Wall Street Protests Enter Third Week
What is occurring on Wall Street right now is remarkable. For over two weeks, in the great cathedral of capitalism, the dispossessed have liberated territory from the financial overlords and their police army.
They have created a unique opportunity to peacefully shift the tides of history like the sit-down strikes of the 1930s, the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the democratic uprisings across the Arab world and Europe today.
Our system is broken. More than 25 million Americans are unemployed. More than 50 million live without health insurance. Perhaps 100 million live in poverty. Yet the fat cats are showered with billions in tax breaks while politicians compete to turn the screws on the rest of us.
The Wall Street occupation can force those in power to offer concessions as happened this year in Spain, Greece and Egypt. No one can say how many people it will take or how things will change exactly, but if we unite there is a potential to transform a corrupt political process and realize a society based on human needs, not hedge fund profits.
After all, who would have imagined a year ago that Tunisians and Egyptians would oust their dictators?
At Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan, thousands gather every day to debate, discuss and organize what to do about our failed system that has allowed the 400 Americans at the top to hoard more wealth than the 180 million Americans at the bottom.
It’s astonishing that this festival of democracy has sprouted on this turf: where the masters of the universe play the tune that both political parties and the media dance to. The New York Police Department, which has deployed hundreds of officers to surround and intimidate protesters 24/7, could arrest everyone in minutes. But they haven’t, which is also astonishing.
That’s because assaulting peaceful crowds in a public square demanding real democracy – economic and not just political – would remind the world of the brittle autocrats who brutalized their people demanding justice, before they collapsed in the Arab Spring. And the violence has already backfired. After police attacked a march last Saturday that started from Liberty Plaza, the crowds only got bigger and media interest grew.
The Wall Street occupation has succeeded in revealing how corporations, politicians, media and police have failed us as institutions offering something positive to humanity. Our current leaders tell us they will spread the financial pain by imposing the “Buffett Rule,” a tax increase that asks the wealthy to sacrifice the equivalent of a tin of caviar per year. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to sacrifice healthcare, food, education, housing, jobs and perhaps our lives to feed the ferocious appetite of capital.
That’s why more and more people are joining the Wall Street occupation. They can tell you about their homes being foreclosed, months of grinding unemployment or minimum-wage dead-end jobs, staggering student debt loads, or trying to live without decent healthcare. They represent a generation of Americans who are told to believe in a system that only offers them “Dancing With the Stars” and pepper spray to the face.
Yet against every description of this generation derided as narcissistic, apathetic and hopeless, they are staking out a claim for all of us – and that’s why we all need to join in: to support this nucleus of a revolt that could shake America’s power structure as much as the Arab world was upended.
Tens of thousands of people need to be protesting the Wall Street elite, who are out driving Bentleys and drinking thousand-dollar champagne with the money they looted from the financial crisis and bailouts as Americans literally die on the streets.
True, the scene in Liberty Plaza may seem messy and chaotic but it’s also a laboratory of possibility, creating a diversity of ideas, expression and art.
Many people say they support the occupation, yet hesitate to join. It’s clear that the biggest obstacles to building a powerful movement aren’t the police or corporate powers – but our own cynicism and despair.
The views of some were colored by The New York Times saying protestors were “Gunning for Wall Street with faulty aim.” Many of the criticisms boil down to “a lack of clear messaging.”
But what’s wrong with that? A fully formed movement is not going to spring from the ground. It has to be created. That is why it’s called grassroots.
Protestors are presenting plenty of sophisticated ideas: end corporate personhood; tax stock trading; nationalize the banks; socialize medicine; fund government jobs with a real stimulus; lift restrictions on labor organizing; allow cities to turn abandoned homes into public housing; build a green economy.
But how can we get broad agreement on any of these? If the protesters came with a ready-made set of demands it would have only limited their potential. They would have either been dismissed as pie in the sky – like socialized medicine or nationalized banks – or something weak such as the Buffet Rule, to be co-opted by a failed political system that would only undermine the movement.
Rather, it is only through common struggle, debate and popular democracy that we will create genuine solutions which have legitimacy. And that is what is occurring down at Wall Street.
How many times in life do you get a chance to not only watch history unfold, but to come together with multitudes of people who believe in genuine democracy as a reality and not a fantasy, and to actively participate in building a better society?
If we focus on the possibilities and shed our despair, our hesitancy and our cynicism, and if we collectively come to Wall Street with critical thinking, ideas and solidarity, we can change the world.
For too long our minds have been chained by fear, by division, by impotence. The one thing that most terrifies the elite is a great awakening. That day is here. Together, let us seize it.