“Occupy Wall Street”: My Support for the Protestors in the “Financial Gomorrah of America”

28.9.11

Where have I been for the last 12 days? Obviously, an ocean away from Wall Street, or I would have been there with the protestors of “Occupy Wall Street,” who have taken anti-capitalist protest to the heart of the beast — Wall Street, where the financial crisis caused by the unfettered greed of an unregulated market first manifested itself over three years ago.

The movement began in July with a call from Adbusters for people to gather in Wall Street to protest “against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America.”

“On September 17,” the announcement continued, “we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.”

That one simple demand was apparently for Barack Obama to “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington,” which seemed to me to be a compete waste of time. However, once activists picked up on Adbusters‘ call, and began mobilizing, something different emerged — a movement that drew on the anti-globalization movement of the late 90s and early 2000s, which was snuffed out by the “War on Terror,” and, of course, on the recent trajectory of protest and revolution, from Tunisia to Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the Middle East, and also in Europe, as manifested in Greece and Spain and even on the streets of the UK, and in Madison, Wisconsin, where huge protests took place earlier this year.

In response to Adbusters‘ initial announcement, activists set up a planning group and a site for sharing information,  and began mobilzing, announcing:

The participation of every person, and every organization, that has an interest in returning the US back into the hands of its individual citizens is required. Our nation, our species and our world are in crisis. The US has an important role to play in the solution, but we can no longer afford to let corporate greed and corrupt politics set the policies if our nation. We, the people of the United States of America, considering the crisis at hand, now reassert our sovereign control of our land.

And so the movement began. There were not 20,000 people in Wall Street on Saturday September 17, but the 5,000 people who did turn up brought with them a sense of outrage and perseverance that has not gone away, despite police brutality last week, when peaceful protestors were pepper-sprayed, and 80 of them were arrested.

With little sign that the police intend to arrest everyone involved with the protest, it is easy to see it continuing “for a few months,” if not longer. After all, those gathered here are protesting about how, while the criminals in the offices around them continue to earn astronomical salaries, they are burdened with debt and have nothing to show for it.

For the Guardian, Karen McVeigh spoke to protestors in Zuccotti Park, where a campsite of the “over-educated and under-employed” has taken root, and where those marginalized by the crimes of the banking sector (and the wholesale tax evasion practised by corporations) articulated the grievances that will not go away, and that cannot, it seems, be addressed by any existing political movement:

One student, who gave his name as Romeo C., said he was typical of the #occupywallst protesters. Romeo, 26, said: “We have a president who tells us to do the right thing, to go to school, to get a better life, but I’m not getting a better life. I am a new college graduate and I have $50,000 of college debt built up while studying business management at Berkeley. I can’t find a job to pay it off.”

“Look around us, Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs — they got us in this position in the first place. The banks get a bailout but what about us? Where’s our bailout? A lot of my friends are here. We have good degrees, we have worked hard, but now what?” [...]

Marisa Holmes, a New York documentary filmmaker and community organizer, said she was here for the foreseeable future: “We are the over-educated and under-employed. Our future has been totally sold out. Politicians have failed us and the square is somewhere where we can speak out. This is the beginning. It’s direct democracy in action.” [...]

Matt Parice, 17, a student at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, said he was protesting against corrupt politicians. Parice, 17, said: “When a politician runs for office, individuals can donate a certain sum of money, But corporations have donate unlimited funds to politicians and obviously that will influence the policies. Our representatives represent money, they don’t represent us.”

In further analysis of the significance of the Wall Street protests, Micah White and Kalle Lasn of Adbusters explained in an article in the Guardian on September 19:

There is a shared feeling on the streets around the world that the global economy is a Ponzi scheme run by and for Big Finance. People everywhere are waking up to the realization that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which speculative financial transactions add up, each day, to $1.3tn (50 times more than the sum of all the commercial transactions). Meanwhile, according to a United Nations report, “in the 35 countries for which data exist, nearly 40% of jobseekers have been without work for more than one year”.

“CEOs, the biggest corporations, and the wealthy are taking too much from our country and I think it’s time for us to take back,” said one activist who joined the protests last Saturday. Jason Ahmadi, who traveled in from Oakland, California explained that “a lot of us feel there is a large crisis in our economy and a lot of it is caused by the folks who do business here.” Bill Steyerd, a Vietnam veteran from Queens, said “it’s a worthy cause because people on Wall Street are blood-sucking warmongers.”

There is not just anger. There is also a sense that the standard solutions to the economic crisis proposed by our politicians and mainstream economists — stimulus, cuts, debt, low interest rates, encouraging consumption — are false options that will not work. Deeper changes are needed, such as a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions; reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act in the US; implementing a ban on high-frequency “flash” trading. The “too big to fail” banks must be broken up, downsized and made to serve the people, the economy and society again. The financial fraudsters responsible for the 2008 meltdown must be brought to justice. Then there is the long-term mother of all solutions: a total rethinking of western consumerism that throws into question how we measure progress.

It may sound facile to say that I agree, when there is no organized political movement that is willing or able to address the problems highlighted above, but it is clear that the nightmare created by 30 years of unfettered greed is not going to go away, and that, instead of addressing our global crisis in a responsible manner, politicians of all parties have no answer other than to continue to allow the thieves who got us into this mess to behave as they did before.

And as we have been seeing, in one country after another, this blind obedience to the demands of the financial sector at the very heart of government is accompanied not by an attempt to introduce new thinking into the challenging question of how to stimulate our ailing economies, but by dead-end ideologies designed to saddle the rest of us with savage austerity measures and the privatization of everything that has not already been stolen from us.

As a result, we should all be in Wall Street — and I hope that the protests there do not fade away — or get put down — but that they spread to financial centers around the world. The City of London, anyone?

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

20 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Donna Ellison wrote:

    Andy, may I add that there are sizable groups now occupying the streets in LA and also in Chicago. I posted a video of LA, but FB doesn’t seem to be allowing it. Hope you don’t mind if I post the link here. Our media isn’t reporting it, so we have to use these sites to spread the word.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex_nhfj-6_4&NR=1

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Monica Leavitt wrote:

    What is “over-educated” exactly? I guess it’s something that the MEDIOcrats have a problem with.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, Donna. I meant to add a note about protests taking place elsewhere, so thanks for pointing out my omission — and my best wishes to everyone concerned. It seems to me that there’s every reason for anyone who’s unemployed but would like a job to be out on the streets of every city in America, making a point and being counted.

    And Monica, when you isolate “over-educated” like that, it looks nonsensical, but it works well as a counterpoint to “under-employed,” and it also indicates how, although people are receiving good educations, far too many of the limited jobs that are available don’t need skilled workers.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Monica Leavitt wrote:

    The expression has been used elsewhere with a negative, anti-intellectual bias.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And that’s a sad comment on society, Monica. I’ve always been particularly disappointed when people portray intellectual life as something to be ridiculed or dismissed, and I think both Britain and America suffer from this problem.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I will Digg and share this in several minutes, Andy. I want to read it carefully. Some FB friends and I worked hard to spread as many interesting links around as possible, in support of these actions.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I read it, Andy. Excellent. I’ll Digg and share this now. Then, if you don’t mind, I’ll link to it on a thread run by an American activist I know, as well as one or two in the UK if I can. All these people are online now.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. That’s most kind. I find it fascinating how, inspired by what we’re being encouraged to call the “Arab Spring” — which, of course, carefully includes no mention of the word “revolution” — people in Western countries are identifying their enemies within, and discovering that it’s the bankers, backed by politicians, and that this ruinous status quo is no longer acceptable.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I like that too Andy. All I can do is analyse what I hear and read, and pass links around. For example, here is a straightforward blog piece about some of the causes of the financial crisis. One simple notion from J.M. Keynes and you’re there
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/09/22/1019369/-On-Growth-and-Effective-Demand:-Neoliberalism-is-causing-this-latest-crisis

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. I look forward to reading that. Earlier I watched a pretty troubling Newsnight report on the potential for complete social collapse in Greece, which would be a disaster, of course. I look forward to checking out your link.

    Sorry I didn’t get back to you immediately. I was adding links to an article on the military commissions at Guantanamo that I’d just completed, following the announcement that torture victim Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri has been put forward for trial. That’ll be out on Friday.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    No problem. I linked to your latest on one thread and posted it in a status. Then the person who started the thread posted it separately as well. Now I must turn in, but I will look at a BBC site first. Perhaps there is something there from Newsnight.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Here is an important summary of what I think this evening’s Newsnight was about: The severe problems faced by Greece that might well effect the rest of the EU. Whatever happens, I fear, most Greeks will be disadvantaged, thanks to reckless behaviour of banks world wide:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14977728

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. Yes, that’s an interesting “domino effect” analysis. I’ll try and find the Newsnight feature tomorrow. My internet connection’s playing up (a rare occurrence these days, fortunately). Probably a sign that I should turn in as well.

    The programme was quite scaremongering about the potential for the sudden collapse of a country’s entire structure, but clearly, as I realized in Greece in summer, those in work are being squeezed horribly, and those without are essentially in free fall, and that’s depressing in its own right, of course, but also possibly indicative of knock-on effects that could be very destablizing.

    I don’t think it’s a million miles away from aspects of life in the UK, but it’s obviously more severe, and all the answers on offer — violent austerity, handing over the country’s assets, repaying unaffordbale loans and interest and bailout costs — can only make things worse.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Right Andy. Worse conditions are where every arrow leads. Just a thought. Perhaps Newsnight wss scaremongering in order to whip up support for whatever comes out of the EU meeting this Friday. A feeling of desperation can make people accept drastic solutions. The rise of Nazism is a good example.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I couldn’t discern an intention beyond a kind of tabloid-y speculation about how quickly a society can collapse. Examining the impact of high unemployment had a purpose, but I wan’t sure where else it was going, as there’s no one in the EU in a position of authority recommending that Greece should default, even though there seems to me to be no other way out, if Greece is to be anything other than a permanently impoverished nation whose assets are all making money for someone else.

    The reason no one wants Greece to default and opt out, it seems, is not only because they don’t want to lose the money they should never have “lent” in the first place, but also because they fear that it will lead to the potential collapse of much bigger economies — Italy and Spain — and the knock-on effect of that could be extraordinarily bad.

  16. Mark Erickson says...

    Burn, baby, burn! Occupy is going national, too. OccupyMN (that’s Minnesota, we don’t like to offend one of the Twin Cities by leaving it out) is rallying at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Branch on October 7, 9 AM. I’ll be there!

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Excellent news, Mark. Thanks!

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