’ vergeleken met Tahrir. Dan vraag je je toch af wat de jonge generatie in hemelsnaam kan doen om zo’n auteur tevreden te stellen: blijf je thuis, dan ben je apathisch, ga je de straat op, dan moet je wel de juiste zieligheidsfactor hebben, lekkend materiaal gebruiken en je houden aan een lijstje goedgekeurd vocabulaire.
Misschien is het de bevrijding van de anonimiteit, maar zonder naam en foto schreven de commentatoren van NRC Handelsblad wél de voor de hand liggende zinnen op: de demonstranten op het Beursplein ‘delen een gemeenschappelijke ongerustheid over de aard van de huidige economie, vooral de financiële sector. Mensen zijn ongerust, en terecht. De demonstranten moeten daarom serieus worden genomen.’ Misschien is het collectieve afkammen door columnisten van deze demonstranten een gevolg van de doorgeschoten afzeikcultuur in onze media. Misschien is het een nawee van de Fortuyn-revolte, die maakt dat columnisten zich haasten naar veilige grond rechts van het midden. Misschien weigeren babyboomers hun aura van ‘protestgeneratie’ in te wisselen voor het meer accurate ‘mazzelgeneratie’. In ieder geval is het behoorlijk gênant om jarenlang schande te roepen over een uit de hand gelopen graaikapitalisme, en opnieuw schande te roepen als mensen met diezelfde onvrede ook daadwerkelijk de straat op gaan.
Ok, so I am still sitting at the heart of the Occupy Amsterdam protest at the Beursplein. It is getting pretty chilly here as I am sitting in front of the laptop at an improvised outdoor media center… we got electricity, internet, cameras and people have been dropping off films, photos and so forth. From where I sit I see people putting up tents, playing music, sitting on blankets, discussing, debating, singing. Those cynics who expected the turnout to be largely composed of hippies, “krakers” and anti-globalisten could not have been more wrong. When I arrived at the Beursplein around 12h in the afternoon, I saw people from all walks of life: families with their children, students, bus-drivers, basically the people next door. With an open podium, many different people of all ages and backgrounds took to the stage all throughout the day, some prepared, some improvising, venting their frustrations, sharing their concerns and thoughts, sharing why they took to the stage on this day.
There we some critical comments regarding the fact that it wasn’t entirely clear what it is the protestors are raising their voice against and that the protest needs to be more focused in order to be effective. Fair point. The issues mentioned here today vary broadly from criticism against the financial system with regard to equality, corruption, lack of transparency, to issues of cut-backs in the area of culture and education and so forth. But people are waking up and that is what matters. I think that there is nothing wrong with that.
At least standing here, raising a voice to ascertain that you actually have a voice, takes it a step further than sitting in front of your computer bitching that it ain’t gonna lead anywhere anyways…what are you achieving with that?
The atmosphere was positive all day, peaceful and definitely something that can be called a beginning. “Power to the people”, the phrase I heard most frequently today, shows that people are concerned – and these are people from all walks of life as I mentioned above. The feeling is one of “yes, we have been screwed over but remaining silent about it is just not an option anymore”. What can these protests achieve? There is no definite answer, but just keeping quiet and waiting won’t get you anywhere.
I am shivering a bit and my fingers are frozen and it is a bit crazy around here, so my excuses in advance for any typos. I am glad I came, that I got a chance to speak to people, to share in the enthusiasm. Some people are camping at the Beursplein and I admire that commitment because it is getting pretty cold, pretty quickly.
Solutions have to be found. Will they be found here today? Probably not. However, protests like these (the turn-out of which absolutely exceeds my expectations, and probably not just mine), might be stepping stones towards more organised and focused protest. There were many info stands here today where people made an effort to provide information on why they were here, what they are worried about, what they think needs to be done. I hope that we will see more of these protests, gaining more momentum and reaching more people.
The small acts of kindness I have been witnessing tonight are what solidarity is about. Individual people have been bringing blankets, soup, bread, salad, tea, coffee and hot chocolate, fruit etc to take care of all those who have been out on the Beursplein all day and those that are out camping there right now.
Day three of the protest at the Beursplein is coming to an end and still the plein is buzzing with activity. The livestream has been much more reliable – I have been checking it frequently today as I am not in Amsterdam anymore. Reporting in the media leaves much to be desired but the livestream is a good testimony to the activity of Occupy Amsterdam so go check it out!
Morgen is het zo ver: de Nederlandse vertakking van de Occupy-beweging slaat haar vleugels uit te Amsterdam. De Occupy Wall Street-beweging in de V.S. is al wekenlang bezig, in groeiende getale en onder toenemende media-aandacht, een progressieve protestbeweging van formaat te worden. Een linkse variant op de Tea Party.
De concrete doelen zijn wellicht nog onduidelijk, maar het van de Arabische Lente overgenomen permanent kamperen op de heilige grond van het financieel kapitalisme blijkt een succesvolle innovatie in protestmethodes te zijn. Evenals in Caïro, en daarna in Madrid en Barcelona, wordt geëxperimenteerd met directe vormen van democratie en participatie, als alternatief naast de vertegenwoordige democratie. Men maakt bovendien – eindelijk - een vuist tegen die sector die de Westerse maatschappij nu al jaren in haar greep houdt: de financiële industrie. De door haar veroorzaakte financiële crisis wordt betaald door de belastingbetaler, die er het oprollen van de verzorgingsstaat voor terug krijgt. Ondertussen worden de bonussen nog steeds uitgedeeld. Gek genoeg zijn het alleen de meest linkse partijen in het parlement die hiertegen ageren.
Er bestaat regionale variatie – in de V.S. staan drommen politici op de loonlijst van Wall Street, in Griekenland is de staat mede debet aan de ellende – maar overal in het Westen kan de financiële sector uiteindelijk verantwoordelijk worden gehouden voor de huidige economische ellende. In de meeste landen buiten Nederland is de (jeugd)werkloosheid afschuwelijk opgelopen; er groeit nu een ‘verloren generatie’ op zonder uitzicht op een baan. Speculanten houden de eurozone bovendien nog steeds in hun greep. Maar ook in Nederland zijn onder dit kabinet, met haar domme mantra van ‘achttien miljard‘, de gevolgen groots: eliminering van zorg voor (jong)gehandicapten, sociale werkplaatsen, speciaal onderwijs, korten op hoger onderwijs, het verdwijnen van openbaar vervoer, bezuinigingen op kunst en cultuur, en ga zo maar door. Terwijl er tegelijkertijd wél een extreem kostbare subsidie voor rijken in stand wordt gehouden: de hypotheekrenteaftrek.
Ik hoop dan ook dat de Nederlandse Occupy-beweging dáárover zal gaan: de Nederlandse issues, die niettemin niet los van de internationale financiële crisis kunnen worden gezien. Het kabinet-Rutte staat evident niet aan de kant van gedupeerden in de crisis. Er is Nederland meer, meer dan genoeg om massaal tegen te protesteren, waarbij het overkoepelende punt zou kunnen zijn: de onrechtvaardige maatschappelijke verdeling van de kosten van de crisis. Dat geldt in alle landen, en dat is waarin in Nederland die waardeloze, onnadenkende bezuinigingen vandaan komen, terwijl de financiële sector op oude voet verder gaat en regelingen voor het niet-hulpbehoevende deel der natie in stand blijven.
Occupy Amsterdam heeft potentie. Tradionele media als Nieuwsuur, 1Vandaag, DWDD, BNR en AT5 hebben er al aandacht aan besteed. De Twitter loopt, en de Facebook-pagina telt bijna 3500 aanmeldingen. Het is te hopen dat men een algemeen aansprekende, op Nederland toepasbare boodschap weet te formuleren; en het is te hopen dat de boel niet, zoals in Nederland vaker gebeurd, door krakers of andere links-radicale figuren wordt overgenomen. Kritiek op de uitwassen van een doorgeschoten kapitalisme en haar vervlechting met politieke systemen isniet per se links of radicaal; het is pure common sense die iedereen aan kan spreken, wat hij of zij ook stemt.
Volgens mij bestaat er onder veel mensen die zich niet vertegenwoordigd voelen door dit kabinet – en met name onder jongeren – al tijden een grote behoefte om de straat op te gaan. Misschien wordt dit ‘m dan…
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.